Interview with Dr. Laurie Anne Ferguson from Loyola University New Orleans

Dr. Laurie Ann Ferguson

About Dr. Laurie Ann Ferguson: Dr. Ferguson has been a nurse since 1980, and a certified nurse practitioner since 1984. She has expertise in clinical practice, education, research and policy, and administration. She completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice in 2010 from the University of Texas Houston Health Science Center, Houston, TX, and earned her Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984 (with a focus in Adult and Pediatric NP). She completed her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1980 at the University of San Francisco.

Dr. Ferguson is certified as an Adult Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and Family Nurse Practitioner. She served as Program Coordinator for the DNP program at Loyola University, and is currently an Associate Professor there. She teaches courses that focus on pediatric primary care, adult primary care, women’s health, and nursing research and evidence-based practice. Dr. Ferguson has published and presented on a wide array of topics, including her own research in health literacy. Her presentations span local, state, regional, national, and international venues. In addition to her teaching and administrative responsibilities, she continues to practice as a Family Nurse Practitioner in rural Louisiana.

Interview Questions

[] Could you please provide a brief overview of Loyola University’s online MSN and DNP programs with a focus in Family Nurse Practitioner, and how these programs are structured?

[Dr. Ferguson] Both the MSN FNP, and BSN to DNP programs, prepare Registered Nurses in the Advanced Practice role, and to become certified, and licensed as Famiy Nurse Practitioners in primary care. While both programs prepare nurses for the FNP role, the DNP program adds additional skills and a more in-depth analysis of the literature, which can be applied to solve clinical practice problems. The coursework in both programs is delivered online, and includes both synchronous and asynchronous delivery. Synchronous delivery refers to class meetings in real-time, rather than asynchronous delivery such as discussion boards. Although classes may meet virtually in real-time, the content is recorded to allow participation flexibility as well as the option to review. Both programs require an annual intensive in the Spring on-campus in New Orleans.

[] How does Loyola University integrate clinical placements into its online FNP program at both the MSN and the DNP level? Does the program match students to their preceptors and clinical sites, or does it approve the clinical sites and preceptors that students find themselves?

[Dr. Ferguson] Autocratically assigning students to clinical practicums may not result in appropriate learning experiences. Therefore, Loyola University does not make clinical practice assignments. Students are responsible for finding and securing preceptors. However, the University does have active affiliation agreements in most jurisdictions, and faculty provide guidance and contacts with securing clinical placements.

The primary care clinical practicum courses have separate population emphases: Adult, Pediatric, and Women’s Health (OB/GYN) clinical experiences. Although students may complete most of their clinical hours in a single setting (ex. Family Practice or Internal Medicine), some additional clinical experiences in different medical settings need to be arranged to ensure an adequate number of hours with specific populations such as pediatrics and women. Loyola maintains a database of active affiliation agreements, which can serve as a starting point for preceptor resources. Federally Qualified Healthcare Centers (FQHCs) are an excellent setting for clinical hours. Generally, the best preceptors are found by word of mouth, colleagues, one’s own provider etc.

Students are enrolled in clinical courses, which are taken in tandem with the Primary Care theory course. Clinical courses require SOAP notes [Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan], clinical case studies etc. Faculty make in-person, on-site visits to students in their clinical setting to confer with the preceptor and evaluate student performance. Clinical courses are Pass/Fail. A minimum of an 83% must be achieved on every assignment. Students are evaluated clinically using an evaluation tool. Students must pass the clinical evaluation to pass the course. Clinical hours are recorded by the student in a database and the hours are verified by the preceptor.

[] Clinical placements are a major component of FNP programs and a considerable 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. Ferguson] Each clinical practicum course is a minimum of 180 hours. This translates into 1.5-2 days per week over a 15-week semester. Most clinical practicum experiences in primary care are predominately Monday to Friday, 8am to 5 pm. Students need to adjust their work schedule to be able to successfully obtain their clinical practicum hours. Students should plan their clinical hours carefully to include unanticipated illness, or clinic cancellation. Clinical hours are considered a professional commitment. Students are asked to provide faculty a clinical schedule, and adhere to this schedule with the same commitment as they would with any employer. Since theory content is delivered concurrently, it is not wise to “front load” or schedule all the hours at the beginning of the semester, but rather to plan consistent attendance over the term. It is not wise to plan vacations, weddings or other elective events during the semester either.

[] Loyola University’s online MSN FNP program requires students to attend one on-campus orientation and two campus intensives, while the online DNP FNP program requires one on-campus orientation and three annual campus intensives. What do these visits entail?

[Dr. Ferguson] Annual intensive activities are designed to facilitate learning experiences that cannot be delivered online, such as suturing, splinting, incision and drainage, and hands-on men and women’s health exams. Interactive and group activities are a part of intensives. Some skills are practiced on models or via simulation, while others are with real patient models. Additionally, we often secure experts in the fields of business, nursing, health policy, and leadership to present in a live interactive format. We consistently hear from our students that the annual required intensive is a real value of Loyola’s online program. It combines quality hands-on interaction, and fosters a community of scholars within the student cohorts. Plus New Orleans is a wonderful city to visit!

[] What are some of the pros and cons of attending a graduate nursing program online? What support structures are in place within Loyola University’s online MSN and DNP FNP programs to help students not fall behind?

[Dr. Ferguson] Programs delivered in an online delivery format provide flexibility as well as accessibility to graduate education. However, online programs are not easier. They require the same commitment and attention as face-to-face programs. Online programs often have a certain amount of course content delivered asynchronously, which allows flexibility in scheduling for students with busy lives. However, the flexibility needs to be balanced with organization and the commitment to “protected” study time. Protected time refers to focused study time without the distractions of work, family and other commitments. When you attend a face-to-face program, you are not trying to simultaneously make dinner, commute, or work.

[] What makes Loyola University’s online MSN and DNP FNP programs, particularly strong degree options for RNs who want to advance their career and become FNPs?

[Dr. Ferguson] The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF), among other organizations, have called for the DNP, or a doctoral degree to be the standard for entry to practice for nurse practitioners. To date, none of the State Boards of Nursing have made this a requirement for licensure. Ultimately, all nurse practitioners will be encouraged to attain doctoral degrees. However, over fifty years of data suggests that NPs can be prepared at the Masters level. Some students opt to enroll in a Masters’ program, graduate, become certified, and practice as Family Nurse Practitioners before returning to get their DNP. Other students choose to continue their course of study, achieving the DNP post-Baccalaureate.

Loyola has a solid track record of providing a quality education and producing excellent FNPs. Online delivery is not the same at every institution. It is important to assess faculty qualifications, accreditation, and certification exam pass rates, in addition to other factors in choosing a program. A critical factor to consider when reviewing online programs is whether or not a school is authorized by the State Department of Education and State Board of Nursing to deliver education in the student’s state of residence. Interaction with faculty and quality hands-on activities enhance and help ensure a quality educational experience. The “lagniappe” or bonus as we say here, is that New Orleans is a wonderful city, and offers a rich cultural diversity for learning.

Thank you Dr. Ferguson for your time and insight into Loyola University New Orleans’ online Family Nurse Practitioner programs.

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.