Student Spotlight: Shanda Whittle

Learn about Shanda’s journey as she goes from RN to MSN with the University of San Francisco’s MSN program.

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Aniya Bess: Good afternoon and welcome to everyone who’s joining us on today’s webinar. We are very excited to present the features of the USF MSN online degree program. I’m the moderator Aniya Bess, and I will be leading the presentation. On your screen you should see the slides and a Q&A box on the side of your screen. If you have any questions at any point please feel free to type your question in the Q&A box and we will be able to take some time at the end of the webinar to answer those questions.

Today we will have two special guests. First I’d like to introduce assistant professor and online program director, Dr. Elena Capella.

Dr. Elena Capella: Well hello everybody welcome and I’m just very excited to discuss the program with you. Thank you.

Aniya Bess: And next we will have soon-to-be graduate Shanda Whittle. She’ll be graduating this Friday.

Shanda Whittle: Hello everyone, so glad to be here.

Aniya Bess: We will hear more from Dr. Elena Capella and Shanda Whittle a little later today. But first I would like to talk a little more about the University of San Francisco. USF is located in the heart of San Francisco and was established in 1855. The schools of nursing and health professions were founded in 1954 and instituted the first private university nursing program in California. With USF’s MSN program the CNL or Clinical Nurse Leader focus was created in 2005. With the CNL program there are three enrollment periods the spring, the summer and the fall. The university of San Francisco is a nationally originally accredited school by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and is ranked by US News and World Report as top fifty schools. The University of San Francisco School of nursing and health profession is accredited by both California Board of Registered Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

The school meets high educational standards and signifies the school of nursing’s strong commitment to improving the public health sector and pursuing continued growth as an educational institution.

A little bit more about the online degree program with MSN the coursework is done completely 100% online; you do not have to attend any on campus in person courses. There are no synchronistic sessions. You do not have to be at your computer at any specific times. It’s perfect for being able to log-in after work or during your lunch, over the weekend and any time that works for your schedule. You perform your clinical internships and your practicums in a work setting that is close to your home. So if you do have a job within a medical setting you’re typically able to do your practicums within that setting. We do have two different programs designed for students coming in with an associate’s degree and those who come in with a bachelor’s degree. Most students complete the program within as few as two years. Which works out for your schedule, you can change it to fit your needs and work around your working schedule.

More about the CNL program or the Clinical Nurse Leader, you will be able to receive your CNL certification before you graduate. The program is one of few MSN programs approved by the AAC and to provide students with specific leadership competencies. Graduates go on to become hospital nurse educators, college professors, nurse practitioners, nurse managers and other leadership roles.

Many have also go on to become specifically Clinical Nurse Leaders as health care facilities are increasingly hiring nurses for this precise nursing title. These competencies are qualities that executives look for in hiring and promoting staff nurses. Students who complete the program distinguish themselves as leaders of evidence based care improvement.

For now we have a few questions that we have for Shanda and Dr. Capella. They will respond as I read these questions. Well first this question is for Shanda, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Shanda Whittle: Sure, I’ve been a registered nurse since 2002. My first love was geriatric nursing and neurological nursing and both of those lead me into psychiatric nursing. There’s a lot of psychiatric care involved with both the geriatric and the neurological patients. Prior to pursuing my MSN I had experience in leadership and management and had taken graduate level courses. But I found it really hard to find an area that I wanted to go into until I found a CNL.

Aniya Bess: Perfect, it sounds like you had a background before you started the program, which is great.

Shanda Whittle: Absolutely.

Aniya Bess: Good, and Dr. Capella can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Dr. Elena Capella: Sure, I’ve been a nurse for many years, decades. And I started as a staff nurse and ended up on mostly neuro and ortho units but I always had a tendency to be a person who analyzed care so the next thing I knew I was doing things like quality improvement. I was the director of quality improvement for several hospitals, director of compliance and risk management, also. And then I worked for large healthcare systems to evaluate medical mal-practice cases and provide recommendations for changes and practices for several years, and developed a compliance program for a low income health plan for three counties. So I’ve had a varied background, but mostly it’s been in quality improvement. And I’ve been teaching at the University of San Francisco for twenty years now.

