Going online a 'game-changer' for nurses
Registered nurse Else Leon arrived for her first ever visit to Newfoundland and Labrador last May, just in time for Spring Convocation, and the School of Nursing's (SON) annual graduation ceremony.
She wanted to meet her professors and fellow graduates, people with whom she had bonded over the course of her online master of nursing program.
"The other graduates were just like me, motivated nurses eager to make a difference in the lives of patients, students and other nurses, said Ms. Leon, who arrived for the two ceremonies with her family, including her one-year-old son. "I feel like I had more contact on an academic level with my classmates and professors than I would have had in a traditional classroom."
Though she was meeting fellow graduates and her professors face-to-face for the first time, it was easy to tell that she felt at home among the group, posing for photos with her toddler, and chatting with classmates.
Ms. Leon's master's supervisor and the associate dean (graduate programs) at the SON enjoys seeing this interaction among her graduate students.
"I'm always surprised when they know each other," said Dr. Donna Moralejo. "But they take many courses together, move through the courses at the same time, and there's a lot of discussion in our courses. They get to know each other through follow-ups, asking for help, or sharing ideas."
Dr. Moralejo has worked with graduate students in the MN program since coming to the SON in the early 90s. She was involved with the transition in 2000 from a classroom-based program to one delivered online.
"Demand was increasing, and it was becoming very difficult for nurses who were working to make it to class," said Dr. Moralejo. "We wanted to increase accessibility, and also open up the program beyond St. John's."
Moving online was a "game changer," she said, because suddenly a master's in nursing was within reach of busy working nurses who were often juggling shiftwork and raising young families.
That's when enrollment started increasing, from about 10-12 per year in the mid to late 1980s, to about 150-175 in 2015; it's a competitive entry and spaces fill up every year.
"The flexibility of doing the work on my own time without being tied to brick and mortar classrooms was one of the main reasons I chose Memorial," said Ms. Leon. "I'd been thinking about starting my master's, and a friend told me that Memorial University had very advanced on-line programs and that the School of Nursing has a great reputation."
Ms. Leon enjoyed her work as a nurse clinician on a pediatrics unit at the Montreal Children's Hospital, but also had a yearning to further her education. She began her master's in 2010, and managed to fit her online classes and study into life as a full-time nurse.
"I liked the frequency of contact with the professors, as well as with other classmates through our weekly discussions," she said. "The professors knew how to keep on us on track with readings, and their experience and tailoring to an online student body was apparent."
The MN program is one of Memorial's oldest online programs, at a university that has built a reputation and earned many awards for its expertise in distance learning.
These days the online student body includes MN students in the project-based practicum and practice-based nurse practitioner options. The majority of students, about two-thirds of them, are from this province, with the rest coming from other parts of Canada and from other counties.
"Our goal was always to focus on knowledge and skills development in advanced practice nursing," said Dr. Moralejo. "It's not just about administrators and educators, but about professional development for staff nurses as leaders."
Back in Montreal, Ms. Leon has just started a new position as a nursing instructor in the registered nurse (RN) program at Vanier College. It's a career change she didn't see coming while working on her master's degree, but it's one she's pretty excited about.
"Remembering how passionate my professors were (about nursing and teaching) is fresh in my mind and will serve as motivation," she said. "Being invested in your profession inevitably helps others feel the same way!"