When West Monroe native Emily DeRousse McGarvey was ready to return to college for a master's degree, she had trouble finding the right program.
"It felt like you had to choose to be a nurse practitioner or earn a master's degree in education or administration," she said. "None of those ever exactly fit what I wanted to do."
Then, home came calling. McGarvey enrolled in the online Master of Science in Nursing – Gerontological Clinical Nurse Leader program at the University of Louisiana Monroe, where she graduated from the RN to BSN program in 2006.
"A good friend of mine who teaches in the undergrad program, Leah Hawsey, told me ULM was starting a master's program that she thought would be great for me," she said.
Her friend was right. "The Clinical Nurse Leadership program is the best of both worlds. You could take a lot of the clinical courses and still get strong training and leadership foundations. That appealed to me," McGarvey said.
McGarvey also needed the flexibility of the online format to accommodate her busy life. She works full time as a professional practice consultant at Kaiser Permanente and is a single mother to two sons — Silas (7) and Auggie (5).
"I was not too far into the program when I was diagnosed with melanoma, which I am still fighting," she said. "The professors have been unreal with their support and extending deadlines. I can't imagine that happening anywhere else or in any other format.
"To be able to drop or add a class has been invaluable to me — I couldn't have finished otherwise. Plus, I am in a different time zone. It's been so great to have that piece of home and people willing to work with me."
McGarvey enrolled at ULM as a psychology major after she graduated from high school, but she soon realized she was destined for another path. Her academic adviser helped her identify what she wanted to do and what made the most sense.
She said, "I love helping people, which is where the psychology major came from. Nursing ended up being a good fit. Once I started my prerequisite courses, I never looked back. I love it."
After graduation, McGarvey spent two years at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville as a registered nurse. She then went to Colorado for what was initially a three-month travel nursing assignment in 2008.
"I just started my new role as a professional practice consultant," she said. "To have the power to look at a protocol or procedure that isn't quite working and apply evidence-based research to fix it and remove barriers feels so good. Everybody likes fixing things."
So far, NURS 5012: Advanced Physical Assessment for the CNL is McGarvey's favorite course in the MSN — Gerontological Clinical Nurse Leader online program curriculum.
"We did physical assessment videos on real people, so I used a lot of my nursing co-workers," she said. "The simulation materials have also been so cool. You literally had a simulated patient on the computer who walked in and said her back hurt. You don't think too much about it until you ask more questions.
"When you talk to her, she can answer about anything, and you discover all of these underlying issues. I thought that was the coolest thing. I had never done anything like that with that kind of technology."
McGarvey, who also enjoyed the research courses, has been able to apply the knowledge she has gained in the program to her practice since she enrolled in 2018.
"It's been so great," she said. "The knowledge flows seamlessly between school and work. My job has benefited from aspects of my master's program, and my master's program has benefited from parts of work."
McGarvey is on track to graduate from ULM's MSN program in May 2021. She's happy with the amount of support she is receiving from her instructors.
"The ULM School of Nursing is like family," she said. "I've encountered every professor at this point. You couldn't have a more caring group of individuals.
"As far as other programs across the country go, you aren't going to find a more affordable program or place where people will work with you on a personal level like at ULM."
With all that McGarvey is balancing in her life, she believes earning an online degree is feasible for almost anybody.
"Whatever your concerns are, the program can address them," she said. "If you are worried about not being able to go full time, not being able to afford it or personal circumstances, they will work with you.
"I have run into almost every barrier you can think of, and school has never gotten in the way. I feel so capable and so strong to be in grad school. I never regretted it for an instant."
If traveling is safer by the time McGarvey completes the program, she plans to head home to celebrate her big accomplishment.
"I plan on going to graduation in person to see everybody again," she said. "It's been fun to reconnect with old friends I attended ULM with or people I grew up with in West Monroe.
"I want to continue on this trajectory. I am 37 years old, but I feel like I have so much time to learn from my superiors. Preparing myself professionally and academically gives me a huge sense of accomplishment."
McGarvey is grateful to have the opportunity to be back in school — especially at a university that's near and dear to her heart.
"They have done a great job at ULM since COVID-19 first hit, and they understand nurses are being pulled in a lot of different directions," she said. "To have that ability to flex and pivot when needed has been invaluable. I can't imagine being able to complete any other master's program. It's been a godsend."
Who says you can't go home?
Lean more about ULM's online MSN — Gerontological Clinical Nurse Leader program.
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