After receiving a promotion to a management position, Donna DeSantis wanted to have the education to back up her experience.
So, she enrolled in the online Master of Science in Nursing – Nursing Administration program at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. She is on track to graduate in July 2020.
"Having this education would do a couple of things for me," she said. "One, it would look good on my resume. Two, it would help me gain some academic knowledge that I could apply to my job day to day."
DeSantis already got more than she bargained for with the degree. Three months before completing the program, she earned another promotion to quality director and risk manager at Penn Highlands Clearfield in Pennsylvania.
"Earning the master's degree opened up this opportunity," she said. "I am in the same facility, and this is my third promotion in two years."
The online format has also been especially beneficial to DeSantis with the coronavirus outbreak. She and her husband, Stephen, have six kids — Ashley (25), Josh (23), Isaiah (20), Mark (18), Devan (16) and Hailey (15), five of whom are living at home.
"I knew with COVID-19 coming, I could be mandated to stay at work," she said. "Being a nurse, you have that hanging over you right now. Doing the program online gave me the ability to work ahead, knowing what was coming with my job.
"I like the flexibility of doing work when I want to. I tend to be the kind of person who works ahead. I am about three weeks ahead right now. I also did my bachelor's degree online."
All Over the Map
DeSantis grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she decided to pursue a nursing career based on input from her high school guidance counselor.
"Eventually, I would like to end up in a clinical nursing education role in a hospital," she said.
After graduating with an Associate Degree in Nursing from Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts in 1990, DeSantis worked as an RN at Lifespan in Rhode Island for nearly 13 years before returning to college.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Texas at Arlington 24 years after she earned an associate degree and enrolled at UAH in August 2019.
"The UAH MSN program has one of the largest amounts of clinical hours required," she said. "To me, that was a benefit. I thought it would more practically prepare me, as opposed to just bookwork.
"It also had the fewest number of credit hours. Most programs were 36-42 credits, while this one is only 30. That made it doable in a year, but it required the most clinical hours and was more hands on. That's been a good mix for me."
Although DeSantis has logged some of the clinical hours in the online MSN in Nursing Administration program, completing the remainder of them remains up in the air.
"The big one is coming up this summer, which I hope I can still do," she said. "So many educational elements have been shut down in hospitals. I am hoping by the end of May that they will open back up."
Even with more than 20 years of nursing experience, DeSantis is gaining new information in the master's degree program.
"I probably learned the most in the finance class [NUR 632: Healthcare Finance and Economics]," she said. "That one was very beneficial. I don't do anything financial in my job, so I didn't have any experience in it."
DeSantis, who enjoys reading, has had help from her friends and family during her time in the master's degree program. Like her, they are excited as she heads into the home stretch.
"They're very supportive," she said. "I challenged my kids, who are all doing online school right now. I said, 'See, this is what mom's been going through. If I can do it as an adult with a full-time job, you can do it.'"
In addition to strengthening their family bond, the unusual experience has perhaps paved the way for her kids to earn college degrees online.
"I have been telling them, 'Don't stop while you're young. Get your master's degree while you're in your 20s. Don't wait until you're in your 50s,'" she said. "Last May, my husband graduated with a master's degree in theology from the University of Valley Forge."
Even though DeSantis has more going on in her life than most people, she believes taking two courses at a time to complete the online MSN program in 12 months is manageable.
"I talked to another student who was enrolled in the program who encouraged me to try it," she said. "I have been able to manage it to this point.
"If people have younger kids, it might be harder. With my kids being the ages that they are and my husband as supportive as he is, that's made it doable. Plus, each class has brought a different set of information I can use."Learn more about the UAH online MSN – Nursing Administration program.
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