Aniya Bess: Wow, you’ve definitely been with us for a really long time, and we appreciate all the work that you do. I’ve always worked when students talk about working with you, and they always have a great experience.

Dr. Elena Capella: Thank You.

Aniya Bess: Shanda what made you pursue your MSN?

Shanda Whittle: I have a little bit of an interesting goal of getting into nursing. I was actually a patient from my infancy into my adolescence and once I was in my adolescence I actually had doctors tell me you’ll never be able to go to college, you can’t do it. I was very lucky at the age of twenty to enter a research program in the country and was one of the first patients in the country to undergo a new treatment which basically changed my life. At the age of twenty-one I decided I wanted to go to nursing school to give back to the profession that had taken care of me from the age of eight months until I was twenty years old. And so I went and I applied for my BSN and I knew I couldn’t stop with a BSN I wanted to keep going and so that’s kind of what drew me into nursing and to go onto my MSN.

Aniya Bess: Wow, so it sounds like you have a lot of passion behind what you do, and I’m sure it shows every day.

Shanda Whittle: Very much, thank you.

Aniya Bess: That’s great, thank you for sharing.

Dr. Elena Capella: I know and I’d like to say that Shanda has just the most wonderful perspective on health care and delivery of health care and these wonderful ideas on how to improve and change care. And I would say that many of our students come with this passion this initiative to do some extra good. You know, more than beyond the staff nurse to really look at how things can be changed and improved, and every student has a fantastic story, and as teachers we get to know our students and find the ways to help them, you know develop the path that they want in their careers. Thank you.

Aniya Bess: yeah, thank you. I speak to a lot of students daily and I always hear the passion that they have for their work so it figures that you would see it too.

Shanda Whittle: Absolutely.

Aniya Bess: So Shanda why did you select the CNL, the Clinical Nurse Leader focus?

Shanda Whittle: I’m a true believer that everything happens for a reason. In 2013 I moved to Florida, at that time I was already in an MSN program. I had decided to go into a leadership MSN program and when I moved here to Florida, I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy Hilton who is an early adopter of the CNL and at the time that I spoke to her I didn’t know anything about the CNL I had never heard of it. And when I sat to speak to her about it and my future goals, I actually sat to speak with her about my future goals in this leadership program that I was in and she told me how she was on the CNL expert panel with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to develop the CNL role.

And the competencies and the curriculum expectations of the role and how she saw her work on the CNL role as her legacy in nursing. And her passion for the role was really what led me into learning more about it and deciding finally to go on and do it. And what I found was a type of nurse leader role I had been looking for. In my eleven years as a nurse I knew I wanted to go on and further my education but every role that I saw, like the nurse practitioners and the clinical nurse specialist they seemed like they were so disconnected from the patient, from the bedside from the nurses giving care. And I wanted something to be more at the bedside to be able to make a difference in care delivery, and that’s what I found with the CNL role.

Aniya Bess: That was great. I think you’ll make a difference with so many patients especially because you want to be at the bedside and that you want to be with them. I think that makes the biggest difference because you have that passion and you have that initiative drive, you want to be there. So that’s great to hear.

Shanda Whittle: Definitely.

Aniya Bess: Dr. Capella is there any particular reason that drew you to the CNL position?

Dr. Elena Capella: Well I would just say that, you know, Shanda’s inspiration was this Nurse Leader, and we are finding that many nurse leaders are interested in nurses who are trained and certified as CNLs. It comes out of research that was done on Nursing, and how nursing at the microsystem level, you know, the unit where care is given, that that person can make a big difference in patient care outcomes. And that really we need to have much more skilled, and nurses who are very evidence based, who are prepared to work with multi-disciplinary teams, and so nurse executives are paying attention to this CNL and the role of the CNL and how this can actually transform care. So, what Shanda had just described is exactly, you know what we see over and over again is that nurse executives, people actually hire nurses and are looking to develop their work force, are looking for people that have the knowledge and skills that Shanda has.

