Have you ever thought about changing career paths and teaching up-and-coming nurses? For those of you who have, we wanted to provide you with some information about what it’s like to teach, including the challenges and the benefits.

Michelle DeCoux Hampton, RN, PhD, MS, Professor and Doctor of Nursing Practice Program Director at Samuel Merritt University School of Nursing in Oakland, California, took time to talk with us about her experiences in teaching.

Following is an edited version of our Q&A:

What does your job entail? Do you specialize in specific topics that you teach? How many courses do you teach each semester?

I started in 2005 as a full-time faculty member teaching psychiatric mental-health nursing, health assessment, and synthesis for students throughout our accelerated bachelor’s program in nursing. Later, I began teaching an online course in research in the Master’s program and then the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program.

In 2013, I became the Director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program, and now I teach evidence-based research and several of the DNP Project courses that are geared toward providing mentorship to doctoral students as they complete their scholarly projects.

In my administrative role, 75% of my time is administrative work involving admissions, student advisement and progression, faculty support, as well as curriculum review and improvement, among other responsibilities. In my full-time teaching role, I taught about two courses per semester.

Why did you choose to teach?

My interest in teaching stemmed from my enjoyment of education from the student perspective and my many positive experiences with faculty and mentors.

I first tested myself as the Director of Staff Development in a skilled nursing facility to see how I would like being “on stage” before I ever applied for a teaching position at a university. I was able to learn a lot about adult education and enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the facility staff through our orientation and continuing education programs.

I advised many of our staff nurses about how to go about continuing their formal education and found it was one of the most enjoyable parts of my role in staff development.

What are the biggest challenges of your job?

Compared to being a staff nurse, one of the biggest challenges in teaching is that there is often no one to fill in for you—at least not at a moment’s notice. You often find that you work when you’re ill, on semester breaks to prepare for the next semester, and on your vacations. The flexibility is nice in a lot of ways, but the tradeoff is that you’re never really off the grid.

What are the greatest rewards?

One of my favorite parts of my job is to work with my doctoral students on their DNP Projects—usually an evidence-based practice implementation project. These students evaluate best practices through critical appraisal of the research literature, design practice change programs, implement changes that involve policy and procedure changes of the staff in a variety of health care settings, and evaluate the outcomes. Through each of their projects, they have provided improved health care to individual patients, communities, and within organizations. Seeing these projects develop from an idea to influencing real people’s lives is incredibly rewarding, and it never gets old.

What would you say to someone considering this type of work?

To me, the best teachers that I’ve known and worked with take a service-oriented approach to education—providing what the student needs to progress to the next level, to continue growth. This takes good observation skills, flexibility to change your approach based on where your student is and what his/her needs are, and a willingness to keep learning. The field of education, beyond what we need to know as nurses, continues to evolve and we have to evolve with it.

Is there anything else that is important for nurses to know?

In my early years of teaching, I felt like I needed to know everything—to answer all of my students’ questions on the spot. This expectation of myself produced a lot of anxiety and self-doubt for me.

Over time, I relaxed a bit more and accepted that even if students wanted me to have all the answers, that was not possible 100% of the time. Feeling confident in the knowledge that I had and my ability to research answers that I couldn’t answer right away effectively, enabled me to say that I didn’t know, but would find out or even enlist the support of other students to find the answer. It was a turning point for me. I don’t think I would have been able to sustain a career in education long term with my previous mindset.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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