Reflections on My Educational Journey

In early January 2013, at the age of 64, I completed a PhD in higher-education leadership – living proof that it’s never too late to take the next step in your education! Like that of so many of our students at Chamberlain, my educational journey has not always been smooth or direct.  It has been marked by challenges, sacrifice and detours.  But looking back, I can say that it has been a journey that I will never regret.

Advanced degrees have provided career opportunities I would not have had otherwise, along with the financial benefits that accompany them.  Advanced education expands the way you look at and think about the world. You rub shoulders with a wide variety of people – many of whom are smarter than you – gaining self-confidence, building critical interpersonal skills and broadening your network. Ultimately, you achieve the satisfaction of completing something challenging.

I very much wanted to go to college when I graduated from high school, but I was the oldest of five children and my parents could not afford it.  Lacking advice about options – no one in my family had attended college, and my high school did not provide sufficient guidance about funding higher education – I attended a diploma nursing school. My parents paid what they could; I funded the rest with scholarships and money earned through a part-time job.

Obtaining a college degree remained my goal.  While in nursing school, I rode the bus to take night classes at a junior college.  After graduation, I married and worked full-time in the same hospital where I had trained while my husband finished his bachelor’s degree.   After several years of full-time employment, we had saved enough for me to attend college.  I was part of the inaugural class of the BSN program at Rush University College of Nursing in Chicago, where I went to school full-time and worked half-time.

Although graduate education had never been on my radar, attending a baccalaureate program at a major academic medical center exposed me more fully to career possibilities in nursing. When a scholarship from the American Cancer Society became available, I jumped at it and completed an MSN in oncology nursing.

Armed with an MSN, I faced a world of options that I had no idea existed.  After weighing many job opportunities, I opted to remain at Rush in the role of practitioner-teacher with an appointment in both the hospital and the school of nursing. Over the next few years, I developed under the mentorship of some great nursing leaders, including Dr. Luther Christman.  As I grew in my professional role, I was elected to a national office of the Oncology Nursing Society, wrote a textbook in oncology nursing and spoke all over the country.  None of this would have happened had I not attended graduate school.

After two years as a practitioner-teacher, I was asked to head the oncology graduate program as interim director – interim because I lacked a doctorate.  When my replacement was hired two years later, in 1979, I entered the University of Illinois College of Nursing to earn a doctorate in nursing.  I completed the course work over two years, during which I also had a baby and worked full-time. Then life intervened and, for a variety of reasons, I dropped out before completing a dissertation. Taking a long hiatus from nursing to explore my entrepreneurial side, I devoted 18 years to starting and nurturing a successful business. I sold the company in 1999, returning to healthcare five years later.

In 2009, three years into my tenure as president of Chamberlain, I decided it was time to complete my doctorate – this time in education.  New to higher-education leadership, I wanted to learn as much as I could to be a better educational leader.  There are few college presidents without a doctorate and, although my employer did not require the degree, it became a matter of principle to earn one.  I wanted to be on equal footing with my industry peers, both in knowledge and credentials.  And I found it hard to encourage our faculty to pursue doctorates when I lacked one myself.

So, 33 years after it was born -- and after four years of hard work – my dream of achieving a doctorate has finally been fulfilled.  Everything I studied in the program is directly relevant to what I do on a daily basis.  I plan to put what I’ve learned to good use, becoming a better college leader and applying my newfound research skills to answer the many questions I have.  Finally, I anticipate that the degree will expand my opportunities to consult and remain active in my profession after retirement.

It just goes to show: You are never too old or too busy to go to school.

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