Frontline Nurse Scholar: Mary Jo Byers Strives to Advocate for Patients, Educate Tomorrow’s Nurses

Frontline Nurse Scholar: Mary Jo Byers Strives to Advocate for Patients, Educate Tomorrow’s Nurses

When Mary Jo Byers was working as a medical assistant as a young adult, her coworkers often nudged her toward nursing school. “Everyone I worked with at this family practice center in Charlotte, North Carolina, kept telling me, ‘You would make a great nurse,’” recalls Mary Jo, who is originally from Ohio. 

Eventually, she listened and enrolled in nursing prerequisite classes at the local technical college. She became a Registered Nurse in 1998. After unexpectedly becoming a single mother, Mary Jo moved to Bar Harbor, Maine, to live near a sister and started working in a hospital as an RN on a medical-surgical floor. She returned to Ohio in 2001 to live near her aging parents and began working in home healthcare. 

Back into an outpatient setting

In 2003, Mary Jo joined Akron Children’s Physician’s Associates, a pediatrician’s practice. She’s been there ever since. “I love family practice and quickly came to love pediatrics too,” she says. “I love meeting new babies and then seeing them as they grow up. I enjoy talking with children about the importance of staying healthy.” 

Influenced by a friend to get the BSN

Earning a BSN had been on Mary Jo’s mind for years, but with her attention on raising her two daughters, taking the time or making the investment was never feasible. But when a coworker at Akron Children’s Pediatrics decided to return to college for a BSN degree, Mary Jo was intrigued. “My friend at work was going to American Sentinel University,” she says. Mary Jo looked into the BSN program for herself and found that it checked all the boxes. “American Sentinel is affordable and flexible, and the people are so very supportive. I’d started taking classes back in Maine when my girls were little, but it was just too hard. This time, I was ready to grow and learn.” 

In spring 2020, Mary Jo completed her last BSN class. Now, she plans to keep onward for an MSN. “I feel like the BSN is a requirement, but I know that the MSN is the degree I need to become more of an advocate for patients, and later, a teacher,” she says. “During the pandemic, it became clear to me that I want to be a voice and role model for future nurses.”

MSN Program and the Frontline Nurse Scholarship to help

Mary Jo started the MSN program in summer 2020, just as she applied for the Frontline Nurse Scholarship from American Sentinel. When she learned she was a recipient, it seemed meant to be. 

“I probably would have had to wait until 2021 to continue my education without this support,” says Mary Jo. “I don’t want to lose momentum, so getting this scholarship fuels my motivation to continue.” She is considering pursuing two specializations, Nursing Education and Case Management, for two different-but-related reasons. 

“I want to teach future nurses and I want to do case management because of my experience on the patient side of healthcare,” she says. “When my dad became very ill, I had to be very on top of things to make sure he got the treatment and care he needed at multiple healthcare facilities. The seed was planted then. I knew I needed to further my education.”

Open minded for the future

Mary Jo will finish her MSN in 2021. She is excited about what the future holds. “I want to advocate for patients in some sort of community health setting, but big picture, I want to be part of shaping future nurses coming into the workforce too,” she says. “Whether patients have someone in their family advocating for them or not, they deserve the best care possible. Everyone deserves great care. I’m going to fight for them.” 

The Frontline Nurse Scholarship awarded five American Sentinel BSN alumni working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic to support patients and their communities. It was a one-time, not recurring, scholarship.

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