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Success stories: Oklahoma nurses share secrets to maintaining balance while pursuing further education

Monday July 11, 2011
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The number of bachelor's-prepared RNs in the U.S. rose from 22.3% in 1980 to 36.8% in 2008, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. The number of master's- and doctorate-prepared RNs nearly tripled from 1980 to 2008 — from 5.2% to 13.2%.

As nurses pursue further education, one might wonder how they successfully maintain balance between work and self-care. Nurse.com asked Oklahoma nurses what their secrets are to successfully achieving advanced education without suffering professional or personal sacrifices. Each of their experiences vary, but the messages behind their answers are constant — they could not have achieved success and balance without the support of nursing leadership, friends, colleagues and families.


Stacey Decker, RN
Stacey Decker, RN
INTEGRIS Health • Oklahoma City


"The pride of being a part of a Magnet organization has motivated me to want to provide my patients with outstanding evidenced based practice and leadership skills that are gained by furthering my education. Being a Magnet organization isn't about hanging a sign on the wall but providing true excellence in nursing care. I could not have asked for a more supportive organization to work for than INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center while pursuing my graduate studies. My VP/Chief Nursing Officer never failed to check in with me, inquire if there was anything she could do to support my efforts and give me moral encouragement. If I had a large project or paper due all I had to do was ask for her help. She was willing to allow me the time to complete whatever project was ahead by giving me the necessary time off to complete my task."

Advice for RNs: "Have a discussion with your nursing leader expressing your professional and personal goals and what you need from your organization to accomplish them. Give yourself permission to say no to taking on extra projects or lending that extra hand while you are in school. Let your mind relax. Figure out how to turn off the light at the end of a busy day and let it all go. Schedule school work as a calendar event. The most stressful times are when we procrastinate and wait until the last minute. Scheduling school time gives life a level of predictability that reduces the stress level. Another key is a good night rest and healthy eating. It really works! Last but not least, find a supportive group of peers that are experiencing the same life challenges. Having someone who understands makes all the difference in the world."


Pam Doak, RN
Pam Doak, RN, BSN
Manager of inpatient oncology • Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Tulsa, Okla.

"I think our 'Mother Standard of care' mission at the facility encouraged me to further my education. Wanting to provide the type of care you would want your family to receive encourages further education and innovation. We are always looking for things that will improve our care and the patient experience. At the rate that healthcare changes are occurring, learning new approaches, ideas and processes can better prepare us for the changes we need to make to provide premier care to our patients. There are jobs being filled now that didn't even exist six to 12 months ago. If you can justify the position with new treatment options or improved care, the job can be created."


Kelli Dutton, RN
Kelli Dutton, RN, BSN
Manager of heart and vascular services • Mercy Clinic Stroke Prevention, Oklahoma City


Imagine balancing five kids, a managerial position and graduate school all at once. That's Dutton's life, and she's pulling it off without breaking much of a sweat. After 10 years of service, Dutton is back to the books, pursuing a master's degree as a clinical nurse specialist. Online coursework and a flexible employer make it possible. "Managing it all has been surprisingly easy," Dutton said. "The work I do at the stroke center translates to the academic side. Continuing education is a win-win. It allows Mercy to offer more services to our patients. It's exciting." Dutton received a $10,000 scholarship through Mercy — available to nurses gaining additional education — but the award wasn't what motivated her college decision. "I went back to school to help my patients," Dutton said. "It's great to know I can actually make a difference in a patient's life."


Jeffery D. Barlow, RN
Jeffery D. Barlow, RN, BSN, CNOR, CRNFA
Surgical services, weekend charge RN • Norman Regional Health System

"My facility has a high regard for continuing nursing education, with our senior nursing leadership being strong advocates of nursing professionalism, nursing leadership, and nursing ownership. My CNO brought me in to discuss my management role at the facility, and my strong desire to pursue graduate and doctorate studies. Together, with my director, I was afforded the opportunity to shift from a management role to a clinician role that flat out worked for me first, facility second. My facility gave me the opportunity to financially support my family, created the time I needed to attend graduate school full-time, and has offered tuition assistance and scholarships to off-set my financial loss related to position change. Without the aforementioned helpful transitions from my facility, and nursing leadership, my current placement in the graduate school of nursing administration with the University of Oklahoma would be null and void.

One thing is for certain, when there is a combination of work and life, there will be extrinsic and intrinsic challenges that a goal-setting RN will have to create, strive for and ultimately complete to be successful. If something matters to you, then you make time for 'it,' pay attention to 'it,' and nurture 'it,' so for whatever 'it' is, will be. Along the way, organization is the key to success. Organization of your thoughts, your plans and your actions will keep the goals intact, and your success in sight. Understand that taking a step backwards, if that means in your current nursing career placement and/or your personal-family lifestyle, for the greater good of your continuing education, is often presently warranted, but subsequently rewarded. Think of it as the right road, different path, with a more content destination."


Tammy Yoes, RN
Tammy Yoes, RN, MS, CCRN
Nursing Instructor • University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, ICU St. John's

"Nursing school requires a support system. By asking for help when I needed it, I found that my employers and others were willing to help in many ways. While working and raising a family I studied for my nursing education not only by reading my assignments, but also by working next to nurses who guided me through the process. I learned to think like a nurse by modeling my instructors and mentors. Having limited time, I spent all of my social time with those who could assist me in achieving my goal of completing nursing school. Family members can be great for practicing basic nursing skills such as assessments and vital signs. My nursing education forced me to realize my potential for helping those in need. As I reflect back on my education, I did not just learn about nursing, I became a nurse."


Margaret Petrilla, RN
Margaret Petrilla, RNWC, CNOR
Wound care • St. John Medical Center, Tulsa, Okla.

"My early nursing career began unexpectedly. With my early career as a teacher being not what I had expected, it was time for a change. After a separation from my husband of 10 years and young children to care for, I decided to try nursing. While I was in school, I also worked as a teacher's aide and managed to make all of the sporting events and parties. My parents were my godsend and managed to watch my children during some of my hours at work or school. After graduation, my children still had hot meals fixed every morning before I left for work. I also had wonderful neighbors who could watch the children, if necessary. My suggestion to anyone trying to balance their work, education and life/family is to allow people into your lives who believe in you and want to help. Don't tell yourself you can do it all on your own. People are put into our lives for a reason. Accept them for what they are to you. I am now 30 years past my beginnings as a nurse and have loved every day of it, thanks to the people I have surrounded myself with. They have helped make my career what it is."


Shauna Barroso, RN
Shauna Barroso, RN, BSN
5 East, Education Council cluster rep • St. John Medical Center

"I consider myself a busy person. I work, attend school, and have a family to fill up my free time, but I am not overwhelmed. I've always considered myself to be driven, so when I had the opportunity to go back to school I jumped at the chance. Teaching others has always been my passion, so I applied and was accepted into the University of Oklahoma's Accelerated Education track. One week after I began the program, I found out I was pregnant with my third child. I had to figure out how to finish school and take care of a newborn, plus my other responsibilities. In January, we welcomed a beautiful baby boy into our family. Thomas Edison once said "If we all did the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves." He was right. I know in the end all my hard work will be worth it. Besides, I have three little sets of eyes looking to me, and I can't let them down."