Leaning into leadership: an RN-to-BSN journey

June 12, 2018

Kristi Simmonds* entered the nursing field with a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) license in 1997 and immediately knew she was in the right career.

“I absolutely love everything about nursing,” she says. In 2007, she took her career a step further and got her associate’s degree in nursing and her RN license.

Her intention was to immediately enter a bachelor’s degree program, but life took an unexpected turn. “I went through a divorce and a custody battle,” she says. “And then I was a single parent, and I thought I couldn’t do a bachelor’s.” It was a time and cost commitment that now seemed insurmountable. So, she decided to continue working as an RN.

Leadership beckons

Eventually, Simmonds began thinking about leadership roles. “In January [2017], I started applying for jobs I didn’t think I was qualified for,” she says. “I wanted to be in long-term care. I got an offer and was really excited, but the salary had been lowered because I didn’t have a bachelor’s.”

That disappointment spurred Simmonds to rethink her decision to forgo her bachelor’s degree. She began researching programs, and when she found Capella University’s self-paced learning format, FlexPath™, she felt it was a great fit, giving her the flexibility she needed to earn her degree on her terms, and on her budget. Still, the idea of school intimidated her, and she put off enrolling.

“School scared me,” she admits. “I’m an organized, constructive person, and I set high standards for myself. I worried about trying to do this. My Capella enrollment counselor, Laurie, was very patient with me over about nine or 10 months as I sat on the fence. Finally, I just bit the bullet and told myself to do it.”

In September 2017, Simmonds enrolled in the BSN program via FlexPath, and found she’d been right—it was a great fit. “Capella is helping me achieve my high standards,” she says. “But I can also still be part of my family. It gives me a sense of power over my own life. FlexPath’s flexibility allowed me to work the program around my work and family, and also allowed me to move faster through courses when I had the time and energy to do so.”

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New school, new job

Having that sense of power proved crucial when, shortly after beginning at Capella, she was offered her dream job as director of nursing at a skilled nursing facility at a respectable salary.

“I owe a lot to Capella,” she says. “The orientation at Capella gave me that drive and confidence. I talked about working on my bachelor’s at my interview, and my employer was very impressed with my educational ambitions.”

Bringing new knowledge to daily work

Simmonds is finding that her coursework is directly applicable to her daily work life, especially as she transitions into her leadership role. “Nurses can become very task-oriented,” she says. “It’s easy to forget all the other people around us—managers, trainers, family members, corporate workers. My interprofessional coursework is really opening my eyes to the many different constituents I need to satisfy while driving quality patient care.”

“I’m learning every day about balancing the needs of care with the needs of the organization. The financial, patient, and employee aspects all play into my leadership role.”

More education in the future

Her progress on her BSN and its immediate relevance to her work life has already led Simmonds to plan for a master’s degree. Knowing that FlexPath made her BSN possible, she would look to it for an MSN as well. With an MSN, she sees herself staying in her industry niche, just moving more and more into leadership.

“I’ll absolutely stay in this area,” she says. “I believe the geriatric population is an under-recognized group of people. They deserve more than we’ve been able to give them. The right people can make a big difference in their lives.” By pursuing her BSN and MSN, Simmonds believes she can be one of those people.

Learn more about Capella’s online BSN and MSN programs.

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