Georgetown’s online nursing program spreads its appeal nationwide

Posted in GUMC Stories

JUNE 22, 2015—One of the goals of the online Master of Science degree in Nursing program at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies (new window) was to educate students to serve in rural, underserved areas where advanced nursing benefits the community. Today, many of the 583 program graduates are or will serve in those areas, carrying out the program’s mission.

Since launching in winter 2011, Georgetown’s first online master’s degree program has been operating in 47 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Specialty programs prepare graduates for certification in advanced roles, such as adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists, family nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, women’s health nurse practitioners and nurse educators.

Rigorous and social

Diversity makes the program at Georgetown different compared with others, says associate professor Joyce M. Knestrick, PhD, APRN, FNP-BC, FAANP (new window), the director of distance education in nursing at the School of Nursing & Health Studies. “We reach out to communities — that helps us look at social justice issues and mirrors the Jesuit value of working for the common good.”

For example, Knestrick says she recently visited a student in Texas who spent the clinical portion of the degree program working with an underserved Hispanic population. “She hopes to practice in that same clinic environment when she is finished,” Knestrick says.

Another unique aspect of the Georgetown program is that classes are held live online in a “flipped classroom approach.” While students in a traditional classroom setting learn subject matter during class, then complete relevant homework assignments, students in the online program are expected to study the course materials and complete their homework before class. Then, at a designated time, students virtually attend live classes online where presentations are given by their classmates rather than professors.

“We don’t lecture. We lead the discussion to help the students reach a deeper understanding of the material,” Knestrick says.

Class sizes are limited to 12 students, and everyone can see each other via computer cameras. Each student receives personal, face-to-face attention — online and in the visits they make to Georgetown for skills assessment activities. They also complete precepted clinical rotations in primary care or acute care settings.

“It’s a very rigorous program, but it’s also very social,” Knestrick says. “Students love it.”

Exceeded expectations

Student testimony tells that story. Daniela O’Neil (G’15), MS, RN, was so pleased to be accepted to the online family nurse practitioner program that she completed her orientation while caring for her year-old daughter, who was hospitalized at the time.

O’Neil says her daughter, Emma, made a full recovery — which, as a seasoned nurse, she had expected. After graduating in April, O’Neil began working as an advanced practice registered nurse in Yardley, Pa., where she completed her final clinical rotation for her master’s degree.

The Georgetown program “exceeded my expectations. I had looked at other programs, but none had the live sessions with direct interaction and the structure I was looking for,” she says. O’Neil adds that the program, “while not easy, was interactive, evidence-based and patient-centered.”

Intimate support system

Another student, Candace Mabbitt (G’15), MS, CNM, RN, gave birth to her second daughter in the middle of her participation in the nurse-midwifery/women’s health nurse practitioner program. Mabbitt was in the part-time program.

She says the passion for women and families that she saw in her instructors “really just poured out” and that she felt connected to her fellow students the entire time. “I can honestly say that I would not have finished the program if not for this intimate support system that we maintained.”

“Being in an online program also allowed me to meet people across the country and hear what midwifery looks like in their state and the hurdles these nurses have had to overcome,” Mabbitt adds. “This allows all midwives to band together, share ideas and allow women to be cared for by midwives across America.”

Everything to gain  

Carla Boccella (G’15), MS, RN, spent her first five years as a nurse in Norristown, Pa., working on different units. But working as a bedside nurse in an inpatient hospice “changed my life,” she says. “As a bachelor’s-prepared nurse, I thought I was ready for anything, but nothing prepared me for being present when a patient is dying and a family is grieving.”

She felt inspired not only by the patients and their families, but by the clinicians, nurses, volunteers, chaplains and staff who are dedicated to easing pain and suffering as much as humanly possible. The environment made Boccella want to be more “than a technically proficient nurse.” She wanted to be “a better advocate for patients and families” and to “be in a position to help dying patients and their families make the incredibly difficult transition from the intensive care unit to hospice care.”

Boccella said she had “nothing to lose and everything to gain” by enrolling in Georgetown’s adult gerontological acute care nurse practitioner program. After meeting the rigorous demands of the program, and by being surrounded by an “amazing” cohort of nurses, Boccella says she is newly confident and excited by fresh opportunities.

“…live generously in service…”

Patricia Cloonan, PhD, RN (new window), interim dean of the School of Nursing & Health Studies, praises the online program.

“Our faculty members are innovators in leading-edge online pedagogy,” says Cloonan. “The robust programs of study they have created are helping us achieve our goal of educating more advanced nursing leaders to improve the health and well being of individuals, families and communities around the United States. This initiative has greatly magnified our ability to support the formation of women and men who live generously in service to others.”

By Renee Twombly

GUMC Communications