Aniya Bess: That is great; it looks like Shanda will stand out once she graduates this Friday. She will definitely stand out amongst her competitors when she’s looking for that next role.

So Shanda, why did you choose the online format?

Shanda Whittle: Well like I mentioned, I was already in an online program in leadership. And basically I wanted to stick with an online program even though I had programs nearby that were in person on campus for the CNL role. I knew I would never be able to manage it with my busy schedule because I work full time and I knew I would have to go to school full time to do this. And really the online option was the only option I saw to do this. And it really worked out well. I would definitely recommend it to anybody especially people that go into an online, or look into an online program in a way, you know I’ve heard people say, well an online program that’s not a real program, you know, and I disagree one hundred percent. Because I used to think that way, but now that I’ve been in the program I see how well it put together, especially at University of San Francisco compared to other ones that I looked at. And it’s just so well put together you learn so much and you’re able to fit everything into your busy schedule. Especially when you’re working full time like I was.

Aniya Bess: Sounds like you chose the best way to work around your schedule, speaking of going to the next question. How did you manage to balance school, work and life? Can you walk us through a typical day or week?

Shanda Whittle: Sure, I’ve always been very organized, and I think that’s the key characteristic that would help anybody entering an online program. Because you really have to be able to manage what you’re doing and manage your course work. You’re not going to be in a classroom where a teacher is reminding you every day to get something done, you really have to have that willpower and take care of it yourself. And at the beginning of every semester I would lay out all of my course work and my readings and assignments with the due dates in a calendar. And I was lucky during the program, in that I worked three days a week. I work three twelve hour shifts in a week, three days in a row and then I had four days off where I could devote solely to course work. I’d bring my readings into work so on my breaks I could do some reading. And then on my days off I sectioned off time for each day that I devoted solely for school work. And by scheduling time for my school work on my days off I was able to continue to have a social life, as long as I took care of the school work first.

Aniya Bess: Roughly how many hours do you think you spent, per week on school work?

Shanda Whittle: I’d say I was putting in, at least twenty hours a week on school work.

Aniya Bess: Was that the same for every semester or do you think it varied?

Shanda Whittle: I think it varied in the course you were taking. Like if you had experience in a certain course. But the reading definitely takes some time. And if you don’t have experience in the type of course work that you’re doing that semester, you might have to put a little more time in, yes.

Aniya Bess: I hear that from a lot of different students, that same exact statement. Thing is it’s a little bit gloomier but for those classes that throw you for a loop, you have to take a little bit more time to read and go through assignments and maybe even read more to get clarification.

Shanda Whittle: Absolutely.

Aniya Bess: Completely understood.

Dr. Elena Capella: Well hi there, this is Dr. Capella, and I would like to just add that , what we work really hard on as faculty at USF is we’re very in touch with what are called the CNL competencies, and these are designed by the American Association of Colleges in Nursing, so we’re very much in touch with them. But we also work really hard in our courses to make it so that students focus on what they need and we don’t give busy work or if we find that assignments are not needed we take them out. Because we really want students to be focused on what they need to know and what we are convinced that everything the student reads, everything the student does, will add to their skill set and will help them to be recognized as being, you know high functioning professionals in the work place. So we spent a lot of time making sure that that curriculum is real relevant to what our students need for their careers. Thank you.

Aniya Bess: That sounds exactly what I hear when I speak to students, they are able to apply what they are learning in their current jobs and they already know how they are going to apply what they’re learning in future jobs, so I can definitely attest to that.

Dr. Elena Capella: This is Dr. Capella again, I would like to say, that something that I find to be just wonderful that is just so great to be part of the program is that our students, you know, like you kind of expect students to get a promotion or to get more job opportunities after they graduate and after the diploma on their wall or on their resume. But what we find is that our students begin learning immediately, and opportunities come their way, because they already are speaking with the terminology with quality improvement.

They’ve already become experts on certain subjects and they are already being recognized. So you’ll see a student’s only been in the program for maybe two semesters, three semesters, and they’re already being looked at as an expert. And being, you know given all these opportunities. So that’s a really wonderful thing that we see in our students and, you know it makes it just very inspirational, to see that our students are immediately being recognized, thank you.

