After working as a nurse educator for almost 30 years at Louisiana's Northwestern State University (NSU), Ann Deshotels found herself at a turning point in her career.
"I had this moment when I decided I was going to either retire or make a big life-changing decision, and I chose to go back to school," she said. "I teach in the RN to BSN program and actively recruit practicing RNs to return to school and advance their nursing education. So, I made a decision to practice what I preach and decided the Doctor of Education, Curriculum & Instruction online program at the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) was perfect for me to advance my education for the Ed.D."
The program took Deshotels almost five years to complete, but she was able to continue working full time at NSU's College of Nursing. She graduated from ULM's online Ed.D. program in 2019.
"I only took one or two classes at a time because I wanted straight A's. I expected excellence. I worked hard to ensure that I was doing my best and learning the most I could from the program," she said.
"Going through this program was not about the doctor title at all. I'm just so thrilled to have achieved what I set out to do."
When it came to finding an online program, word of mouth made Deshotels' work easy.
"I had one nursing colleague who told me about the program, and I was so impressed that I didn't feel the need to look at any other programs," she said.
As a nurse, Deshotels values interdisciplinary collaboration and the ability to communicate with all members of the healthcare team. She liked the idea of going back to school with a mix of individuals from different health professions.
"This program was an opportunity for me to reflect on my strengths and weaknesses as an educator and especially online education, because as a Baby Boomer, I found all of this new technology challenging initially."
The online format took some getting used to as Deshotels received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 1978 and her Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from NSU in 1991. Once she acclimated, ULM's online courses proved to be a timesaver as she was able to continue working and completing her assignments without having to drive back and forth.
"I fulfilled my obligations and responsibilities as a faculty member first, and then weekends and nights, I would do my ULM assignments," she said. "My job also gave me four hours per week for faculty practice to focus on my doctoral education."
Closing the Distance
When Deshotels started teaching for NSU, she lived in Alexandria, Louisiana, and taught in-person courses for the RN to BSN program at its satellite campus. She moved to Baton Rouge in 2016 and started teaching 100% online.
"I really had to work in changing my teaching strategy for nursing education from face-to-face to finding new ways to convey the same information using online technologies such as Moodle, Zoom, and WebEx while keeping the students engaged," she said.
The flexibility of the online format kept Deshotels' education moving forward, with the course instructors helping ease her journey, too.
"The ULM faculty were interested in positive outcomes and motivating their students to stay on track," she said. "They would reach out and check on me if they hadn't heard from me in a while, and that meant a lot to me."
Learning to Teach
For Deshotels, the calling to become a nurse came at an early age. However, she had not thought about a career in nursing education until a professor in her master's program suggested it.
"It really was a good choice for me as a mother raising children with no desire to do shift work. The hours were awesome," she said.
After spending so much time as a learner, she understands the necessity for balancing family, work and school, and she enjoys helping students find ways to manage it all.
"I absolutely love the students I teach," she said. "Anything I can do to encourage them to stay on track and finish their degrees is another day that I've accomplished something good for them.
"I teach licensed RNs, so I have to instill in them the value of returning to school for the bachelor's degree and what it can do for them as healthcare professionals. Going back to school may present some new challenges, but it will also open lots of opportunities ahead. We really push to get associate degree nurses back in school for their bachelor's degree, and then consider graduate education as well."
Looking ahead, Deshotels sees herself closer to retirement and perhaps teaching part time.
Aiming for Excellence
While the road there was no easy feat, receiving her doctorate in person capped Deshotels' achievement. She was able to walk at the commencement ceremony with another colleague.
"I'm very, very happy that I made it. There were lots of times that I doubted myself, but it was a personal challenge I wanted to see through to the end," she said. "It was so exciting to be done. I could finally get all the papers off the dining room table and the rest of the house."
Deshotels' tightly knit family was excited to see her complete her doctorate as well.
"My grandchildren — who call me Annie, the computer nurse — are here all the time. Hopefully, I taught them that learning is a lifelong journey.”
"I'm very blessed to have been able to go back to school, especially at my age. It was between retirement and gaining my terminal degree to be the best that I could be in my career as a nursing educator. I think I chose well."
Learn more about ULM's online Ed.D., Curriculum & Instruction program.
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