Montana Nurse Educator Secures Her Future with MSN

After Nicole Marks earned her BSN from the University of Montana in 2000, she never thought she’d have a desire or a need to return to school. The daughter of a nurse, Nicole joined her current employer, Providence St. Patrick Hospital, in Missoula, just two years into her career— and the opportunities have continued to come her way over the past 13 years.

“I started out as a staff nurse in medical/nephrology, then worked in the intensive care unit until 2008 when I became the nursing educator for the ICU,” says Nicole, a longtime holder of the CCRN and PALS certifications. When a co-worker and friend started looking into pursuing the MSN in late 2012, Nicole decided to do the same.

The perfect time for self-improvement

Nicole explored American Sentinel University on the recommendation of that same colleague. “The very first person I talked to was helpful and friendly, answering all of my questions and making me feel comfortable,” Nicole says. “I was fairly terrified about going back to school, but I knew that the MSN would open doors for me, and it was a good time in my life to take on a professional challenge like this.”

In January 2013, Nicole enrolled in the MSN, nursing education specialization. “I liked that I could do the whole degree online,” she adds. “As someone who would continue to work full time, I also liked that I could take one class every eight weeks.”

Growth as a manager

Nicole says that the job-applicable knowledge she has gained from her MSN, nursing education specialization has been highly valuable. “At work, it’s so easy to get siloed, so being a student gives me some great outside perspective and new ideas on how to think outside of the box,” says Nicole. “I’ve taken many examples from the classroom and applied them directly to my work, so it’s been awesome to dive deep into topics I deal with day to day.”

A new position, a new challenge

Although Nicole has her long-term sights set on teaching, when opportunity knocked, she answered the door. Last summer, the ICU at Providence St. Patrick lost its assistant clinical nurse manager, and Nicole stepped into the role. “I was looking for a new challenge, and I have many years of ICU experience,” she says. She started the job in July 2015.

The MSN will set Nicole up to achieve her future career goals. “I do love teaching and hope down the road I can return to nursing education and even teach in a nursing school,” she says. “My classes were definitely helping me learn how to more effectively teach adult learners in my nurse educator position. So, even though the degree isn’t necessary for my current job, it will absolutely help me in whatever I do.”

The best field for Nicole

Nicole is grateful for the variety offered by her field and the ample opportunities available to explore new career interests. “What I love most about nursing is that there’s so much you can do,” she says. A great example of that ability to try different areas, Nicole is excited about what the future holds after she graduates in January 2016. “I’ve gained a lot from the MSN experience and I know it will benefit me.”


Inspired by Nicole’s story? An MSN program can be your passport to a specialty nursing field, like nursing educationinformatics, nursing management and organizational leadership, or infection control. Specialized knowledge forms the foundation of these nursing fields. When you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes.

Have you dreamed of earning your BSN, MSN or DNP? With American Sentinel, you can make that dream a reality.

Read the other student success stories for more inspiration.

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