Shanda Whittle: I agree with that Dr. Capella, this is Shanda speaking, I agree with that 100%. I just finished my final CNL project, and one of the things I’ve heard several of the leaders say is that Shanda’s considered the expert on the area of my project, within the hospital. So having that kind of recognition from them is huge but I definitely see that even before I’m graduating from the program.

Aniya Bess: Wow, that’s amazing. Even getting the recognition before you’re done with the program, I’m sure is going to help you even after you graduate and get that degree, you already have your name out there.
Shanda Whittle: Yes, absolutely.

Aniya Bess: So we did have a question come from the audience, for Shanda. What type of assignments are part of the curriculum, part of a typical class would you say? What projects, papers, discussions…

Shanda Whittle: Within each course there were specific assignments and discussions. We would have discussions posted online each week. As well as papers. There was usually one big paper, per semester; there might have been two in a couple of the courses. But mostly it was one major paper per class, wouldn’t you say Dr. Capella?

Dr. Elena Capella: Yes, what we try and do in most of our courses, some of them are different. But we try and make it so that there’s one paper, and the paper might be, you know five to seven pages long at the end of the course. But then we generally have the first part of the paper due earlier in the course. So that we can get student’s feedback and kind of point them in the right direction, and then they can use that feedback for their final papers. It’s really one paper, but it might be that you submit part of it a little earlier to get comments from the teachers so the teacher can guide you a bit. So, you know it’s usually one paper and then there are quizzes and then you know reading and then discussion questions, in most of the courses.

Shanda Whittle: Yes.

Aniya Bess: Perfect. Sounds like a typical course, but you do have a lot of help throughout the semester with your papers so it does alleviate some of the stress that some students might face at the end of the semester.

Shanda Whittle: Absolutely.

Aniya Bess: One of the other major components of the program are the practicums. How are the practicums completed in this CNL program?

Shanda Whittle: In my, we have three different practicums and then one final. The first one that I did was the CNL role as educator. And then I did the CNL role as Team Leader and then the CNL role as outcomes manager. And then in the final semester it was the CNL role immersion practicum. And I had very positive practicum experiences because I had the benefit of doing the all in my hospital which I feel allowed me to make new connections. Like I said, I work in psychiatry and so I work in that part of the hospital but I was able to do my practicums on the medical side. Which really opened up the door to the psychiatry and medical times to talking more. You know once they knew me and knew where I was from and really helped me with my project as well. Because it was kind of interrelated with the medical side as well as the psychiatric side. So it helped me to make new connections and form new relations I’d say.

Dr. Elena Capella: Yes and we do actually encourage our students and our advisors help our students get ideas for practicums and who could be a preceptor in their organization. We really like students to be in their organization. And the reason why is because the student gets the benefit of doing these projects. Because we kind of guide the students through certain projects, while they’re in the practicums. And the students get noticed as being very skilled at doing, like an education plan or doing micro-system assessment, so we really want students to be seen as being experts. And part of that is by doing these projects that they do in their own health care facilities. So and we have actually cut down our current curriculum pattern, has only three practicums. So we went from four to three. And there’s more hours in each practicum. And also we’re trying to cut down on the amount of times that students have to have work with a preceptor. There’s still the same amount of hours but we actually have only two pre-practicums and then the final one where students do their final project. So thank you.

Aniya Bess: We did have a question come in. What types of facilities did students complete their practicums?

Dr. Elena Capella: I can answer that. At every kind of facility. And you know outpatient, we love having students in the outpatient clinics, outpatient settings, skilled nursing, you know, we have had students in Indian Reservations, schools, school nurses. I would say practically anything, wherever a nurse is needed. And Shanda I’ll turn it over to you.

Shanda Whittle: No, same thing. I did my practicum, it was a level one trauma center, so really, like Dr. Capella said, really anywhere. Some of my classmates were, like she said, in outpatient clinics and really anywhere as long as there is a nurse needed.

