Interview with Dr. Julie Vosit-Steller from Simmons University

About Dr. Julie Vosit-Steller: Dr. Vosit-Steller is professor of practice at the Simmons College School of Nursing and Health Sciences. She is also the director of Nursing@Simmons, the online version of Simmons’s Master of Science in Nursing–Family Nurse Practitioner program.

Dr. Vosit-Steller has over a decade of experience as an educator at Simmons, and her courses cover such topics as oncology nursing, women’s health, end-of-life care, and advanced health assessment. She has also engaged extensively in the development of Simmons’ Family Practice clinical courses. In addition, Dr. Vosit-Steller is an adjunct member at the University of Rhode Island’s College of Nursing. She has been practicing as a nurse practitioner for more than twenty years.

Outside of her academic roles, Dr. Vosit-Steller is a palliative care nurse practitioner consultant at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital in Boston. She also worked as a palliative care consultant at Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island. She has helped to start four clinical programs, two of which provide free gynecologic care to women in the Providence, Rhode Island area. Furthermore, Dr. Vosit-Steller is a co-founder of the New England Alliance for Hospices of Hope in Romania. Dr. Vosit-Steller is a founding member of the Global Nursing Caucus, Boston, and she is an active speaker at numerous regional and national conferences and events on pain and palliative care, gynecologic oncology, women’s health, and the cultural norms and issues that impact end-of-life care.

Dr. Vosit-Steller earned her BSN from College of Our Lady of the Elms in 1987. She also earned an M.S. in Nursing Administration and Management and an M.S. in Family Nursing Practice and Women’s Health, both from the University of Massachusetts in 1991. She received her DNP from Simmons College in 2009.

Interview Questions

[] Could you please elaborate a bit on the history of the Nursing@Simmons programs? What were the driving factors for Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences to start offering Nursing@Simmons online programs?

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] Located in the heart of Boston’s Longwood Medical Area, Simmons College was founded in 1899 as a liberal arts institution for women. Simmons began educating nurses in 1901 and nurse practitioners in 1978. Our graduates are highly competent and skilled health professionals who value lifelong learning, promote the quality and safety in the delivery of care, and integrate theory and research into their practice. The online Nursing@Simmons Master of Science in Nursing program was developed to expand our national reach and allow us to educate more students who aspire to become nurse practitioners. The Affordable Care Act has given millions more Americans access to health care. Pair that with the shortage of primary care physicians, and it becomes apparent that our country needs more nurse practitioners than ever before, and that need is only growing. Access to quality health care and education is significant to the mission of the Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences.

The Nursing@Simmons online program delivers the same rigorous curriculum that is provided to our on campus students. Applicants go through the same application review process and are held to the same high academic standards as the students in our on-the-ground program. Courses are designed and led by Simmons faculty who still remain active as clinical practitioners in the field. Our online students still get to experience that intimate classroom setting, because they continue meeting face to face with their classmates and professors, only it’s in a virtual classroom in which they are viewing one another through web cameras. Nursing@Simmons’s class sizes are purposely kept small, at about 15 students, to foster a learning environment where students are encouraged to collaborate and share their diverse perspectives. The clinical groups meet weekly with FNP faculty.

[] Could you please provide a brief overview of the types of online programs that Nursing@Simmons currently offers, and how they are structured?

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] Nursing@Simmons offers two program options that are tailored to RNs at various stages of their careers. The online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program is designed for RNs who have earned their bachelor’s degree and aspire to become family nurse practitioners. The program’s curriculum is made up of three components–foundational, research, and clinical–all of which build upon one another and enable students to synthesize the information they have learned and continue to hone their skills as developing FNPs.

Nursing@Simmons’s online RN to MSN program is designed for RNs who have passed the NCLEX, but have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree. Students focus their studies on the family nurse practitioner specialization and develop foundational skills in health assessment, statistics, leadership and management, and community health.

