The more Linda Kaye Wingfield talked to her fellow nurses, the more she found they already had master’s degrees.
“Some of that was by choice because the market is so competitive,” she said. “I knew if I was ever going to choose to leave the bedside, I needed to get my master’s degree. I didn’t want to be a nurse practitioner, and I didn’t want to limit myself to education or leadership.”
That’s why the online Master of Science in Nursing – Gerontologic Clinical Nurse Leader program at the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) was the right fit for Wingfield. She completed the program in August 2021, eight years after finishing her bachelor’s degree on campus.
“When I started researching various degree programs, a friend of mine who was in nurse practitioner school at ULM told me about the CNL program,” she said. “I had never heard of it before, but I started reading about it.
“It suited my interests. I looked at some other programs, but I couldn’t find one that I liked as well as the one at ULM. It was a great program. I learned so much.”
The flexibility of the online format was key for Wingfield, who works at UMC Health System in Lubbock, Texas.
“The faculty and staff at ULM offered so much grace,” she said. “I had a lot of personal challenges while pursuing my degree. I was the primary caregiver for my 4-month-old twin grandchildren during one of my semesters. The school worked with me to make sure I got everything that I needed with the assignments and clinical hours.”
Change of Tune
Wingfield grew up in Monroe and was on the path to become a professional opera singer before switching gears to healthcare. She started college on a full vocal scholarship.
“My dream was to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York,” she said. “But I dropped out of school, got married and had a family. After I had my first daughter, I decided I wanted to be a nurse.”
“I asked my mom what I wanted to be when I grew up. She said I wanted to follow in my aunt’s footsteps and be a nurse. I was always taking care of my dolls, my pets and my sisters.”
After working since 1998 as a Licensed Practical Nurse, Wingfield returned to college and graduated from the BSN program at ULM in 2013. She became a pediatric intensive care nurse at UMC Health System in 2015.
“Now, I can’t imagine doing anything but nursing,” she said. “I love it. It’s what I was born to do.”
While enrolled in the online MSN – Gerontologic CNL program, Wingfield took on a big challenge at work. She helped coordinate and run a daycare facility for employees at her hospital when schools shut down because of the pandemic.
“We thought it was only going to be for a week,” she said. “We ran it from March 21 to May 21, 2020. We created agendas for the classrooms with activities, schoolwork, recess, P.E. We didn’t have one person get COVID-19. It was a huge help to our staff.”
Wingfield appreciates the knowledge that she gained in the master’s degree program and could also apply the concepts to her career.
“I liked the clinical courses — Advanced Pharmacology for the Clinical Nurse Leader and Advanced Physical Assessment for the CNL,” she said. “I enjoy science, so I like those things. The most helpful for me was the Quality Improvement & Patient Safety course. I learned so much.”
Wingfield said that her familiarity with the ULM nursing program also helped her succeed in earning a master’s degree.
“It was hard doing it in the middle of COVID-19 and not having the full range of clinical opportunities that I thought I might have,” she said. “I knew what to expect, which was a huge plus.
“I was more comfortable reaching out to professors. It would have been harder starting over somewhere else. I knew it would be a good experience and a good program.”
Throughout her time in the MSN program, Wingfield had a lot of encouragement from her husband, Chris, and their four children.
“My family is really proud of me. My friends are excited, too. I am grateful for an exceptional master’s program, for such a great value, that also worked with my schedule. The degree has already opened career opportunities for me,” Wingfield said of starting a new position as RN patient safety and quality coordinator at the hospital in November 2021. She hopes to become a clinical nurse leader someday.
“I am so excited about the new role,” she said. “There are so many aspects of what I learned in the MSN program to apply to the job. It helps my role make more sense.”
Learn more about the University of Louisiana Monroe’s online MSN – Gerontologic Clinical Nurse Leader program.