Six years ago, Conville was a gunshot wound victim. The bullet injured the left side of his face, and he was rushed into life-saving surgery.
“I woke up in a lot of pain, in a dark room. I was alone except for my nurse. I couldn’t do anything but cry.”
“I woke up from later that night and realized I was still alive. I was relieved, but at the same time I woke up in a lot of pain, in a dark room. I was alone except for my nurse. I couldn’t do anything but cry,” Conville said. “I was a 21-year-old and supposed to be this big, strong athlete, but I felt weak and powerless. But my nurse stayed there, comforted me during my worst moments. That inspired me to want to do something to help other people.”
Over the next few months, Conville underwent several surgeries and faced a long road to recovery. His initial plans—playing college baseball and attending medical school—were derailed as recovery took a mental and physical toll.
But the support of friends and family and an opportunity at UAB Hospital helped him rediscover his passion.
“It was very difficult for me to take my next steps forward in my education, but the one thing that always spurred me on a little bit, or kept my feet moving, was my nurse that night after surgery,” Conville said. “I can’t remember her name, and I hardly remember her face, but I will always remember what she did for me.”
His nurse’s care led Conville to seek out ways to help others. When a family friend and Senior Director of Emergency Services at UAB Medicine Frankie Wallis, DNP, NP-C, NEA-BC, COI, reached out about a shadowing opportunity in the emergency department, Conville jumped at the chance.
“I knew Cade wanted to help people and make a difference, and I said that if he wanted to be in health care, UAB was the place to be,” Wallis said.
“It was very difficult for me to take my next steps forward in my education, but the one thing that always spurred me on a little bit, or kept my feet moving, was my nurse that night after surgery.”
After shadowing in the emergency department, Conville knew it was the right next step.
“UAB is such a big, bustling hospital. I recognized all of our patients in need, but there is also an excitement because there was so much we could do at once,” Conville said. “It brought me back to this team atmosphere, where I could be part of a group that cared about something, where everyone pulled in the same direction. That spoke to me—I put my resume in the same night.”
Conville took a job as a patient care technician and thrived in the experience, but eventually, he felt compelled to return to school and further his education. Through the support of his family and Wallis, he applied to nursing school.
“I looked up to the nurses I worked with, and it brought back the memory of the young woman who helped me that night,” Conville said. “I thought that if I could do the same thing for someone else, it would make all the hours of extra work worthwhile.”
After consulting with mentors, including Wallis, and doing research of his own, Conville decided the Accelerated Masters of Nursing Pathway at the UAB School of Nursing was the best step forward. The program is designed for students with a bachelor’s degree or higher in another field and creates an accelerated track toward licensure and a master’s in nursing.
“I knew the program was for me. I already had a degree under my belt, but it also felt like I had the time management skills to take on such a rigorous program,” said Conville, who also has a Bachelor of Science in molecular biology.
“I’ve had several other staff members who have come through the AMNP program,” Wallis said. “It’s a great program, and when I talked to Cade about it, I had every bit of belief he could do it. I talked to him about pursuing this degree, while cautioning him about the tough road ahead. But at the end of the road there is a reward.”
When Conville started the AMNP program in fall 2020, he found another team in pursuit of helping others. Faculty offered continuous support and encouragement throughout challenges, he said, and provided the tools necessary to move forward.
“I looked up to the nurses I worked with, and it brought back the memory of the young woman who helped me that night. I thought that if I could do the same thing for someone else, it would make all the hours of extra work worthwhile.”
“One day I sat down with [AMNP Pathway Director] Michael Mosley, MSN, CRNP, ANP-BC (MSN 2012) and we talked about why he pushes us so hard to get the right answer and to understand why we got that answer,” Conville said. “He said that when you’re working with a patient, you’re not just checking boxes. And while you can make two or three mistakes on a test and still get a 96, if you make two or three mistakes with a person, you can really hurt them. That told me a lot about him as a person—he truly cares about us and wants us to be the best nurses possible.”
Conville also made an impact on his peers in his AMNP cohort. They selected him as the fall 2021 recipient of the Florence Nightingale Award, a recognition of his passion for quality of nursing care and pursuit of excellence. It was also the reason he stood up to speak about resilience at the Senior Recognition Ceremony.
“This award reiterates Cade’s personal characteristics and his commitment to nursing,” Wallis said. “It shows his dedication and how well he works within a team, how he incorporates team theory to develop relationships with his peers and colleagues. He is a great young man with great potential, great abilities and he will move forward to do great things in the future of health care.”
