A common reason people return to college is to advance their education and their careers. It was the main reason for Jason Herman, BSN, RN, too. But he didn’t just advance in his career. He reached new heights — literally.
In 2018, Herman graduated from Edson College’s RN to BSN program. He was already a registered nurse, but in order to work at his desired hospital, he needed to earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing.
“After graduating from Edson College, I worked as a staff nurse in the emergency department at Augusta University Medical Center (AUMC), a Level I trauma center,” Herman said.
He continued pursuing his education, this time enrolling in a master’s degree program. It was during his time at AUMC that he learned they’d planned to start a helicopter emergency medical service program. He applied, and in 2021 was offered a position on the inaugural flight crew.
He’s since graduated with a Master of Science in nursing and had the opportunity to compete in a clinical challenge at the Air Medical Transport Conference.
“It’s a clinical-based interaction where teams of two respond to challenging situations that test clinical knowledge, critical thinking skills, teamwork, communication and situational awareness. We competed in the scene flight track against 25 other teams. My coworker and I placed first in the competition and were invited back this year to defend our title,” he said.
Herman recently spoke of his BSN journey, the impact it has had on him, and the importance of going after your dreams.
On the value of completing an RN to BSN degree program:
” [It] helped me achieve my current job by serving as a stepping stone in the path to further education. Without a BSN, I would not have qualified to work at Augusta University Medical Center, due to their pursuit to obtain magnet status, which requires nurses to be bachelor-prepared. My position at AUMC gave me the opportunity to become a flight nurse with the AirCare program.” [Aspiring flight nurses should check the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing Certified Flight RN details].
A faculty member with experience as a military flight nurse helped Jason set his course:
In a history of nursing class, “My instructor was a flight nurse in the military during her active-duty career. She shared photos of flights she had taken and her work environment. This solidified my dream to become a flight nurse.”
On working full-time while enrolled in an RN to BSN program:
While it can be “difficult to work full time while being a full-time student,” Herman says, “the completion of the RN to BSN program will open doors for you that you never thought were possible.” One of the biggest challenges he faced was pursuing his BSN while his wife was in medical school. Herman recalls, “I was working full time as an emergency department staff nurse and going to school full time. Trying to provide for my family emotionally and financially while pursuing a bachelor’s degree was no easy task.” Fortunately, “ASU allowed me to obtain my degree while still having a manageable work-life balance.”
Pursuing a DNP presented Johnson with the usual stresses and challenges: she continued to work a full-time job throughout and juggled job, parenting, and school duties. She recalls, “One day, my youngest approached me and said, ‘Mom, we never see your eyes anymore. You are always studying or working.’ It knocked me off my feet and I realized I needed to figure out some different habits so I wouldn’t miss my kids’ lives.” But the experience was also a game-changer: “Now I have a job that didn’t even exist when I first became a nurse. More education is never bad. I am so pleased I didn’t stop learning.”
Johnson, who is the president and CEO of the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence, continued to work full-time at the center (though in a different role) during her time in the DNP Innovation Leadership program.
Her DNP project was focused on growing programs for advanced practice registered nurses in rural areas. Johnson’s passion for that work carried over to her day job after graduation. “I continued to work on that and brought in several million dollars of funding to support building APRNs in rural and underserved communities across Colorado,” she said. “The United Health Foundation read my initial article on the project in Nursing Administration Quarterly and we have now expanded the project from an FNP focus to add PMHNPs.”
Even as she was promoted, Johnson remained committed to the program, and in 2021, she was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing on the power of that work.
Johnson has always understood the importance of lifelong learning for a nurse and sounds almost like a Greek philosopher when she says, “The real reason I sought a doctorate was that I knew education teaches us to think differently and ask different questions. One of the hardest realities for me was identifying that the more I learn, the more aware I am of how much more there is to learn.” Her DNP, she adds, “reminds me of that as I continue to learn new things from my staff and the world around me on a daily basis. It has been humbling and very gratifying.”
“We were not only permitted to think outside the box, we were also expected to do so and seek the evidence to support it.”
For herself, Johnson’s DNP journey helped her find her place as a nurse innovator. In her very first DNP course, “[Faculty members] Kathy Malloch and Tim Porter-O’Grady… pulled no punches and told us to think bigger, more creatively, and get out of our own way. I realized that in my whole career as a nurse and life as a student, we were told to follow the evidence and only do what we were told to do. Nurses follow evidence-based practice, so there was never the space to think outside the box. Now, we were in an innovation leadership program and we were not only permitted to think outside the box, but we were also expected to do so and seek the evidence to support it.”
To Johnson’s mind, “It was scary because over the years, I had been slapped down for not fitting the mold or for thinking of alternative ideas. When they told us that our job was to stop being a linear thinker and to find evidence around other less obvious solutions, it was incredibly freeing. I think we are born creative, and in an effort to learn evidence-based care and practice, we lose that, and often we are not permitted to find that side of ourselves again.”
The learning experience behind her DNP, Johnson remarks, also has made her a more perceptive nurse leader. Her doctoral work “opened my heart to look outside my own ideas and better listen and learn from those around me so we can innovate to support… I didn’t have the tools to really do that prior to this degree, but now I often have the right tools, and if I don’t have the right tools, I have the resources to figure out what tools I need and how to get them.”
What advice does she have for current and future DNP students? “Enjoy the process and embrace the reality that for the rest of your life, you will have more questions than answers … and that is OK. Stay curious. Remember that when you get feedback that doesn’t feel warranted, listen for what is true in the feedback. It can be your greatest gift. Even if only 2% of the negative feedback is correct, it may be exactly what you need. If you knew everything and did everything perfectly the first time out, you wouldn’t need to be there!”
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