[]The Nursing@Simmons online MSN program is quite unique in that it requires a licensed RN to have a bachelor’s degree, but not specifically a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). For students who have not earned a BSN, are there additional foundation classes they need to take?

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] There are no additional courses that they are required to take. However, if they have not successfully completed a statistics course and a health assessment course, or it has been more than seven years since they have completed those courses, they may be required to take some prerequisite courses prior to gaining full admission to the program.

[] Please describe what students can expect during their on-campus intensive or immersion weekend, including what kind of activities they have to engage in, what events they have to attend, et cetera.

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] The immersion weekend is a very unique and important experience for the students because it’s the first time that they actually meet each other in person, face to face. They’ve bonded in a very unique way virtually, but the campus immersion is their chance to experience Simmons campus life, community and culture. Students come to campus to go through clinical competencies that we feel are very important to complete prior to entering into their preceptorships wherever they live. They complete a suturing workshop and perform a head-to-toe physical health examination.

All students have their own interpretation of what a nurse practitioner does. We use this time to set up the expectations and explain what we expect our students to be doing as they go out into their clinical areas. We also have professional practice workshops, during which we talk to them in dialog format about why it’s important to integrate their research and scholarly projects into their clinical role, and why this is effective in improving outcomes of evidence-based practice. Such discussions are important, as some students want to become nurse practitioners and go immediately into independent practice. The students are also informed about the specifics surrounding their first clinical placement, both developmental and professional expectations, as well as the site visit process.

[] What are some of the pros and cons of attending a graduate nursing school online? What support structures are in place in online programs to help students not fall behind, and what are the advantages of an online program as opposed to an on-campus program and vice versa?

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] I think that the advantage of online education is that it’s a convenient learning format. People have a notion that it is somehow more efficient and easier. However, it’s actually not. You have to be a very organized, disciplined person to be an online student. And it takes more effort in some ways to be an online student.

One of the biggest advantages of our online nursing program is that it offers the opportunity to nurses across the country, especially nurses who live in rural areas who might not have access to this kind of an education. It enables them to earn a graduate nursing degree. Many students have told me about how grateful they are for that opportunity. Each one of our students has a support team of admissions counselors, faculty members, academic advisors, technical support specialists, clinical placement coordinators, and career services and library staff who are dedicated to helping them throughout their academic journey and beyond.

[] How does Nursing@Simmons integrate clinical placements into the curricula for its online RN to MSN programs and MSN programs?

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] The program integrates clinical hours into our classes, beginning with our advanced health assessment course. We also include clinical hours in our immersion weekend. Students have three terms of clinical hours, 16 hours each week, or 224 hours a term. As a component of each clinical course we have “clinical decision-making,” which is a group that meets once a week, in a one-to-six faculty-to-student ratio seminar, in which they discuss the situations they encounter during their clinical placements. Students must bring prepared documents about their clinical cases and patients that they’ve seen for the week, and verbally present and discuss these cases. These clinical decision-making discussion hours are also counted as clinical hours.

We require students to complete a total of 720 clinical hours in the program. They complete a certain number of adult acute and chronic hours, some geriatrics, and then a mixture of women’s health and pediatrics.

We partner with students to locate a clinical preceptor near their community. Our faculty makes the final approval of a student’s clinical site to ensure that it is appropriate for the student.

[] Does Simmons match students to their preceptors and clinical sites, or do they approve the clinical sites and preceptors that students find themselves?

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] It’s a collaborative effort. In some cases, Simmons will match a student with a clinical site, and in other cases, if a student has a site they have identified, our team assists in the process of trying to get that approved. If a student does not have an idea of where they want to go, the clinical placement team at Simmons will help them find a place.

[] You mentioned that students have to do a specific number of hours in women’s health and adult care. Do students usually do those at the same clinical site or do they have to move to different sites?

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] Students must experience across-the-lifespan training. It is best if they are exposed to various settings and practitioners during their training. If it’s a really great site, students may stay there for more than one term, but with additional requirements and restrictions. It really depends. We keep track of the variation of patients they’re seeing.