Aniya Bess: Sounds good and I think a lot of students do their practicums in very different places. So I can completely attest to that. So Shanda what made you choose USF’s online MSN CNL program?

Shanda Whittle: It’s kind of funny. I was on Facebook one day and an advertisement for USFCA came on, up on my screen on Facebook. And I opened it up and I was reading and I saw the CNL role and I was like wait a minute, because I had just learned about the role from Nancy Hilton and I’m like oh it’s online. You know and that really started me looking at it and researching it. And after I researched it you know, like I said earlier a lot of people think of different online programs as not valid. But I saw very strong validity in USF’s program and that’s one of the reasons I choose it when I saw it was online. Because all the other programs I was looking at already for the CNL were not online.

Dr. Elena Capella: And I would add that there are probably around fifty at the most schools that offer the CNL program where you can actually get your certification as a CNL. So you know it’s limited the number of schools. It’s a subset of the schools that offer MSN programs. Also some of those fifty schools only accept students who don’t have licenses. And then some of them are not online, so when you actually get down to the online schools that offer a CNL program that lets you sit for the certification exam, it’s just a few in the United States, and we’ve been doing it since the beginning. You know it first started all our faculty are committed to the CNL training and certification and we have been in with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing since it began and have developed the program, and changed it many times as you adjust and as the role evolves. SO we’ve been committed to it for a long, long period of time. And we love the way that our graduates have such great careers. So thank you.

Aniya Bess: Got it, and it sounds like a lot of the graduates will be very competitive once they do complete the program. Dr. Capella there’s a question that came in about the CNL degree. Would it be applicable to case management practice or what will the CNL program allow you to do in the Nursing role?

Dr. Elena Capella: Well the wonderful thing is the skills are the types of skills that can be used in many different disciplines and practices. And I would say that a significant number of our students are case managers. And the wonderful thing about the CNL is that it’s very focused on working with interdisciplinary teams. So that is a big part of being a case manager. The people who are students and in case management have wonderful CNL projects of improving communication, improving coordination. There’s a quality, like a skill set that we teach which is called Lateral Integration of Care. And that’s very much about the role of the case manager. So case management is going to be a future focus of nursing because we are finding that there are so many problems with care that are related to coordination and communication for that transition when patients are transitioning from one level of care to another.

So you know case management I think is just perfectly suited for this. But also just an acute nurse, there’s a lot of coordination and communication. You know getting people ready for that transition to a different unit that all of that is a focus of the program and a focus of the CNL. So I would say very well suited, and we’re finding that more and more of our students are working in the outpatient setting. Because care is, you know there’s more emphasis right now on the delivery of care in the outpatient setting so we have students who work for physician office practices. But they are large practices they need a lot of coordination communication they need a lot of people who can handle working in interdisciplinary teams who can talk to a variety of professionals.

So we’re finding that we have students who thrive who come to us from large physician office practices where there is that kind of transition of care, case management going on also. So we have, the skill set is something that is transferable to nurses working in any field including management. Thank you.

Aniya Bess: Thank you Dr. Capella I think that helps a lot of the attendees today. It seems like a lot of people are coming from different backgrounds and they want to do different things with the CNL role. So I think that definitely helps them.

So, this question is for both of you, what types of projects are involved within the practicums?

Shanda Whittle: My first practicum was in 2015, in the CNL as Educator role. My preceptor at the time was the Director of Education in my hospital and she introduced me to the need in our hospital on further education on delirium, after a patient event that involved the condition. This initial project carried over throughout all of my practicums. Basically because there was such a need and we’re a certified stroke center. And it became the topic of my final CNL project as well. Basically mine was delirium, but I was able to look at it the perspective as the educator, the outcomes manager as well as the team leader at the bedside.

Dr. Elena Capella: And I would say that our student projects are just a tremendous variety. We really work with the students to find what a need in their facility is. So that’s the first thing is that there actually is a measurable need for some kind of improvement. And then we work with the students on finding in the evidence what would be a best practice.