Conville finished the AMNP program in fall 2021 and accepted a job at UAB Hospital in spring 2022. He wants to further his education and work toward a career in nursing management.
Conville continues that refrain of resilience, for his future and the future of nursing.
“I know the state of nursing isn’t perfect right now, that a lot of us who are graduating and going into the workforce have a difficult road ahead of us,” Conville said. “We’re joining health care in one of the most difficult times to be a health care professional, and we just have to be as diligent as we possibly can. We need to understand that our patients need us, and we need each other. We’re going to get through this together. While there are a lot of tough times going on, it’s still a great time to be a nurse.”
Over the last decade, there has been talk of an impending shortage of nurses. Even in light of the economic downturn, the soaring demand for more educated nurses is expected to continue as baby boomers age and health care coverage expands. For nurses who are entering or are in the field already, this demand presents an excellent opportunity to advance their careers and expand their knowledge.
So what is the logical next step? Often, it is to obtain an advanced degree. Once the decision to pursue higher education has been made, the next question is where to enroll. As online degree programs have increased in popularity over the last few years, many prospective students may wonder about the similarities and differences between online and traditional nursing programs. Before making your decision, consider what type of institution and program will best suit your needs and situation.
Benefits of an online education
Many nurses say the primary reason they chose an online program is because of the convenience and flexibility. Online learning offers students who are trying to balance a family, career, and other commitments the opportunity to earn a degree without sacrificing their other interests and obligations. An online nursing program may also offer a wider variety of degrees than a local university—if a local university is even an option. Especially in rural areas, the distance and time to travel to a brick-and-mortar institution may make this option impractical.
Another benefit of online learning is the asynchronous environment. In an asynchronous learning environment, students can participate at their convenience instead of being limited to participating at the designated location and the time when a class is offered. In the online format, students can generally post their homework and contribute to discussions when it works best for them. This is an especially important benefit to nurses who work shifts that potentially preclude them from attending traditional classes.
Some nurses believe that enrolling in an online program means losing out on the networking and interaction opportunities that occur in a traditional classroom. While it is true that actual face-to-face interaction is limited, nurses still have the opportunity to connect and network with other professionals online. The online setting also allows students to network with classmates and faculty from across the country and potentially around the world. As a result, nurses have the opportunity to hear about what’s happening beyond their local area, as well as benefit from the practical experience and knowledge shared by colleagues in other locations. The ability to connect with professionals from different practice settings and to share experiences and challenges is also cited as a unique feature of online learning. And other student resources, such as career advisement and even tech support, are typically as accessible and readily available via online universities as traditional.
While it may be the solution for some, online learning isn’t for everyone. There are students who want or need a traditional learning environment. For instance, an online classroom lacks the nonverbal cues that visual learners prefer. Some students simply need the face-to-face interaction. Many feel most comfortable having conversations in person and not over the phone or via an online discussion.
In addition, online and traditional nursing programs have different communication styles. On the job, nurses are taught to be succinct in their writing style because of the volume of required documentation in electronic records and because much of their work is done via checklists. Nurses who choose online education participate in a more intensive writing program than traditional education offers, since nearly all of the communication online occurs in written form. Prospective students should keep their personal communication style and preferred learning format in mind when selecting a program.
For both traditional and online nursing programs, practicum or clinical experience is required. However, practicum arrangements vary by degree program as well as by institution. Undergraduate practicums in face-to-face programs are usually arranged by the institution, while undergraduates in online programs typically propose the facility and preceptor. For graduate practicums, the trend for both online and face-to-face programs is for the student to propose their facility and preceptor.
No back row
Class participation is a very different dynamic in an online program versus a traditional program. In a traditional classroom, faculty members typically lecture, and grades are often based on exams and papers rather than on classroom participation. On the other hand, an online program places greater emphasis on participation: everyone participates in discussions by posting their thoughts—there is no back row.
The asynchronous online environment is an unexpected benefit for many students, because it allows students to think about what they want to say before they actually say it. Online students have time to reflect on the discussion, and they are actually more engaged. Traditional students who fear public speaking tend to stay silent in class, whereas an online setting can help build confidence in shy individuals or help those for whom English is a second language compose their thoughts before speaking.
Above all else, quality
Regardless of the delivery method, it is important that students find a quality nursing program. When researching which program or type of institution is best, one of the first things prospective students should check is the accreditation. The program should be accredited by either the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Additionally, the school should also have a Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation if it offers doctoral programs, as Ph.D. programs are not NLNAC- or CCNE-accredited.