[] Can you please explain what site visits are and what role they play in students’ clinical hours requirements? How are they different from campus visits?

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] While campus visits are events that students must attend on the Simmons campus, a site visit is when one of the clinical faculty members goes to the clinical site where a preceptor is working with a student. The student needs to be there when that happens, and the faculty evaluates the students’ progress at their clinical placement. Over the course of the program, students have at least one site visit.

[] Since clinical placements are such a huge time commitment, how do you recommend students balance their clinical hours requirements with their other responsibilities outside of school, such as a job or personal commitments?

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] Before students decide to apply to the Nursing@Simmons program, they need to evaluate what they have going on in their day-to-day life, and take an inventory of the time they spend with family, friends, work and other personal commitments. Students need to have thought about whether or not they are in the right position in their life to take on a rigorous degree program. They should consider whether they will be able to work full-time/part-time, attend school and clinical rotations, and manage a family. They need to assess if they are in a position emotionally and physically to handle the demands of earning a graduate degree. Students need to think through what additional supports they have in place to help them balance life while getting through the program.

School will need to be their first priority for the next few years while in the Nursing@Simmons program. Obviously family is a major priority, but your time is no longer “your time” anymore when you are a nursing student. Any extra time you have will be spent learning and studying. Students need to be mindful about entering into a program with high expectations and plan accordingly in order to successfully fulfill those expectations.

[] For registered nurses who are interested in Simmons’ online nursing programs, what advice do you have for them regarding how they can submit a competitive application? From whom would you recommend they request their letters of recommendation? How important is their past academic work and professional experience?

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] Simmons takes a holistic approach when we review applications. We look at their academic history, their work experience, letters of recommendations, and a personal statement in which they tell us why they wish to purse their MSN and become family nurse practitioners through the Nursing@Simmons program.

For their personal statement, applicants should be really clear about why they want to enroll in the Nursing@Simmons Family Nurse Practitioner program. Many applicants write about a family member being sick, and how through this experience they learned what an FNP actually does. However, it’s always good to explain to the people reading your application that you actually do know what an FNP does and explain what your goals and objectives would be if you were in that role. Applicants should reflect upon their experience as an RN. If they don’t have work experience, they should describe how they have taken the initiative to learn about the health care arena and about FNPs. Candidates should also always be careful about their writing, punctuation, spelling and format.

For the letters of recommendation, I believe it’s really important to have current supervisors and colleagues that you’re currently working with write your recommendations. They can assess and speak to your critical thinking, your professionalism and your expertise. Applicants also need to include an academic reference, someone who can speak to their abilities as a student.

I look for an application in which I can picture the applicant as a Simmons student! There is something that she or he brings to the application, or something that she or he reflects upon, that I interpret to be a match with our criteria for admission, the culture and the Simmons community.

[] What makes Simmons’ online programs unique, and a particularly strong degree option for RNs who want to advance their career and become FNPs?

[Dr. Vosit-Steller] Simmons has traditionally had a reputation for being an extremely strong family nurse practitioner program. Our students have an above-average first-time pass rate on board examinations. We also have many excellent practice partnerships and opportunities for students. Many of our students have jobs secured prior to graduation. Our faculty is dedicated, and many of them have been here for a number of years. We develop very close relationships–respectful and nurturing mentor relationships–with our students. We listen to them and we have their best interests at heart. Their academic and professional development is a priority for us. I would say that we produce very strong, confident nurse practitioners who want to go out into the community to serve and make a difference.

Students who are interested in learning more about the online FNP program can visit Simmons University’s website for the most up to date information.

Thank you Dr. Vosit-Steller for your time and insight into Simmons University’s Nursing@Simmons online Family Nurse Practitioner program.

About the Author: Aaron Tooley, Ph.D. created to help nursing students find and research online APRN programs. He is dedicated to creating best in class content with accurate data and unique insights about graduate programs and careers in nursing.