When Susan Elder started nursing school, several mentors encouraged her to pursue her nursing diploma instead of a bachelor’s degree—noting that doing so would better prepare her to hit the ground running on the hospital floor. “I really debated the BSN, but ultimately the diploma program I attended prepared me very well,” she says. And so began the career of this North Dakota native, who moved to Montana in 1993 and has mostly lived and worked there ever since.
Throughout her career, Susan has worked in the intensive care unit, the cardiac cath lab and in interventional radiology. For 22 years—during two different periods—she has been employed by Kalispell Regional Medical Center, where she was nominated twice as Nurse of the Year. Today, she is the lead RN in the interventional radiology lab and helped start the Interventional Radiology Clinic. “My role involves doing a lot of background research on the patients,” she says. “I go through charts, look at labs ahead of time and identify anything that might be an issue prior to sending the patient to the interventional radiologist for nonsurgical treatment. My first duty is to the patients, and I also want to be a mentor and leader to the other nurses who float into interventional radiology.”
Encouraged to pursue higher education
In the last several years, Kalispell Regional has begun to pursue Magnet designation to demonstrate its commitment to innovation in nursing. One of the requirements to achieve Magnet status is to show that 75 percent or more of its nurse managers hold or are working toward a BSN or higher. “Several other nurses at KRMC have attended American Sentinel University, and I decided to look into their program,” Susan says. “I liked the idea of online education. I work full time and have plenty keeping me busy.”
Initial fear about online learning turns to excitment
In 2013, Susan decided to try one class with American Sentinel—and that quickly led to another and another. “It’s taken some getting used to, because I didn’t grow up with computers,” she admits. “Intellectually, the experience has been great.” It hasn’t been easy, but her commitment and diligence has led her to the finish line. Along the way, she has maintained a 4.0 GPA.
Susan will graduate with the BSN in June of 2016. “I’m outspoken about the importance of high-quality patient care, and I’ve always been excited to research and share what I have learned with my colleagues on how the world is changing and the way that impacts healthcare,” she says. “In many ways, that served me well as a student. I am definitely the inquisitive type. I like knowing the ‘why’ behind the things I do.”
A strong support system
A shining aspect of the American Sentinel experience, Susan says, has been the support. “It’s really been phenomenal,” she says. “In the beginning especially, it was all new to me, and I would call my advisor often for help. Everyone at American Sentinel has been great.” Susan has received a lot of cheerleading from the sidelines as well—from her colleagues and her husband.
When she graduates, Susan says the future is wide open. She’s considered going down the educational path to become a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. “The degree I’m earning at American Sentinel will allow me to be a better team member and grow in this area. An advanced degree could open up new doors for me, which is exciting.”
Inspired by Susan’s story? A BSN is ideal for nurses who want to expand their knowledge base, become more marketable and enjoy greater career stability and mobility. Specialized knowledge forms the foundation of nursing and when you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes.