One Nurse’s Journey: Pursing a Career in Nursing

By Karen Jennings, MS, RN, PMHNP-BC

April 13, 2012

Throughout my undergraduate education, I prepared myself to pursue a PhD career in Clinical Psychology. I sought research opportunities outside of my course load, completed a senior thesis, and even held a part time job in the psychology department. I knew that I was destined to help others on a larger scale and advocate for significant changes in the field of mental health.

After graduation, I chose to develop my knowledge and experiences in research, and became a research assistant. However, after two years of working in research, I realized that I had limited clinical experience. Instead of applying to graduate programs, I decided to work as a mental health specialist at McLean Hospital for another two years. It wasn’t until I actually started preparing my graduate school applications that I realized I did not really want to become a clinical psychologist.

The nurses at McLean Hospital had mentioned on several occasions that I should consider a career in nursing, and I always disregarded their suggestions. However, I noticed how they made a more significant impact on the lives of others, through both medical knowledge and more advanced clinical skills, while simultaneously providing individuals with comfort and security.

I began to realize that pursuing a career in nursing would give me the opportunity to not only be a leader in providing patient care and educating patients, but I would also be able to coordinate health care services. I decided to give serious consideration to a career in nursing and began investigating master’s programs in the Boston area. After considerable contemplation, I decided to abandon my initial plans to be a clinical psychologist and start a new career, in nursing.

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Once I received an acceptance letter from the Master’s Entry Program at William F. Connell School of Nursing of Boston College and was presented with the opportunity to become a scholar for the New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) scholarship program, I realized that I was choosing to create a whole new direction for myself and entering into a world of unknowns. The NCIN scholarship program played a significant role in paving my career path because I met individuals who were making great changes in the field of medicine and nursing. I also felt less financial stress which made it possible for me to pursue nursing research while completing the accelerated master’s program.

In addition, the education and support that I received from the administration and professors at Boston College helped me to realize that I was truly meant to be in academia, research, and policy change. As a result, I made the decision to continue with my nursing education and complete the PhD program at Boston College.

As a result of my experiences, I have developed a desire to help other students realize that they do not need to stop with their master’s degree but have the potential and opportunity to continue to a higher level of education. Speaking on the student panel at the NCIN 2011 Summit allowed me to provide school administrators and professors around the United States with a firsthand account as to how they are able to encourage and support members of underrepresented minority groups in pursuing PhDs in Nursing.

Yes, it is true that nurses and nurse practitioners provide exceptional care to their patients. However, with the ever-growing need to advance health care and health, nurses must once again become influential leaders within the health care system. Nurses with PhDs have the opportunity to use theory and research to improve the care provided by nurses, as well as significantly influence more change within the health care system on an interdisciplinary level.

Karen Jennings, MS, RN, PMHNP-BC, is a scholar with New Careers in Nursing, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. In 2011, she graduated from William F. Connell School of Nursing at Boston College, and currently works as a nurse practitioner at McLean Hospital.

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