Brian Noonan entered the nursing profession with the goal of reaching the top. So far, so good.
After completing the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program at Nevada State College in August 2019, he has his sights set on becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).
"I want to be a CRNA because it is a balance of lifestyle and also for the sense of [reaching] the pinnacle of clinical nursing," he said. "That was my goal from the time I started nursing. It's a very difficult program to get into and to get through. It's rigorous, but you are among an elite few. I am always up for a challenge."
No doubt. Noonan is an open-heart cardiovascular unit nurse at Carson Tahoe Hospital in Carson City, Nevada, where he has worked for more than two years. He also serves as a charge nurse on his unit and the intensive care unit, and recently added an administrative coordinator position for the night shift.
"Taking on this administrative coordinator role, I am the only one with under 10 years of nursing experience among my peers," he said. "I trained for it for the past few months. I enjoy the challenge of it. The money is not bad, either."
Nursing initially drew Noonan in because of its wide variety of job options.
"It is one of the few careers where you could get that degree, and you don't have to be at the bedside," he said. "You can go into administration. You could teach at the university level. You could be an entrepreneur. You could be a consultant. You could do whatever you want with it. I have a tendency to get bored with other professions."
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Noonan grew up in New York, where he met his wife, Courtney, who is originally from South Lake Tahoe. At the time, he was working toward becoming a firefighter and paramedic.
"I was in physical therapy school and doing some rehabilitation work when we ran into each other at a very high-end gym in the upper east side of Manhattan, where she was doing figure competition and personal training," he said. "It was one of those serendipitous situations."
After Courtney came home to attend nursing school, Noonan followed suit by graduating with an associate degree in nursing from Western Nevada College in 2017.
"In nursing school, you have to know you want to go into anesthesiology from the beginning if you want to do it efficiently," he said. "You can burn that bridge pretty quickly with a low GPA and not getting into critical care."
Noonan chose Nevada State College with the long-term goal of earning a doctorate in mind. He notes that admission requirements for master's and doctoral-level programs in nurse anesthesia call for a nationally accredited BSN.
"Nevada State has the same national accreditation as other schools," he said. "Plus, the cost was a couple thousand dollars cheaper for the same accredited degree. It was kind of a no-brainer."
The online format worked well with Noonan's busy schedule. He especially enjoyed the predictability of the due dates for assignments in each of the courses.
"After the first couple of classes, there were no surprises," he said. "You got into the routine, got that rhythm down and knew how to work your schedule for work and everything else around it.
"I have two kids. My wife is a labor and delivery nurse. She works days, I work nights. You balance as much as you can. With the online format, I could access things if I had some downtime. I could access the Canvas infrastructure [learning management system] any time."
Although Noonan still has plenty of time in college remaining in his future, he is proud of the accomplishment of earning a bachelor's degree while maintaining such a busy schedule.
"Because the transition was so swift, most of my friends and family members were surprised," he said. "They were excited. I did not attend graduation, but we had a few people come over to barbeque and celebrate."
Noonan started his administrative coordinator position around the time he completed the online RN to BSN program, so he had to get up to speed quickly while wrapping up his degree.
"Part of the credibility I had was that I was able to do my roles in the ICU and CVU while participating actively in the management of that unit, all while doing my bachelor's degree," he said. "It's not a prerequisite for that position, but it certainly doesn't hurt."
The information that Noonan learned in the program has already paid dividends in his new role.
"The BSN isn't just applicable to the bedside — it's much more than that," he said. "It's understanding how the organization works, how to cooperate and get this collaboration between all of the team members. That's where it builds a much stronger knowledge base. That's the thing a lot of people don't expect."
For the moment, Noonan plans to concentrate on work before adding college back to the mix as he strives to become a CRNA.
"The requirements for that next program are as competitive as medical school," he said. "I will be applying to matriculate into a DNP program in Fall 2020. Regionally, Gonzaga University would be my first choice."
Noonan believes the online program at Nevada State College was the ideal way for him to take the next step in reaching his goal.
"The biggest thing is to understand your pace," he said. "Everybody wishes they were done with the next step before they even start it. Don't bite off more than you can chew... It's a doable pace for just about anybody."
Learn more about the NSC online RN to BSN program.
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