What would be a next step? In order to improve the patient care outcomes, so we kind of work with our students. But our students also have certain interests and their also working with preceptors, so it’s kind of a group decision but I do encourage students to think of it as their calling card. Because students put so much effort into their projects, they do a lot of research, they read a lot everything they read adds to their kind of understanding of the topic and they become experts so it’s good for students to know where they like to be in five years, and to pick a project that can actually help them to get there.

Because so much effort is put on the student project that you really want it to be your calling card, the way that you’re recognized in your health care facility where you work. Thank you.

Aniya Bess: Good to hear that a lot of students have a lot of control over what they want to do and to help keep them interested, so that’s nice to hear that they have that ability. So now Shanda do you have any advice to RNs thinking about starting their education with the USF MSN program or anything that you would have liked to know before you started?

Shanda Whittle: I would tell any new students coming into the program to bring their passion for nursing. Because with the CNL role they’ll really have a chance to press the refresh button on how we care for patients in the field and one of the wonderful things that has happened with me in the program is I’ve been able to reach out to Dr. Jean Watson and gotten her endorsement on my delirium project as well as another project that I’m working on outside of the CNL role. And what I would tell future students is, like I said, bring your passion and also never lose sight of our fundamental beliefs of patient centered care and caring for the patient as a human being.

Dr. Elena Capella: And this is Dr. Capella and I would say those are words very well taken. Whenever you go in for any kind of graduate education you really want to be motivated. You want to feel that you’re doing it to inspire yourself to define yourself and I think that that is just excellent advice for students is to really pay attention to, those times when you’re at work or when you’re working with a patient and you say to yourself “I’m the perfect person to be here this is exactly where I want to be”, well that’s your values and that’s your effectiveness as a nurse. And I would say that those times are something that can help to guide you with the types of projects that you do and the type of education that you pursue.

I would say that for online especially we have the types of courses where students actually come to the classroom, and we have courses that are fully online and I would say for online, Shanda had mentioned earlier about being organized and I would say, Yes. Being organized is extremely important in online education. Because you’re kind of isolated and on your own. We have a certain template that we follow so students get used to how to find things and how to organize themselves. But you might want to check with the people around you and ask, am I an organized kind of person and see what they say. Because it really requires, like you know, having a calendar putting your assignment due dates down and really doing the planning for every course

Shanda Whittle: Absolutely.

Dr. Elena Capella: It’s extremely important. And the other thing I would say all Masters Courses require writing and that writing is the way that we can actually see what we call critical thinking. We can actually see kind of the decision making process that someone would do when they’re posed questions. So writing is a big emphasis and we have some support for students in the beginning as they’re learning, you know about writing at the graduate level. But I would say that that’s another challenge, that just kind of getting your writing skills, kind of tuned up and being ready for, you know every course is going to have, you know an essay that you’re going to have to really show what you’re thinking and how you’re thinking in your rational. So that is another challenge for students. Is just getting those writing skills early, so that they can really show how much they learned. Thank you.

Aniya Bess: Thank you it does sound like you have to be self-motivated in order to be successful within this program. And you both did a great job. We do have a lot of questions about qualifications and requirements so just to review you do have to have documentation of your professional RN license, along with an ADN or a BSN. You do have to have a GPA of 3.0 that’s preferred and if English is not your first language you do have to have the PEO ESL scores provided. For the application we do have an application deadline for the fall which is coming up July 30th and the application fee is $55.00. You would need to submit two letters of recommendation along with a personal statement and your current resume along with that application. And now to end the question and answers part we would like to thank Dr. Capella and Shanda. Congratulations Shanda, for your graduation this Friday.

Now, like I mentioned before we will have the next starting date is August 22nd which is for the fall semester. And that application deadline is July 30th, if you do have any questions or you would like to apply, please reach out to our enrollment advisor. The number and the link to the MSN program to USF is online if you do have any questions and our enrollment advisors will be reaching out to you if you would like to speak with them more. Again thank you to Dr. Capella and Shanda you were both great today. And thank you for joining us.

Shanda Whittle: Thank you Aniya.

Dr. Elena Capella: Take care, it’s my pleasure to meet you all, take care.
[End of Audio]

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