Let’s Get Quizzical You’ve already given careful thought to that mother-of-all continuing education questions, “Should I go back to school?” Now that you’ve decided to venture down that path, you’re faced with another pressing question: “Online or traditional nursing education?” As with so many important decisions, answering that question comes with a little self-reflection and consideration. Here’s a short quiz to help you figure out which learning environment is best for you.
How much face-to-face interaction with my professor and classmates do I want or need?
What kind of flexibility does my work and family schedule allow for my educational pursuits?
How do I feel about writing-intensive assignments and interactions?
How do I feel about class participation?
Is my home environment conducive to study?
How comfortable am I using the Internet, e-mail, instant messengers, etc.?
How accessible are the closest brick-and-mortar nursing schools?
Another consideration when choosing a nursing program is to look at the level of faculty preparation and experience. Faculty credentials are important, and faculty members should be teaching in their areas of expertise—as established through both academic preparation and experience. Faculty members should be experts, and they should be certified in their areas of practice.
For an online nursing program in particular, it is important to see how long the institution has been in the business of teaching and offering classes online. Many schools are now offering classes online, but that doesn’t mean that their classes are designed for a truly online experience. To provide a high-quality online nursing program, it is necessary for the school to have expert instructional-design knowledge as well as the technology support that online students need.
Above all, prospective nursing students need to be diligent and research the institution. Talk to an enrollment advisor about the program and the various resources available. Also, reach out to faculty members and current students, as well as alumni who have gone through the program. Ask them questions about their experience, course content, and how the degree has helped them succeed. Prospective students can also check out benchmarks with the American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the National Education Association (NEA) to see if the institution they are interested in enrolling in is meeting those benchmarks.
At the end of the day, there is no significant difference between student outcomes for traditional and online nursing programs. Both can provide a rewarding learning experience, but, ultimately, it is up to the student to determine which program and delivery method are best suited to his or her current situation and needs.
My journey into the world of online education as a student was a completely new experience for me. I had attended traditional universities to obtain my associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing. While serving in the Army Nurse Corps as an ICU nurse, I completed an adult nurse practitioner certification program offered through the military. But years later, having established a successful career working in every area of nursing, I suddenly found myself contemplating the idea of returning to school to obtain my PhD. This bug was put in my ear by one of my best friends, who is also a nurse—because she was thinking of doing the same thing herself. (It is true that misery loves company!)
At this point in my life, this was a big decision. I made a list of all the reasons why I shouldn’t return to school and all the reasons why I should. Initially, the list of “shouldn’ts” outweighed the “shoulds.” I held an established faculty position in a university and had two children who at that time were under the age of 13. And because I lived in an area where there were no nursing schools nearby, the idea of driving at least one to four hours one way to sit in a class did not appeal to me, because it would mean too much time away from my children. But the more I thought about returning to school, the more it became appealing. Obtaining my PhD would be a wise career move, a personal achievement and something that no one else in my family had ever accomplished. Then my good friend told me, “You don’t have to leave home, you can do it all online.”
I did some research for myself. The university that I was interested in, Hampton University School of Nursing, had just obtained a grant for the PhD program. So I applied. The admission process was not as difficult as I imagined. The thought of taking graduate admissions exams like the GRE or MAT (Miller Analogies Test) at my age was not fun, but I was accepted into the online PhD program at Hampton—and so was my good friend.
The Age of E-Learning
Today, online degrees are offered in many areas of interest. Many students opt for online education—also known as distance learning or e-learning—because of its flexibility and low cost. It is a simple way to learn new languages and obtain professional certificates. The World Wide Web has opened the door to a whole new age of e-learning that has provided many of us with a new incentive to learn. And the technology continues to advance, with streaming media, online videos and fast Web servers making it easier than ever to pursue a nursing degree online.
Compared to the traditional way of earning a degree, students are finding e-learning to be a more enjoyable and lifestyle-friendly option. No longer are you tied to the classroom, rushing to the campus after a long day at work, trying to figure out who can pick up the children and worrying about making dinner. Today you can take courses at your own pace, in your home, even in your pajamas, whenever you are ready. You can work on your courses early in the morning before the family gets up or late at night when all is quiet.
