I’m Loriann Melby, a nurse, wife, and mother of three, and I’m earning my RN to BSN degree through UW Flexible Option from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. That means no classrooms and no semesters. What’s it like to earn college credit without “going” to college? I hope to answer that question for you based on my experience as a nursing student.
Getting Started: September 2015
I currently work second shift as a telephone triage nurse for Aurora Health Care in New Berlin, Wis., where I answer after-hours patient calls for 60-100 different clinics. As a triage nurse, I help patients and their families get better healthcare by phone.
I’ve been in triage teleservices for the past five years. In total, I’ve been a nurse for 22 years. While my position doesn’t require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), my employer earned “Magnet” status and now encourages nurses to earn a BSN degree. I work the second shift and can’t get to class very easily. My son, Lucas, has special needs and requires round-the-clock nursing care and frequent hospitalization, which makes traditional semesters tough. So, I chose UW Flexible Option because it fit my life.
During the admissions process, I was able to transfer in a number of credits from Milwaukee County Medical Complex School of Nursing, where I earned my diploma as an RN. I also attended UW-Milwaukee as an accounting major early on, so most of those credits applied towards the non-nursing requirements. In total, I only had to complete 36 of the 124 credits needed to graduate. I was ready to get started!
With the UW Flexible Option, you can choose your pace. Some BSN students earn their degrees in less than a year! My needs are a little different, so my goal is to graduate in March 2018.
Get a UW Flexible Option Degree Guide
Download an introductory guide (PDF) to the self-paced, competency-based UW Flexible Option programs, including details about costs, admission requirements, and more.
Getting Started: December 2015
I planned to start in December 2015 by taking one to two competency sets–which are like courses–per three-month subscription period. But before I even started the program, I had to postpone my first subscription period.
In December, my husband suffered a serious heart attack and required open heart surgery. He’s fine now, thankfully, but I definitely needed to be there for his recovery. Soon after, we endured another family tragedy. My sister-in-law, who had been diagnosed with cancer only recently, passed away the morning after my husband’s heart attack.
Throughout this difficult time, I was in contact with my Academic Success Coach, Blake Bishop. When you’re admitted to UW Flexible Option, you’re assigned an Academic Success Coach (ASC). Blake has been with me throughout my entire UW Flexible Option experience. So together, Blake and I made a plan to delay my start date, giving me time to cope with the loss of my sister. With the UW Flexible Option, you can start a three-month subscription period any month of the year, so you don’t have to wait for the next semester to start earning your degree. My new start date became March 2016.
Establishing Study Habits: March-April-May 2016
During my first subscription period, I enrolled in two competency sets. Blake suggested NURS 407x: Foundations of Professional Nursing Practice to help me ease into the program. It was a great recommendation, and it only took me six weeks to finish. ENG 102: College Writing was hard but I finished three days ahead of schedule, so I had a few days free to enjoy a break! I like the fact that I can progress through my competency sets as quickly as I want.
I also started to build my study habits. When and where I complete my assignments really varies. I study before work or after work, but mostly during my days off. When I’m not working, I probably get two to four hours of studying each day. (If my husband’s home, I get even less, because he can be distracting!) I watch much less TV these days, and I read fewer of my favorite books.
I often study after work, at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, after my shift ends. My phone is near me to stay in contact with family, nursing staff, and anyone who needs to get ahold of me via text. I sit at a table or a tray table, or I will lay on the floor and read.
Staying Organized: June-July-August 2016
I took only one competency set during my second subscription period—my science requirement. Enrollment for each subscription period starts a month in advance. The process is now predictable; I confirm my enrollment for the upcoming subscription period, then my ASC Blake emails me the dates of my first and last day of “class,” tuition payment deadline, and a few other things. I buy all my textbooks before the period starts.
On the second day of the month, when the subscription period begins, I download all the assessments, which I think of as “assignments.” Typically, nursing courses have four assessments per competency set. I also download all the learning resources, such as online journal articles.
