Dakena Nelson held the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) nursing program in high regard long before she became a student. Now, she speaks about it from experience.
The Monroe native graduated from ULM's online Master of Science in Nursing – Gerontologic Clinical Nurse Leader program in 2019.
"I had some experience behind me and decided to dip my foot in the water at ULM," she said. "I wanted to be part of that community. I wanted to have that prestige."
Nelson now has that feather in her cap and has since moved to the Nashville area with her family. She became a house supervisor at Select Medical in June 2020.
"I wanted to keep moving up the ladder in my career," she said. "I felt like the best way to do that was to get my MSN. When I saw ULM was offering a program I could do completely online, I thought, 'Why not?' There was no time like the present."
The flexibility of the online format helped Nelson earn a degree while working full time as a registered nurse in Monroe. She and her husband, Raymond, also have two daughters — Chelsea (4) and Kylie (3).
"It's probably one of the best things I could have done in terms of managing my time," she said. "You go at your own pace. I finished in a little over a year, but you could also take two years to do it. I was excited to finish earlier than expected.
"I could spend time with family and then knock out five or six assignments at the same time. That was a plus for me. Working a 12-hour shift and still having time to knock out your assignments worked out well."
The Right Prescription
Nelson enrolled in pharmacy school after she graduated from high school. However, her mother, Danita Potter, encouraged her to follow in her footsteps.
"She told me to think about nursing because there are a lot of opportunities to help people," she said. "I have always been a leader in different aspects of my life with friends and family. So, I switched from pharmacy to nursing and excelled."
After graduating from Grambling State University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2014, Nelson gained valuable experience at hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe. She was an assistant director of nursing for 10 months.
"My current role of house supervisor is a nice balance between management and leadership, which is what I was going for," she said.
The online MSN — Gerontologic Clinical Nurse Leader program helped prepare Nelson to meet the new challenges she is facing in her career. Of all the courses in the curriculum, NURS 5002: Research I: Evidence-Based Practice was her favorite course.
"I didn't expect that to be the one that I liked the most," she said. "In the BSN program, I hated doing research. In the master's degree program, it opened my eyes to how research in the course correlates to research in the field. You find out the 'why' of what you're doing."
The information that Nelson gathered from her coursework remains as applicable to her nursing practice as it was the day she learned it.
"There were a lot of things I was already seeing and never had a name for," she said. "For sure, I got great value out of the program and still use it almost every day."
Nelson was living in Monroe when she completed the program. She enjoyed walking the graduation stage at the commencement ceremony and celebrating the big accomplishment at ULM with her family.
"With the reputation of the school, I wanted to be a part of that," she said. "My family was definitely excited for me.
"They lovingly pushed the issue with me and said, 'What took you so long?' Most of my family has many graduate degrees. It was expected. My husband is awesome."
Nelson is proof that earning a master's degree opens up additional career opportunities, as she quickly landed her new role less than a year after graduation.
She also believes the MSN will give her the opportunity to take her career in any of a number of directions as she continues to build on her education and experience.
"It definitely helped me get this job," she said. "I want to explore my options. There are so many of them in nursing that I don't want to box myself in."
No matter what Nelson decides to pursue down the road, she will always be a ULM graduate with her hometown still in her heart. She is happy to represent Monroe no matter where she goes.
"Clinical nurse leadership has only been around 15 years or so," she said. "It's not at the top of everyone's mind. It's a growing field where you focus on leadership and more management roles. You learn to advocate for the patients, your staff and the leadership team. I love it."
Learn more about ULM's online MSN – Gerontologic Clinical Nurse Leader program.
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