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A High-Impact Online Nursing Program Leads to High-Quality Patient Care

Written by Stephen Eichinger on Feb 23, 2020

Related content: Outcomes, Graduate Programs

Mary Kathleen Haber has always been interested in advocating for underserved populations. In 1989, she won a prize for her eighth-grade science project on the psychological and physiological impact of love and acceptance for people newly diagnosed with HIV. At age 13, she spent her free time at an outpatient day hospital. That same year, she began volunteering at Los Angeles Center for Living, a day program and safe space for people living with HIV.

This commitment to serving others has not left her; in fact, as Mary has progressed in her career her compassion for others has only increased. After working for nearly 15 years as a public health researcher, community advocate, and a registered nurse, Mary desired deeper connections with those she was helping. She wanted to be sure her standard of care was ready for decades to come. The natural next step was to pursue a Master of Science in nursing and train as a nurse practitioner.

“As a nurse practitioner, I would have more autonomy in partnering with, advocating for, and creating treatment plans alongside the people in my care,” she said.

No doubt about education

With a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and mathematics, an associate’s degree in nursing, and a master’s degree in intercultural and international studies, Mary has always been a believer in the value of higher education. When it came time to pursue a Master of Science in nursing, she knew exactly what she wanted in a program: a balance of academic rigor with hands-on learning opportunities to set her up for success as a nurse practitioner. Mary found that harmony with the Nursing@Simmons program.

While she was initially skeptical about applying for an online program, the unique hybrid model of the Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program caught her interest. The synchronous model lets students interact in real-time, bringing everyone together like a traditional classroom.

“For me, it was about knowing I’d be face-to-face with fellow learners and instructors, and having the ability to ask questions, debate, and speak in real-time,” Mary said. “These elements made me feel confident in the program.” She applied and shortly thereafter enrolled in the 2014 program cohort.

Long-distance but not distant

Mary enjoyed being able to learn from top faculty, interact with peers from all over the country, and practice in her local community in Baltimore, some 400 miles away from Simmons University’s physical campus.

“The program offered an incredible amount of accessibility,” she said. “My professors were more available than in any of my past educational experiences. I had advocacy not only in my didactic studies but during my clinical placements as well.”

She was especially grateful to forge a relationship with Dr. Julie Vosit-Steller, a professor and director of the Nursing@Simmons online program, and Dr. Lutricia Harrison, an advisor and instructor throughout Mary’s clinical rotations. Dr. Vosit-Steller served as an advisor on Mary’s final research paper for the program, and Dr. Harrison remains a mentor to Mary, inspiring in her a sense of ownership of her career and entrepreneurship.

The broad range of students within Mary’s cohort helped her gain a multifaceted view of the industry. From California to Texas, her peers had diverse vantage points—something that, Mary explained, is often missing from master’s-level programs made up solely of local students.

Knowledge that transcends the classroom

The Nursing@Simmons program’s unique hybrid model and robust curriculum have made a valuable imprint on Mary’s career—and the way she approaches her work. “There was absolutely nothing lacking in my experience,” she said. “The program far surpassed the quality of my previous master’s program, offering rigor that was relevant in practice.”

Many of the courses Mary took throughout the program have stuck with her. Family Nursing Theory was one such course, which taught her to consider not just the individual person but the family unit as a whole. The pharmacology section was comprehensive, teaching her about up to date, evidence-based treatments.

To this day, Mary utilizes her lectures and materials from class. “One of the most useful parts of this program is that I still have access to all of my content—from recorded lectures to slides—nearly four years after graduating,” she said.

A deeply rewarding perspective—and career

Today, Mary serves as a nurse practitioner and educator for an organization that provides healthcare to Baltimore’s most at-risk populations. The job has staying power: Mary sees herself continuing to grow and learn in this role for the remainder of her career.

“I’m happier in my professional life than I’ve ever been, and I think my education plays into that,” Mary said. “If I could add any one thing to my position, it would be creating more time for advocacy and policy design while still providing care.” She hopes to dive further into advocacy, research, and public policy by applying to Doctor of Nursing Practice program offered through Nursing@Simmons.

Mary now feels competent and capable of providing transformational care to patients and their families. “I have a deep-rooted confidence in my ability to offer high-quality and compassionate care to the people I work with,” she said.

Interested in reading more stories like Mary’s? Catch up on The Latest here.