Alumni Interview with Jessica Klassen, MSN, ARNP, FNP – Gonzaga University

About Jessica Klassen, MSN, ARNP, FNP: Jessica Klassen is a Family Nurse Practitioner who currently practices at Birch Bay Family Medicine in Blaine, Washington. Before transitioning to primary care, Ms. Klassen served as an ARNP on a family practice hospitalist team. She also worked as a Registered Nurse for 19 years in a variety of specialty areas, prior to becoming a certified FNP.

Ms. Klassen started her nursing career with an associate degree in science from College of Sequoias in 1995, and completed her BSN from the University of Washington in 1999. In 2014, she graduated from Gonzaga University’s online MSN program with a Family Practice focus. Following this, she became board certified as a Family Nurse Practitioner by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Interview Questions

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

[Jessica Klassen, MSN, ARNP, FNP] I first completed an associate degree program in California; being a registered nurse allowed for flexibility when I made the move to Washington State. I worked in acute rehabilitation and medical-surgical specialty areas, becoming board certified in both. During this time, I completed a BSN program at University of Washington. After obtaining my BSN, I worked in cardiac, emergency, and critical care areas, again obtaining board certification in each area. It was a natural time for me to continue my education, once again, and graduated from Gonzaga University’s MSN program in 2014.

My first nurse practitioner job was working as part of a family practice hospitalist team. As part of this team, I completed hospital admissions, history and physicals, rounding, and discharging back to the family practice providers in our larger group. An opportunity arose for me to start providing primary care at one of our local rural health clinics, one mile from my house! One of my biggest challenges is learning to balance speed of the outpatient workup, when in the hospital things happened in hours, versus weeks. I love being able to develop long-term relationships with my patients. My years of varied nursing background help me every day in my practice.

[] What motivated you to pursue your MSN online? What advantages did you see to online education? Did the online program at Gonzaga University meet these expectations?

[Jessica Klassen, MSN, ARNP, FNP] Going back to graduate school was only an option for me if I continued to work full-time. I needed the flexibility of a program that would allow me to work and continue to see my family. I knew nurses that were currently in the program having success. Although working full-time was difficult (and I wouldn’t recommend it), I was able to complete in the standard amount of time. The campus trips were both stressful (testing) and an enjoyable break from the fast pace of work and school.

[] How did Gonzaga 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?

[Jessica Klassen, MSN, ARNP, FNP] With experience in several areas of acute nursing, I wanted to have an increased decision-making role in the health care team. Obtaining my MSN was the way to do this. Living in a rural community, all on-campus options were more than a three hour commute into Seattle. This would have made working at the same time impossible.

Gonzaga’s online program gave me the option to complete my MSN at home on my own timeline. I was able to go to school full-time, but knew I had the option to slow the pace to part-time if I needed to. With an online program there is portability, I could vacation and take my laptop with me.

Another advantage was the ability to network with other students from varied experiences. For example, when studying oncology, there was a student with extensive experience in that area who was able to offer stories of her experiences. We had students that had years of varied experience and a few that had come right from BSN programs, with great study skills to share.

Gonzaga met all of my expectations and was a great fit for me.

[] Gonzaga University’s online MSN 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?

[Jessica Klassen, MSN, ARNP, FNP] There were six immersions that occurred on weekends. These happened at the beginning and the end of each of the clinical-focused semesters. The schedule for the immersions was available in advance which made making travel plans easier. Many of the hotels were within walking distance from the campus and provided shuttle service from the airport.

Campus immersions included lectures on a variety of relevant topics by professors with great clinical and teaching experience. Skills labs involved physical exams on real people, as well as porcine suturing, uterine biopsy, casting, and many more topics.

Objective Structured Clinical Examinations or OSCEs were done giving students the opportunity to replicate walking into an exam room with limited information and coming up with a differential diagnosis and plan of care. This was done in a test environment with clinical observers and immediate feedback.

In addition to the structured events, the immersions were a great time for meeting other students in the cohort and building relationships through sharing meals and study groups.

[] What were the major pros and cons of pursuing your graduate nursing degree 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 MSN degree online?

[Jessica Klassen, MSN, ARNP, FNP] The overwhelming pro of pursing an online graduate nursing program was flexibility. Cost, when compared to campus-based programs is less, especially when factoring in time lost from work.

For me, I had to balance working full-time with completion of the program. This was difficult! I worked six 12-hour night shifts with one week off between work stretches. Assignments during my stretch on were difficult to complete. I had to really plan for due dates and study time to make this work. In my final semester, I slipped on ice and broke my arm. Light duty was welcomed, as it slowed down my work schedule allowing me to complete on time.

A challenge for most online students is finding clinical placements. It helps to have connections in your community already. This helped me to set up my placements and stay on track. Many other students had a harder time than I in finding placement.

I loved the OSCEs and campus lecture times, getting to socialize and learn from the other students’ experiences.

[] Clinical practicums are a major component of graduate nursing education. Can you briefly describe how Gonzaga 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?

[Jessica Klassen, MSN, ARNP, FNP] Gonzaga University did provide lists of sites and preceptors from past students. It was fully the responsibility of the student to contact and arrange preceptors, and ensure that the appropriate amount of clinical hours were met in each rotation.

It was a real challenge for many students to find placement. I would recommend finding out which programs are more highly regarded in your area prior to choosing a program. I did not have difficulty, but had extensive connections in the community already. Most students get placement through a connection they have with the preceptor outside of the program, at least in my area.

[] What advice would you give students just starting Gonzaga University’s online MSN program? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are just starting or considering an online MSN program, whether it be at Gonzaga or another institution?

[Jessica Klassen, MSN, ARNP, FNP] If you have the opportunity to decrease your work hours during graduate school do it! With any program or educational experience, you get out of it what you invest into it. Organize your weeks to plan ahead for big assignments and research projects. If you have an area of interest or experience, focus research papers and in-depth study on that area.

Plan ahead for clinical preceptors, it is never too early to start networking. Join a local nurse practitioner association and show up to meetings. This is a great way to learn about local educational offerings and to get to know potential preceptors.

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

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