Alumni Interview with Rebecca Singh, MSN, FNP-BC – Duke University

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About Rebecca Singh, MSN, FNP-BC: Rebecca Singh is a Nurse Practitioner for the Air National Guard in Washington, D.C. Prior to her current role, she worked as a Family Nurse Practitioner for a private practice in Hanford, California. Before entering advanced practice registered nursing, Ms. Singh was a Flight Nurse for the Air National Guard for over six years, and also worked as a Senior Nurse Medical Manager and Emergency Room RN for Anthem and Community Memorial Health System, respectively.

Ms. Singh earned her BSN from the University of South Alabama in 2008 and her Master’s Degree in Nursing Science from The University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2013. She earned a post-master’s certificate with a focus in Family Nurse Practitioner from Duke University’s online post-graduate nursing program in 2015.

Interview Questions

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background in nursing?

[Rebecca Singh, MSN, FNP-BC] Nursing is a second career for me. After attending the United States Naval Academy and serving as a Surface Officer (onboard ships) I wanted a civilian career that was both flexible for family life and fulfilling. Nursing was a good fit. My nursing education includes a BSN from University of South Alabama’s on-campus program, an MSN from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s online program, and an FNP Post-Master’s Certificate from Duke University’s post-graduate program. Duke’s program was a hybrid of both online and on campus coursework and testing.

My professional RN experiences include starting as a new RN in the ER, then moving on to travel nursing, utilization review, urgent care, and also flight nursing with the Air National Guard as a reservist. Starting out as an RN in the ER gave me a broad base of clinical experience. This later helped with finding jobs that fit my needs while pursing graduate studies concurrently. Being able to work during my online graduate and post-graduate programs, combined with a grant program through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to do FNP clinical hours at sites near our home (my husband is active duty in the military), greatly minimized my student debt.

My first job as an ANCC Board Certified FNP was at Dr. Michael Lloyd’s family practice office in rural Central California, seeing birth through geriatric and obstetric patients. Like starting out in the ER as a new RN, beginning in a full-spectrum family medicine setting gave me the widest possible experience within the scope of my new FNP degree. I also transferred from being a Flight Nurse to the position of Advanced Practice Nurse in the Air National Guard reserves.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What motivated you to pursue your post-MSN certificate online? What advantages did you see to online education? Did Duke’s online program meet these expectations?

[Rebecca Singh, MSN, FNP-BC] Due to family commitments I did not want to move away from my home in rural California but wanted to keep advancing in my career. Duke University was the only top-10 ranked FNP program in the US to be offered online. It is actually more of a hybrid program, with “intensives” that include seminars and testing on campus at the beginning of each semester (in Durham, NC) as well as online course content and clinical experiences coordinated in your local home area.

Another advantage of Duke’s program was staff coordination of clinical sites. Duke was participating in a CMS pilot grant program at the time that reimbursed local clinical sites for their providers’ time instructing Duke students. In other online (and even some on-campus) programs, the onus is on the student to “find” clinical hours. I had heard horror stories from peers unable to complete their degrees because of lack of clinical hours and did not want to find myself in that position.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] How did Duke University’s online platform enable you to interact with faculty members and classmates? Were courses asynchronous, synchronous, or a combination of both? How often did you interact with faculty, and did you feel that your instructors were accessible to online students?

[Rebecca Singh, MSN, FNP-BC] Duke’s online platform enabled both self-paced online discussion forums as well as live interactive “face-to-face” tele-seminars. There were usually multiple times for the same seminar topics published well in advance, allowing students to sign up for a time that fit their schedules. The other seminar groups were then recorded and made available online for review by all students.

Faculty interaction varied by course. Some faculty wanted daily interaction while others were on a two or three day schedule. For all classes, the expectations were clearly communicated as was the professor’s contact information, virtual “office hours,” and the maximum response time by faculty to any questions submitted by e- or voice-mail. I found the instructors engaged and communicative.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Duke’s online post-MSN certificate program requires students to make a limited number of visits to the campus for labs and on-campus intensives. What activities and events were included in these on-campus sessions?