Now that you know the benefits of online degree programs, what else is there to consider? Let’s look at the economy. It seems that when the economy begins to decline, admissions to colleges and universities increase. This inverse relationship is very understandable. When people’s job security is uncertain, they begin looking toward a new career that will offer more stability and better compensation. Nursing is one such career. For those of us who are already in the nursing profession, staying competitive in a job market where employers are looking for candidates with highly specialized skills means that many of us may need to return to school.
What to Expect
Congratulations! You’ve just been admitted into an online nursing program. Now what? Based on my own experience as a first-time e-learning student, here is some advice on how to make the most of your online learning experience, what you can realistically expect and what pitfalls to avoid.
Let’s begin. First of all, you will need to have a fast-working computer. It doesn’t have to be the fastest model available, but having a high-speed computer that can do faster uploads and downloads definitely helps.
The next thing you need to know is that many online degree programs will not allow you too much freedom. There is a set time frame for each course and you must complete the course within that allotted time limit. Yes, it is true that you are supposed to be able to work at your own pace, but it will not benefit you or the program if it takes you a whole year to complete one course. Many programs will tell you that you must put X amount of hours a day into the courses to avoid falling behind. But because it is an online program, people tend to procrastinate and then try to hurry up and complete the work within the last month. This is not a good approach.
When I was admitted to my online PhD program, I thought it would be a breeze. Not so! Online learning is convenient but not always easy. Most of the instructors who teach online have a PhD in their area. So don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s an easy grade. I had a rude awakening in that regard. Luckily, I realized that I had to knuckle down and do the work before I got too far behind.
You will have to write papers that must be completed in a timely fashion and mailed to the instructor’s drop box or emailed. Keep in mind that you have to allow the instructor a one- to two-week turnaround time (depending on his/her policy). These waiting periods may keep you from moving ahead in your course as quickly as you had planned. So this is another reason why waiting until the last minute is not productive. There are also online chats and/or teleconference calls that you have to attend. For the teleconferences, the instructor will give you a call-in number and you will be in a pool with five to ten other students (depending on how many are in your class), all wanting to speak at the same time. This is where e-learning etiquette comes into play. Be nice, play nice and don’t interrupt. You will get a chance to speak.
For the online chats, you will be given a day and time to sign into your chat. The instructor will ask questions and the class will respond. On your computer screen you will have a blank section where you can type your response. Some chats are “live” and some are not. In some cases, the instructor will pose a question or discussion and the students must respond by a certain date or time. But in a live chat, you must respond immediately. If you tend to be a slow typist, another student may beat you to it and answer the question first. So what do you do? Sometimes I would just erase what I was going to say, but many times I would hit “enter” and send my response anyway. (Brilliant minds think alike!)
The last thing to remember is that computers are manmade and they will not always work when you want them to. Many times I picked my desktop computer up with the intent of throwing it out the window. Many times I cried, begged, pleaded with the mighty computer to please work. The mighty computer does not care. So if your computer freezes or just stops working, take it to the computer doctor. Having a tech support person(s) who is capable, knowledgeable, reliable, fast and affordable is very important. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find out who will do a good job of getting your computer back in working condition. Students in your university’s computer sciences department may also offer good, free advice on how to fix your computer problems.
And finally, always back up your work, either on a disk, a floppy (old school) or on the hard drive. Computers do crash, lightning does happen and laptops do get stolen. I remember working on the last chapter of my dissertation during a terrific thunderstorm. I usually turn everything electric off and sit in the dark when there is lightning, but I kept thinking, “just one more sentence.” My computer went blank and never came on again, either that day or the next. Worried that my entire dissertation was gone and my life was doomed, I took my machine to the computer doctors and prayed that they could retrieve my lost document that I had worked on for three years. I had to leave my computer with these strangers for two long days, but when I was called to come pick it up and learned that they were able to recover my document, I could have kissed their hands. Instead I just paid them and took my computer home. Lesson learned.
So would I go through this whole e-learning experience again? Absolutely. I obtained my PhD entirely online. I only had to go down to the university once, to defend my dissertation. I was able to see my children; even though all they usually saw of me was the back of my head, I was there with them.
Is online education for everybody? No. It does take discipline, which I think is one of the hardest traits to have. It would be so easy to blow off doing that paper and go to the beach instead. One thing that I really missed was having face-to-face interaction with my instructors and classmates, not being able to see who I was chatting with, trying to put names with voices. But overall, my journey through the world of e-learning was a truly wonderful experience.
See Our Champions of Nursing Diversity
Sign up now to get your free digital subscription to Minority Nurse