From their offices at SUNY Morrisville, nursing professors Norma Swartout and Jane Stephenson marveled at where their students were completing online courses for their bachelor’s degree curriculum.
One student was logging in from Europe, where her husband was stationed in Germany. Another had traveled to visit family in India, while another had returned home to Africa to complete her internship and coursework.
“They’re across the ocean, on the other side of the world, interacting and learning with us here in Morrisville,” said Swartout, now in her 15th year of teaching.
It’s one of the many benefits of the fully online bachelor’s degree — students from outside of Central New York are turning to SUNY Morrisville as increased healthcare demands coupled with the advancements in technology have enhanced the need for advanced, professional nurses.
The move to full-time online learning was jump-started by the pandemic, but current and prospective students have endorsed the change.
“It really enables students to pursue their career while finishing their education,” Stephenson said. “We are hoping it will give everyone more work-life balance.”
A strong foundation
Sierra Buhnai came to SUNY Morrisville to play ice hockey.
But she found her professional calling in the nursing program, where professors continued to support, mentor and motivate her as she studied on campus and online.
Buhnai was pursuing her associate degree on campus in spring 2020, when COVID-19 concerns halted in-person learning. Determined to graduate, Buhnai completed her coursework from her hometown in Western Canada until she could return to campus.
“My love for the game allowed me to stay dedicated and motivated to strive for excellence on and off the ice,” she said. “By having to balance hockey and school, I was challenged each day to meet my academic and athletic needs.”
The time management skills helped as she pursued her bachelor’s degree online while working part-time as a surgical nurse in Buffalo.
Buhnai sent special thanks to Swartout, who served as her advisor and mentor.
“She has been right by my side through the challenges, continually supporting, motivating and believing in me,” she said.
“My foundation was built at Morrisville,” she continued. “Those experiences shaped the person I am today and the person I will be in the future.”
New Jersey native Gabriella Armenti grew up watching her mother advance her nursing career, one step at a time.
“I would take her textbooks and read through them,” said Armenti, who now lives in Oneonta. “I knew that was what I wanted to be.”
Now an emergency room nurse at a trauma and stroke center, Armenti said she fell in love with the close-knit community at SUNY Morrisville. In addition to theory and ethics, the curriculum also keeps pace with the evolving role of nurses in health care, including health policy, leadership and professionalism.
“The professors actually wanted me to succeed,” she said. “Working full-time and going to school can be a challenge, but the flexibility with the program being online is amazing. I wouldn’t change my educational experience for anything.”
“I call it fate”
Born and raised in India, Nidhi Patel came to the United States at age 14.
While still learning English, Patel discovered her love of the medical field while volunteering at a hospital during her summer vacation.
“I call it fate,” said Patel, who now works on the same floor where she volunteered as a teenager.
While pursuing her bachelor’s degree, Patel was able to travel back home to India to attend a family wedding. She set alarms for her assignments, accounting for the time difference, and logged in to make presentations from abroad.
“The online program has made my life so much easier,” she said. “The professors were very supportive and helpful.”
The next level
Princess Osei was born with a drive to save lives. The Ghana native credited the staff of a teaching hospital with saving her life when she was born prematurely.
“The doctors and nurses kept me alive,” she said. “I am a survivor, and I always told myself I would also save lives, no matter what.”
Osei pursued her nursing credentials in the United States at SUNY Morrisville, and found similarities and differences from practices in her home country.
“The resources and technology differ, but the core principles of nursing are the same everywhere,” she said.
Osei and others credited professors for creating a curriculum that blends their real-life experience with nursing theory, ethics and research, preparing them to serve as leaders and advocates in the rapidly changing healthcare environment.
Osei’s goal: positively impact the people she cares for.
“Morrisville has really prepared me for the next level (of my career),” she said. “It wasn’t easy, but I made it with determination and perseverance.”
By the Numbers
Nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession, with nearly 4.2 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide.
The federal government projects that more than 203,000 new RN positions will be created each year from 2021 to 2031.
Employers are expressing a strong preference for new nurses with baccalaureate preparation, with nearly 41% of employers requiring new hires to have a bachelor’s degree (77% strongly prefer baccalaureate-prepared nurses).
Source: American Association of Colleges of Nursing, aacnnursing.org.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for registered nurses is $89,010 per year ($42.80 per hour), with the highest 10% earning more than $129,000.