[Rebecca Singh, MSN, FNP-BC] At the beginning of the program, intensives included advanced assessment and clinical reasoning skill testing as well as case study discussion groups. The skill testing included (for example) performing a head-to-toe physical exam on another student in front of an evaluating instructor and interviewing an instructor posing as a patient based on their presenting complaint while being graded by another instructor.

Later in the program we had more skill workshops. Examples of these workshops include live male and female models for prostate and vaginal exam experience as well as plastic models for IUD insertion. There were varied skill workshops all of which I found useful to have prior to showing up at my clinical sites.

I found the on-campus time extremely constructive both for learning new clinical skills and also developing relationships with the other students and professors. An on-campus component is also valuable for the integrity of the program and quality control. It allows in-person faculty assessment of skills prior to sending students into the clinical setting.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What were the major pros and cons of pursuing your post-MSN certificate online? What challenges did you encounter throughout your completion of the online program, and how did you address them? On the flip side, what did you enjoy most about completing your PMC online?

[Rebecca Singh, MSN, FNP-BC] The major pro of an online component was the ability to remain at home. I had a parent with advanced cancer who passed away during my FNP program. I would not have left the area to pursue my post-graduate degree at that time. The geographic and schedule flexibility of online learning helps in overcoming some of the “life got in the way” obstacles that otherwise may prohibit completing a traditional on-campus program. Another benefit is the wider variety of geographic perspectives and other students’ clinical experiences.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Clinical practicums are a major component of graduate nursing education. Can you briefly describe how Duke University handles clinical placements for online students? Can you elaborate on your experiences in your clinical practicum rotations and what were some key takeaways from your rotations that you feel helped you successfully make the transition from being a registered nurse to being a health care provider?

[Rebecca Singh, MSN, FNP-BC] I think this was covered in the earlier question of why I chose Duke but is important enough to re-address. Duke University handled clinical placement. This was very valuable. Although you can offer suggestions, the placement staff independently reviews the qualifications of and handles recruiting and communication with the clinical sites independent of the student. I was very impressed with the quality of my preceptors and their practice sites. For example, I had the opportunity to participate in assessing newborns in their home after home-births. This was with a Pediatric MD practicing locally in the Valley Children Hospital and UCSF Fresno residency extension for over 30 years. His NP (and practice partner) is a Duke alumnus.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What advice would you give students just starting Duke’s online PMC FNP program? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are just starting or considering an online nursing degree program, whether it be at Duke or another institution?

[Rebecca Singh, MSN, FNP-BC] My advice is to stick with it. Though online programs are often more flexible, they also tend to require more self-motivation. Distractions and barriers will always come up in life. You have to decide to finish and work every day to ensure you do. During the sad times I tried to view school as a welcome distraction rather than something that was too overwhelming in an already difficult situation. During the happy times, I tried to view it as something to add to my happiness rather than something oppressive. Adopt an “I will finish” mentality.

Another piece of advice is to communicate with faculty and staff early, the sooner the better. If you know you have a work conflict that may interfere with a deadline or if an emergency happens take the time to communicate. I found the Duke faculty reasonable and collaborative, but only with early and clear communication on my part.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What type of support services does Duke offer online students? Did the school offer career services, and if so, did you use them and find them helpful?

[Rebecca Singh, MSN, FNP-BC] Duke offered great career services but mainly for the East Coast so I did not find them helpful. I received multiple job offers from offices and clinics that Duke contacted while setting up my clinical hours.

Thank you, Ms. Singh, for participating in our alumni interview series, and sharing your experience as an online FNP student!


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About the Author: Jake Ravani is an Editor at OnlineFNPPrograms.com, and has been writing about educational trends and online degree programs since 2010. He earned his BA in English from UC Santa Cruz.