• Campus News
  • by Chamberlain College of Nursing
  • Mar 14, 2018

A Future in Nursing Education Guided by Past Experiences

Jennifer Surgala Couvillon, PhD, MSN, RN-BC, Campus President – New Orleans, shares details about her nursing career path and journey to her current role as president of the New Orleans campus.  

There’s a saying – your future is often guided by the past – and that saying has held true for me throughout my education and career. While at Georgetown University, as a student in their Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, I found that every time I said “yes” to an opportunity, a new door opened and my journey aligned with past passions.

Impacting Lives in a Critical Way

I began my career as a nurse technician in a critical care unit which led to an opportunity to serve patients in the cardiac intensive care unit (ICU) at Georgetown University Hospital. Patients in a critical situation challenged me, and I found that my organization and critical thinking skills were a necessity. I also found that the process of communicating to my patients and their families regarding their future allowed me to be a teacher and impacted their lives in a way I had never before experienced. It was offering care at the bedside that helped me understand that a nurse is honored when the patient and their family welcome you into their lives in a time of health crisis or triumph.

While in the ICU, an instructor needed coverage teaching students during a personal leave of absence. After being recognized as being passionate about my job, they asked me to fill in. It was at this point that I learned about the importance of energizing learners. I wanted to have an impact on their career. I was empowering students, but was surprised to find that it was also igniting a passion for teaching within me. My love for nursing continued as I taught the incredible responsibility to others.

Teaching the Next Generation

Teaching part-time led to a full-time appointment in academics. I served as a clinical instructor and was promoted to course coordinator, assistant professor and ultimately director of the program.

While a role in academics was not my original calling, I found I could empower others and personally impact more students. I wanted to share my passion for a career in nursing with as many people as possible. As a teacher, I found appreciation in continuous learning and accepted my fate – that I was a lifelong caregiver and learner at heart.  

A Commitment to Lifelong Learning

I went on to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a family nurse practitioner specialty from Georgetown University and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree with a research focus on Nursing Education and Technology from Duquesne University. Being a student and attending school while also working as a teacher helped me  have a heightened level of empathy for my student’s needs.  

I then served as a principal investigator of a federal grant and learned about funding, writing and executing projects on a large scale. I then joined the Ochsner Health System as the assistant vice president of system nursing professional development. When our growing healthcare system started to acquire hospitals post-hurricane Katrina, I saw an opportunity to help nurses by teaching and designing an educational programs established to fuel a passion for learning. I served on the nursing leadership council and helped to establish the Department of System Nursing Professional Development.

Extending the Career Ladder

By offering a professional development program, we impacted thousands of nurses and created a career ladder that empowers nurses to identify their talents. In addition nurses supported their peers by nominating them for participation in the program. The opportunity opened doors for nursing leaders and supported staff development.  

The ultimate step in the career ladder became a reality when Chamberlain University opened a campus location on the west campus of Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans. What a gift to our nurses and the community at large!

Embracing Opportunity

The establishment of Chamberlain University’s New Orleans campus opened a door for me to serve in the role of campus president. I was honored, invigorated and energized to – once again – learn along with my students.

Many nurses go into nursing with the intent of providing bedside care and may look at teaching as an opportunity later in their careers as a final stage before retirement. I followed my passions, and my experiences lead me to this very job at this very time. I look forward to working with students to support care for self, care for peers and to ensure an extraordinary level of care to patients.  

Remember, learning is a lifelong journey. And as I’ve learned, your future is often guided by the past if you just embrace the opportunity to say “yes.”

Interested in learning more about opportunities that await you? Information about the New Orleans campus is available at chamberlain.edu/neworleans or explore all our program options at chamberlain.edu.

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