Tracey Bixler is “born and bred in Shamokin,” having grown up in the small Pennsylvania town. After high school, she attended the Pennsylvania State University main campus, majoring in pre-medicine, but soon switched gears and decided to become a nurse. Tracey earned a nursing diploma at Geisinger Medical Center School of Nursing in 1992 and began her career in the emergency department of Shamokin Area Community Hospital.
A merger with Geisinger
Twenty years later, Shamokin merged with Geisinger Health. Tracey stayed on with the newly combined organization, but became the emergency department team coordinator. The family atmosphere is what’s kept her around all these years. “I love the community feeling of my hospital and I love the Geisinger organization,” she says. “I work in a unit with people who have each other’s backs—if one of us needs coverage, someone steps up to help. We are an excellent team that works great together. This is where I want to be.”
Pushed toward the BSN
When Tracey became a team coordinator, it became required by Geisinger that she earn a BSN within five years. “I’d thought about earning a bachelor’s degree through the years, but it was always, ‘Maybe next year,’ until it was required of me,” she says. As an educational partner of American Sentinel University, Tracey explored the BSN program at the encouragement of her manager and ended up starting right away—alongside a friend at work. “I was scared about returning to school, but one class in and I wondered what I was ever afraid of. Since then, I’ve referred many other people. American Sentinel’s support and library services are just great. I had a really great time and was impressed with the program.”
Onward for an MSN
In 2014, Tracey graduated with the BSN and took a two-year break from school. After a team coordinator retreat late last year, she was inspired to further her education and called up American Sentinel once again, “not even considering going anywhere else,” as she puts it. This time, her motivation is personal. “Although I did enjoy it, the BSN was something I was told I had to do, but this time I’m going to school for self-satisfaction,” Tracey says. “I know there are positions within Geisinger that require or prefer the MSN, so this will definitely help me, but really, I want to do this for me.”
Tracey started the MSN in February 2017. She is pursuing the nursing leadership and organizational management specialization. “I am in a leadership role in my department and I’m also the interim house supervisor when needed, so I think that specialization is a good fit for me,” she says.
A great support system
There are many people in Tracey’s corner cheering her on, including her Geisinger colleagues and bosses and her family. Another important inspiration: her late father, who passed away before Tracey began her educational journey. “My father was so intelligent but came from a poor family and didn’t have the opportunity to go to college,” she says. “Part of me is doing this for him. He was so very proud of everything I did and told everyone in town that I was an ER nurse. He and my mom always told me they could see me becoming a nurse. I’m glad they encouraged me, because I’ve been so happy in this career. I could never imagine doing anything else.”
Inspired by Tracey’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.