Ashley Swarowski loves learning so much that she made a career of providing healthcare education.
That helps explain how the Las Vegas mother of two (Sawyer, 5, and Charlie, 1) has been able to persevere through personal challenges while enrolled in the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program at Nevada State College. Now, she can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"This has been a long journey between financial setbacks, two kids and all kinds of stuff," she said. "I don't particularly want to get into the web of student loans; my husband [Peter] and I are not of that mindset. I do the timeframe I can do – even if it takes me a while. I'm not the typical student, but I do it so I can pay it back. He has really supported me, and I'm almost done."
However, Swarowski will not be finished with higher education after she completes two more courses and graduates.
"My goal is to finish the RN to BSN program, and then try to chip away at my master's degree," she said. "I feel like if I ever want to do management or anything like school nursing, I need a bachelor's degree. It's only going to enhance my skills. I see what I already have done with the associate degree, so I can't even imagine what I will be when I have the bachelor's degree. The sky is the limit."
Foundation of Knowledge
Swarowski, who has spent her career in various healthcare areas such as rehabilitation medicine, medical surgical nursing, and labor and delivery, is currently a high-risk obstetrics case manager.
"I work with an amazing population of women who are either high-risk given their medical history, the pregnancy has created conditions, or the unborn child may have conditions," she explained. "I always wanted to do the education path. I've always been interested in helping a person beyond the bedside, creating a positive health literacy for their lives.
Even after she completes all of her higher education, Swarowski wants to continue to do exactly what she does now for a living.
"I would like to get involved with either the health department or public health," she said. "Health literacy and trying to make someone empowered so they don't have to live unhealthy really matters to me because that's why most people don't get healthcare. They think it's too expensive and don't understand why they have to get all of these tests.
"When somebody explains it to you on your level and you understand that it matters and it empowers you, then you're going to be more responsible. I don't think we have enough of that community health awareness like we maybe did years ago. We need to get back to that."
Swarowski knew from an early age she wanted to pursue a career in which she could help others.
"It's always been my calling to be a nurse," she said. "There are different components to nursing. Sometimes the best nurse is the person that teachers you how to take your medication and teaches you what to look out for. It has always appealed to me to be someone who explained. This is the journey that I picked. I don't regret it a day. It's the best decision I ever made."
Online, Any Time
Swarowski earned an Associate of Nursing degree from the College of Southern Nevada in 2009. When she started the RN to BSN program two years later, she was working 12-hour shifts, and the online format became a necessity.
"It's kind of difficult to do in-person, so I was eager to do the online program," she said. "It was much more flexible. I like the fact that most of the classes are very self-paced. If I want to do a couple of assignments in a day or two, it makes it a lot easier for me.
"I also like the communication aspect. You don't have to worry about going to a professor's office. Typically, it's either a phone call or an email, so it's very accessible. I always felt like it fit into my life so easily."
Swarowski takes full advantage of that flexibility by devoting pretty much any free moment she has to schoolwork.
"My husband laughs at me because with any downtime I have, I run up to the room and work on school," she said. "He says, 'Where did you go?' I say, 'I took a quiz' or 'I read a chapter.' With two young kids, if I want to do homework, I have to work it around my life."
The Right Mix
Several factors motivated Swarowski's decision to enroll at Nevada State College.
"Of course, I wanted a school that was accredited," she said. "I wanted a school that made sense for my locale. If I have a question or concern, I know where their home base is. I also liked the fact it is an RN to BSN program. I could start with most of the prerequisites that I had with my associate degree and go straight away, even if I had to take a math class here or there. Some of the other programs I looked into across the country wanted you to have so many prerequisites. I didn't think that made a heck of a lot of sense."
It didn't take Swarowski long to realize she made the right choice.
"Whatever I needed, they advised me," she said. "The process was very, very easy. They try to appeal to the working RN. In most cases, society wants you to have a BSN with the phasing out of the associate degrees and certificate programs. Nevada State always seemed to be so attainable, which is nice. Accredited and attainable."
Even though her job is a bit different than a typical nursing student's job, Swarowski finds the program's curriculum to be very applicable to her career. Her favorite courses include NURS 415: Bioethics & Health Informatics, NURS 409: Theory of Caring Science and NURS 462: Caring in Nursing Communities.
"It [Caring in Nursing Communities] gave you a simulation of how to talk to a patient," she said. "You were not able to pass that course until you made a video of yourself giving a full-on, head-to-toe assessment. The video we had to shoot was basically if you were going to work in a clinic. I had to assess my husband, talk to him in a certain way and perform all of the mannerisms. I feel like the courses prepare you. I've loved all of the courses, so far."
Additionally, her fellow students have helped enhance the experience even more for Swarowski.
"I have used everything I have learned at Nevada State," she said. "I'm sure some of my classmates think it has been more like therapy. Everything I use for my work, I use for my school. If I have a situation come up at work, I discuss it at school. I've been able to use everything I have learned at my job, and it's made me a better nurse."
The Finish Line
One important key to success for Swarowski throughout the program has been the support of her husband.
"We met when I was finishing my first semester of nursing school," she said. "I basically told him, 'Either you're with me on this journey or we're not together.' He got on the journey because nursing school is like basic training – you have to commit your whole life to it. He's been supportive. My family has also been supportive."
Some of her siblings are also pursuing higher education, and Swarowski hopes her children will do the same after they graduate from high school.
"My family is big on education," she said. "I tell my kids, 'I don't care what you do, as long as you get a degree after you get your high school diploma and you try. It means a lot to me.' I tell them, 'I can't give you a trust fund; I wish I could. I can give you the next best thing, which is your education. If you can learn a skill or a trade and do well, you're not going to have any issue learning that stuff.'"
Swarowski believes anybody who enrolls in the online RN to BSN program at Nevada State College will have all of the help they need to be successful in their endeavors.
"When you're a new nurse entering the program, it helps round you out," she said. "There's a big support system going to school online because you have the discussion posts. You have to communicate in a way that's not the norm for people. Most people are touchy, feely in person. You get to develop a connection with other people that you may not necessarily have, and that really helps.
"When you enter the workforce out of school, real life and clinical practice can be incongruent," she said. "I believe the skill set and evidenced-based practice I have gained from CSN and now NSC provided me with the confidence to approach any clinical situation within my scope of practice, but most importantly to facilitate team work with those of different educational and experience backgrounds."
Now that she is closing in on graduation, Swarowski feels deep appreciation for the accomplishment.
"I couldn't be happier," she said. "Well, I'll be happier when I get the degree. Honestly, the men and women I have worked with, the educators, have been beyond wonderful. I feel like even if I've had hiccups or disagreements, it's been very professional. They're always willing to say, 'This is our problem. This is how we have to fix it. What can we do?' They're very goal-oriented and want to solve problems. I think it's a great program."
Learn more about the Nevada State College online RN to BSN program.
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