UW Flexible Option provides tools to help you remain organized. But I’m pretty organized already so this is an easy step. Each subscription period, I begin by looking at my work schedule, which is available six weeks in advance. I’ve worked second shift my entire career. When I develop my study plan, I factor in my work and family schedule and think about any other activities I have going on.
Then, it’s all up to me. I work to complete all assessments by the end of the subscription period and can move as fast or as slow as I need. If I’m waiting for a grade back on one of my assessments, I move forward on the reading for the next assessment while I wait for the grade. I try to end every subscription period two weeks early so that between subscription periods, my family and I get a little break and can do some fun things together.
Settling into a Routine: September-October-November 2016
Once again, I chose to enroll in only one competency set. My Academic Success Coach, Blake, suggested I take NURS 446x: Research and Evidence Based Practice, because it was very time consuming. I continued to stay in touch with my ASC. If I have trouble with a resource, I will contact him; or, if I have a specific question on an assignment, he is my liaison to faculty.
Self-Motivation and Setting My Own Pace: December-January-February 2017
My next competency set would be very time-consuming so I enrolled in only one competency set: NURS 454x: Community Health Nursing. The data collection is rigorous but, once again, I was able to finish one week early so I enjoyed a break before the next subscription period.
I like the fact that I only need to rely on myself. There are no group projects where I interact with other students so it’s always up to me to complete a competency set on my own. I never have to wait for anyone and can fit my studies around my life. That’s exactly what I wanted from UW Flexible Option.
Lucas Is Hospitalized: March-April-May 2017
I enrolled in two competency sets because I knew that one of them, NURS 454x: Chronic Care Management, would come easily for me based on my experience caring for my youngest son.
I have three sons. My twins are 25-years old and no longer live at home. My youngest, Lucas, is 21-years old. Lucas has Mitochondrial Disease, which is the term for a wide range of diseases that involve mutations in mitochondrial DNA. Lucas requires 24-hour nursing, so I manage the nurses, his supplies, prescriptions, doctor appointments, everything.
It’s not uncommon for Lucas to be hospitalized. During this subscription period, Lucas was hospitalized twice, for a total of 20 days. I reach out to my Academic Success Coach, Blake, whenever my son is in the hospital for more than two days. I struggled with my studies this entire subscription period and came close to not finishing in time. Thanks to the flexibility of the program and my communication with Blake, I was able to finish both competency sets on time.
The Academic Success Coach acts as a liaison between the professors and me during these times of crisis. Blake is very supportive. He helps me set up an alternative plan if I am not able to complete my assessments on time.
A Trip to Disney World: June-July-August 2017
This summer, I took only one competency set so my husband and I could take a vacation—a ten-day trip to Disney World. It was our first vacation without kids in 16 years! We stopped along the way in Atlanta, Nashville, Louisville, and Cincinnati. And no, I did not study while traveling! I took a real vacation.
My Progress to Date: September-October-November 2017
I’m completing two competency sets right now: NURS 317x: Health Assessment and NURS 365x: Global Health and Ethics. The Global Health competency set interests me a lot. In this competency set, I’ll look at healthcare from both an ethical and human rights perspective.
Nearing the Finish Line: December-January-February 2018
When December comes, I’ll take one more competency set, NURS 447x: Leadership & Management, which will be my last before I enroll in the Capstone/Practicum.
Capstone Experience: March-April-May 2018
Like all UW Flexible Option nursing students, I’ll take NURS 445x as my final nursing competency set. It’s the only clinical practicum in the program. I plan to complete my clinical project where I work. It’s a chance to choose something I’m really passionate about. I’ve already spoken to my manager and my plan is to put together an educational presentation on obstetrics.
I’ve learned a lot that will help me in my job. When I graduate in May, I hope to continue contributing to our staff training, helping others to grow and benefit from all that I’ve learned through the UW Flexible Option.
Want to know more about what it’s like to be a UW Flexible Option student? Call or email us today at 1-877-895-3276 or email@example.com to get started.