Despite holding numerous titles throughout her vibrant 25-year healthcare career, Michelle Ricca Gardner doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
That streak ends in Year 26.
Gardner is on track to graduate from the Nevada State College Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program in May 2018, five years after she earned a Master of Healthcare Administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“I thought, ‘You know what? Nevada State College is available to me. They have a very good reputation. I want to go get my bachelor’s degree because a lot of places require it,'” Gardner said. “I really was not aware of what a bachelor’s degree entailed or what the specifics of a BSN education were. However, after becoming immersed in the program, I could no longer imagine how I practiced without the bachelor’s knowledge base. It is one of those things where you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Gardner’s new depth of nursing knowledge makes her an even stronger leader.
“It is a different perspective,” she said. “It’s a sense of responsibility. Nurses deal with rationale. We have to know why. That is the kind of nurse you want. You want your nurse to ask questions such as, ‘Why are we giving this medication to this person?’
“In the bachelor’s program, you begin to answer questions of ‘why’ with an increasingly broad view of the role of a registered nurse, in other words, you begin to assimilate the aesthetics of nursing into nursing practice,” Gardner said. “I have a master’s degree in healthcare administration, and I’m sure that you will never get what you get in a BSN program in an ADN [associate degree of nursing] program.”
Never Stop Learning
The online format allowed Gardner to enroll in the RN to BSN program while working full-time as an RN case manager.
“It’s very flexible,” she said. “I do it when I feel like it. I’m a straight-A student with a 4.0 GPA. Not everybody requires that of themselves… that just happens to be me. I would say I work six hours per week, per course.”
She is also impressed with the flexibility that goes beyond the asynchronous nature of the online format.
“If I want to, I can get up at three in the morning and do something,” Gardner said. “That would not be possible if it were not for the flexibility of the instructors. If they have student requests to open the next week’s module, sometimes they will open the next week’s module so we can work ahead. It’s not just the online format, the instructors are also so flexible. There are two components.”
Once Gardner graduates from the online RN to BSN program, she may continue her education towards a doctorate. She also knows which direction she wants to take her career once she is finished with school.
“I want to be a travel nurse for maybe 5-10 years and then settle into a leadership role in nursing,” she said. “I know exactly what I want to do. There’s no question. In any case, the online RN to BSN program has been a huge influence in the way I practice nursing and the program will prove to be a major stepping stone to furthering my personal and professional goals.”
All of Gardner’s courses have provided her with different ways to look at her profession.
“I’ve loved every single course,” she said. “It’s hard to single out one favorite. The courses are integrated, so we see one thing in one perspective in one course, and then we’ll see the same topic in a different course from a different perspective.
“So, we may study ethics in nursing leadership, and we’re going to study it in global health and again as it applies to nursing informatics. The courses are outstanding – all of them. Even the courses and topics that at first seemed less relevant become part of the larger picture to create a well-rounded view of the nursing profession.”
Additionally, the RN to BSN program has helped Gardner have more of a professional view and a sense of responsibility to her community and even towards global health.
“We have to be able to connect in our clinics, our facilities, our communities and globally, because that’s what’s happening in every industry right now.
“Nevada State College, as does the Las Vegas area, leads at the forefront of celebrating diversity and inclusion. Furthermore, the nursing program is designed around Dr. Jean Watson’s Caring Theory. There is formalized focus on competency regarding exactly how to celebrate diversity and how to be a more caring nurse. These concepts are integrated into every course I have taken at Nevada State College. I am very proud to be a part of Nevada State College’s diverse community.”
Here to Stay
Although Gardner thought about changing professions recently after she took some time off from her career, she knows she was meant to be a nurse.
“I always knew I wanted to be a nurse; it wasn’t really anything that was ever in question,” she said. “As I got older however, I wondered if I wanted to study medicine or law? I have even taken the LSAT [Law School Admission Test] and prepared my application, which is due this month. I am not going to do it. I am going to stay in nursing. Nursing is very flexible. It’s great to have with a family. With nursing, you can essentially have another career simultaneously, if you want to.”
Gardner earned an Associate of Nursing from Mohave Community College in 1990 and she also graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological chemistry from Mount St. Joseph University in 2000. The RN to BSN will be her fourth degree.
“I go to school all of the time,” she said. “Once I finish this one, I’ll go on to another one. It’s my hobby. I’m kind of unusual that way. I have a lot of support from my family to pursue continuous learning.”
In addition, she provides a little bit of inspiration for her four grown kids.
“I’m at the far end of the spectrum of nontraditional,” she said. “The fact that I am in school challenges my children because they are still trying to compete with me. Two of them just finished college and one is getting ready to start. The two that finished are looking at maybe master’s degrees or Ph.D.s.”
Gardner said the toughest part about returning to school was getting started.
“You have to look forward,” she said. “Take one class to start. When you have success in one class, maybe take two classes. The point that is most important is you take that first step and sign up for that first class.
“The time is going to go by anyway. If it takes you three or four years, three or four years is going to go by. You might as well have a new degree. It’s intimidating because people think you have to do so much at once. You don’t. You just start with one class. That’s it. Put your toe in the water.”
Learn more about the Nevada State College online RN to BSN program.