Rachael Hancock was ahead of the curve before she knew it.
After taking one course in the Master of Science in Nursing – Nursing Education on-campus program at the University of Southern Maine (USM) in the fall of 2019, she joined the first cohort of the online program in May 2020.
Though she had always envisioned an in-person learning experience for herself, it didn’t take her long to acclimate to the virtual format.
“When I learned more about the online program, it seemed like it was going to be a good fit,” she said. “I am also grateful that nothing much changed with COVID-19. We were already online, so all we had to do was carry on.”
Hancock is a registered nurse at InterMed, a physician-owned practice in Portland, Maine. In acquiring an advanced degree, she is building the foundation she needs to become a nursing educator.
“In my current position and my previous hospital experience, I had the opportunity to work with student nurses and train nurses orientating to the job, which I enjoyed,” she said.
Hancock and her husband, Anthony, have a daughter, Amelia (2). Since switching to the online format, she has more time to spend with her family without missing a beat.
“I appreciate the flexibility of the program and the ability to integrate it with my life,” she said. “I am a stay-at-home mom, but I am also working and earning a degree.
“I have been able to balance that well. I like that we can go at the pace that we want to, taking one class at a time or two classes at a time.”
Practice Makes Perfect
Hancock grew up in Richmond, New Hampshire, and wasn’t sure what to do for a career as a high schooler. Then, the real-world experience she had in a human anatomy and physiology class taught by her dad, Jed, showed the way.
“I shadowed an intensive care unit at the local hospital and found that I loved science and being with people,” she said. “Nursing was a neat way to combine those things.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from the University of New Hampshire in 2011, Hancock began her nursing practice. She has worked at InterMed for five years.
She initially chose USM for its proximity and opportunities to network with other nurses in the community and was pleasantly surprised when the online format expanded her world even more.
“Since the program has gone online, it’s been great,” she said. “The people in my cohort are primarily from Maine and Massachusetts, so we don’t all live in the same place.”
So far, NUR 606: Leadership, Health Policy, and Role is Hancock’s favorite course in the online MS in Nursing – Nursing Education curriculum.
“I loved that it’s the first class you take,” she said. “We did an evaluation to figure out our strengths as leaders so we can think about how to apply that information to our work.
“I also found learning about being a nurse as an advocate for patients, the organization we work for and the political sphere on the local, state and national level super empowering. I still go back to what we talked about and learned in that class and the subsequent courses I have taken.”
Right on Track
Because the online MS in Nursing – Nursing Education is still a new program, the faculty has been particularly interested in the feedback of the students in the first cohort.
“The USM faculty has been accommodating, helpful and passionate about what they’re teaching,” she said. “I had to wait until they were ready to launch the online program, but since it started, it has gone smoothly. The platform that we use is easy to navigate, which made me happy.”
Although Hancock is halfway through the program, she has already benefited from the knowledge base that she has gained and will continue to improve on her way to a December 2021 graduation date.
“I am definitely looking forward to using more of what I have learned once I am in a new role,” she said. “I have been able to apply what I have learned to my organization and thought about things differently.”
Hancock has been able to balance all she has on her plate with the help of her family and friends. She would like to attend the ceremony to celebrate surviving a difficult time.
“My husband has been amazing,” she said. “He has been pitching in a lot to help me get my work done.”
Having professional experience under her belt has helped Hancock be productive in the master’s degree program. She believes the switch to online learning taught her a valuable lesson: the ability to adapt to change.
“I recommend that people have at least a couple of years of experience,” she said. “The program builds off the foundation of experience. It’s flexible and accommodating. The professors want to help you succeed.”
“Having a master’s degree will create opportunities for me in becoming an educator,” she said. “I look forward to working with nursing students at an institution. So far, I have gotten good value out of the MS in Nursing program. It’s worth it.”
Learn more about USM’s online MS in Nursing – Nursing Education program.