Nursing and teaching may run in her family, but this nurse educator is combining her expertise in both areas to multiply her impact.
Stacy Austin graduated from the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) RN to BSN online program in December 2019. She immediately enrolled in ULM’s Master of Science in Nursing – Gerontologic Clinical Nurse Leader online program and then accepted a full-time faculty position teaching ULM undergrad nurses the same month.
“I always wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “My aunt was an LPN, and I have always felt the urge to serve just like her. Nursing was an obvious choice for me.”
Austin graduated from Louisiana Tech University with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) in 1999. She worked as a nurse for almost two decades before going back to school.
“Most of my years were in the NICU, and I loved talking to parents and educating them about their neonates. A job change moved me into health promotion teaching, and I could see a definite path that God was pulling me toward. I needed to keep growing as a nurse, but my focus needed to be on teaching,” she said.
An Easy Choice
As a resident of Sterlington, Louisiana, Austin liked that ULM was a local university, and the cost couldn’t be beat. Encouraging her to check out the program was her friend, Bonnie Leggett, an instructor at ULM.
“Bonnie told me what a wonderful place ULM was, and she was right. She put my mind at ease that I could handle the course load and would have plenty of help to learn the online format,” Austin said.
Leggett became a mentor and helped Austin navigate the online RN to BSN program, which now boasts a 99% NCLEX [National Council Licensure Examination] pass rate.
Because of Austin’s love of teaching and health promotion, her favorite course in the RN to BSN program was NURS 4079: Public Health Nursing RN Practicum. She learned through a hands-on community project about the important role a nurse can play in public health.
“As chronic diseases rise in our communities and our nation, nurses can help with prevention,” she said. “While COVID-19 may be our biggest problem right now, other conditions like cardiovascular disease have been the leading cause of death in the U.S. for many years. Educating the public can help with the prevention of these chronic diseases.”
Online Format Lends Helping Hand
Working as a full-time nurse while going to school made an online program appealing to Austin, but other life obligations soon made it an absolute necessity. During her first semester in the fall of 2018, her father, Terry James Strickland, was diagnosed with a rare cancer. Austin considered quitting the program, but her father encouraged her to stay focused on her goals, and she found the strength to push through while remaining his sole caregiver for the two years he battled the illness before passing away.
“The online program and ULM staff made it as easy as possible for me,” she said. “I spent most of that year back and forth to Houston, and so a lot of my homework and assignments were done at MD Anderson while my dad was getting chemo.”
Though online learning had initially brought her anxiety, Austin quickly got the hang of things. The more courses she completed online, the more she enjoyed the flexibility of the format as she juggled studies alongside work and family.
“I didn’t have a lot of experience with the online format, but ULM made everything incredibly easy,” she said. “Everyone was so nice and welcoming, patiently explaining what I needed to do.”
Support on the Home Front
Friends and family have been increasingly helpful as they have witnessed how determined Austin is to further her education, starting with her BSN. They are also excited to have another graduation on the horizon in May 2021 when she wraps up her online MSN program at ULM and prepares to pursue a Ph.D. in nursing.
Austin is currently on a sabbatical from working at the hospital while finishing up her courses and teaching at ULM. She hopes to return in a PRN, or as needed, capacity this summer. Before then, though, she plans to put family first and take at least a month off to spend some quality time with her kids. She has a 19-year-old daughter who started at ULM in the fall of 2020 and plans to follow in her mom’s footsteps with a nursing degree. Her 15-year-old son is still in high school.
ULM’s online MSN – Gerontologic Clinical Nurse Leader program has been just as flexible for Austin as the RN to BSN program. She has particularly enjoyed NURS 5011: Quality Improvement & Patient Safety since she has served as an infection prevention nurse in the past and understands the need for quality improvement in the hospital setting.
Austin was able to make rounds through the COVID-19 units this summer and ensure that nurses had supplies and that they were using PPE correctly.
“I loved that, ran with that, and did my quality improvement paper on my experience,” she said.
“When the world locked down in spring of 2020, we had to come up with innovative ways for the students to get their clinical hours. Working under quick deadlines with an online environment really helped me become a better, more creative teacher.”
Austin’s mother was also a seasoned teacher and role model who encouraged her to reach for the stars.
“My mom was very inspirational to me, but it wasn’t just the fact that she was a teacher,” Austin said. “She got a degree later in life like I did, and she had two little girls to raise while attending college.”
While juggling multiple courses herself, teaching and maintaining a 4.0 GPA, Austin tries to take a break at least one night per week to spend time with her kids, doing a shared activity like movie watching. Her focus is on devoting time to her family and becoming the best nurse educator she can be.
“I’m going to keep teaching. That’s what I want to do. I plan on doing that for at least the next 20 years until I retire.”