It’s good that Dr. Bret Hess paid attention in class.

Two years after graduating from the online Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at Nevada State College, he became an instructor in the program.

“Three days before commencement for my master’s degree at Grand Canyon University, I officially started at Nevada State,” he said. “It was such a wonderful feeling.

“I had resources and a mentor, Sherrilyn Coffman, who is in the office next to me. If I had a question, I asked her. To this day, I am still passionate about making sure the students have what they need.”

Dr. Hess was born in California and grew up in Las Vegas. After starting school as an electrical engineering major, he developed a passion for healthcare when his younger brother, Scott, was diagnosed with pediatric cancer at 17 years old. Unfortunately, his brother passed away.

“At that point, I wanted to help my parents,” he said. “I was living at home. I took a first aid class that I loved. I decided to expand my horizons a little bit and took an EMT class at the community college.

“My EMT instructor happened to be a nurse. She pulled me over one day and said, ‘Have you ever thought about going into nursing?’ That simple validation from her led me in that direction. I immersed myself in it.”

During his seven years of experience teaching in the online RN to BSN program, Dr. Hess has encountered several students who chose a healthcare career under similar circumstances.

“I hear about how the nurses and healthcare teams in these touching moments influenced my students to go in that direction,” he said. “That was part of the impetus for me going into pediatrics and critical care.”

Bit by the Teaching Bug

After graduating with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) from the College of Southern Nevada in 1989, Dr. Hess began his career in pediatrics, where he eventually worked with nursing students on their clinical rotations.

“They kept saying to me, ‘You need to teach,'”‘ he said. “The instructors who were there on the unit would say the same thing. After so many semesters, I finally got it through my head that this is something I need to do.”

Dr. Hess said several of the instructors in the online RN to BSN program at Nevada State encouraged his switch to teaching full time. As a result, he graduated with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from the University of Nevada, Reno, last year.

“After engaging with them, they said, ‘When you’re finished [with the master’s degree], if you want to teach with us, step in and we’ll see what we can do,'” he said. “In the meantime, I taught part time and worked the bedside. I taught labs and clinicals.”

That perspective as a graduate of the online RN to BSN program gives Dr. Hess an advantage only a small number of instructors have with students.

“I tell them the first day that, ‘You and I are going to be alumni together when you finish,'” he said. “I know what it’s like going through this school. Their eyes light up.

“The students in the RN to BSN program are pretty much all working nurses. You have to understand what their needs are — especially the ones who have work, school and family, and the ones who are single parents.”

Dr. Hess thrives on passing along the knowledge he gained in numerous areas of pediatrics, including oncology, emergency room, flight nursing and nursing supervisor.

“You receive different perspectives from different jobs,” he said. “I immerse them in different stories about the type of patients they may be working with. In pediatrics, there are sad stories, like child abuse.

“I tell them about what we need to do in nursing and using caring and compassion at the same time with the parents and the families. A new diagnosis of cancer is so overwhelming for these parents.”

Happy Place

Dr. Hess is glad he followed the advice to transition from nursing to teaching at his alma mater. His wife, Tammy, is a neonatal nurse on an intensive care unit.

“I enjoy talking shop with her,” he said. “When I was at a local hospital, she was a traveling nurse. I volunteered to precept her.”

After seven years of teaching, engaging with the students and challenging them to learn and understand is Dr. Hess’s favorite part of his job.

“They have to get something out of it,” he said. “They have to know, ‘Why am I studying this? Why am I learning this? Why is this important?’ Part of that is engaging with them about their importance.

“I enjoy helping them understand why they need to know about comparing and compassion and make that light bulb brighter. That’s so important that we’re teaching and engaging.”

Dr. Hess also enjoys teaching a course titled Conceptual Bases of Nursing, which is the basis for the online RN to BSN curriculum at Nevada State.

“My motto is it’s all about the patient,” he said. “I teach the students to not only be that lean, mean nursing machine with caring and compassion, but the more they walk away with the knowledge, the more they can bring to their patients. It’s a nice domino effect.”

Learn more about Nevada State College’s online RN to BSN program.