Alumni Interview with Kate Zimmer, MSN, ARNP – Gonzaga University

About Kate Zimmer, MSN, ARNP: Kate Zimmer is a Nurse Practitioner at a specialized orthopedic practice in Billings, Montana. Before her current position, she was employed as an NP at Billings Clinic, where she worked in the Neurosurgery department for over two years. Ms. Zimmer has spent the majority of her nursing career practicing in Orthopedics and Neurosurgery, including as a Registered Nurse at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, and as an RN for the St. Charles Health System in Bend, Oregon.

Ms. Zimmer earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Gonzaga University in 2007. In 2011, she completed Gonzaga’s online Master of Science in Nursing program, graduating with an MSN in the Family Nurse Practitioner specialty.

Interview Questions:

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

[Kate Zimmer, MSN, ARNP] My nursing career began in Bend, Oregon, on the Orthopedic and Neurosurgery floor. I then worked in Seattle as a Registered Nurse on the Orthopedic Trauma floor at Harborview Medical Center. Following completion of graduate school, I accepted a position as a Nurse Practitioner in Neurosurgery in Billings, Montana, ultimately transitioning to Orthopedics. Leading an active lifestyle myself, I’ve enjoyed helping individuals return to their baseline functional capacity despite the occasional setback.

I graduated with both a BSN and MSN from Gonzaga University, finishing up my studies in May of 2011. I trained as a Family Nurse Practitioner through graduate school and decided to pursue a surgical specialty upon completion of the online MSN program at Gonzaga.

[] 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?

[Kate Zimmer, MSN, ARNP] The professors at Gonzaga University encouraged undergraduate students to pursue a master’s degree early on in our careers. Interestingly enough, I think they knew there would be a demand for Nurse Practitioners and this is undoubtedly true. The online education I received through Gonzaga University was appealing because I could work through the coursework on my schedule. The flexibility of the didactic work during the first year was especially appealing. However, once clinical rotations started it was necessary to set down some roots.

The online program definitely met my needs as I was able to continue to work and travel as I studied. I started the online program in Bend, Oregon, and completed my studies in Seattle, Washington. I spent 5 months abroad in New Zealand and Australia during my first year and effectively created my own study abroad experience as well. Having the freedom to relocate and travel was a big part of my decision to pursue my master’s degree online.

[] How did Gonzaga’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?

[Kate Zimmer, MSN, ARNP] Gonzaga’s online platform made access to the professors quite simple. There were deadlines and requirements regarding participation in online discussions, though coursework was mostly asynchronous. Interaction with faculty was relatively frequent throughout the semester online as they led discussions and commented on our online posts with consistency.

I felt that the instructors were easily accessible to online students through email and responded within a reasonable time frame. Gonzaga emphasized hiring professors that still worked as either a Physician or Nurse Practitioner to reinforce the importance of staying up-to-date with professional practice. Depending on the work schedule of each instructor, response times varied, but overall my questions were answered in a timely fashion.

[] 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?

[Kate Zimmer, MSN, ARNP] We were required to visit campus two times each semester, the first being midterm exams and the second during final exams. There would be a written exam and lecture or lab the first day followed by a physical examination performed on volunteer patients the second day. We had volunteers for gynecologic exams as well as male wellness exams, volunteers that presented with stomach ulcers or cold and flu symptoms. Practicing the actual examination techniques on a live volunteer definitely provided greater confidence going into clinical rotations. As coursework progressed, we were expected to develop deeper thought processes by piecing together the patient’s history and physical with our assessment findings before presenting differential diagnoses.

In addition to the written exams, a lecture or lab usually followed. There were various labs where we practiced suturing, casting and performing microscopy. Often, we practiced our examination skills as well. I appreciated the on-campus sessions to be able to connect, study and network with fellow classmates and to really put our physical examination skills to the test.

[] 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?

[Kate Zimmer, MSN, ARNP] I would stress again that one of the major advantages of the online program was completing coursework as my schedule allowed. Classroom attendance would have certainly kept me from traveling to New Zealand and Australia for 5 months. I was able to hold a job throughout graduate school and it was convenient that I could schedule work and clinical rotations without having to factor in days spent in the classroom.

One of the cons of pursuing a graduate degree online was the anonymity of classmates and professors until meeting them on campus nearly a year into the program. Weekends on campus were usually stressful, as exams tend to be. I would say the benefits of an online program outweigh the cons though.

[] 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?

[Kate Zimmer, MSN, ARNP] One of the challenges I encountered with Gonzaga’s online program specifically is that they did not provide much assistance with setting up clinical rotations. Upon completion of my travels, I moved to Seattle and did not have as many professional connections as other students may have had access to. This seemed to be less of an issue for students that had been working in the same city for several years and had established colleagues with whom they could call on to request a clinical rotation site. Gonzaga did provide a list of clinical site contacts in Seattle upon request.

I would suggest speaking with other students about where they had good experiences regarding clinical practicums, if possible. Working with a strong preceptor will leave the student feeling more confident as they work toward independent practice. Knowing how to utilize resources and refer to evidence-based guidelines will lead to a better understanding of the rationale behind clinical decision making.

[] 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?

[Kate Zimmer, MSN, ARNP] My advice? Know what you’re getting yourself into! Gonzaga had a 100% pass rate on the national board exam when I applied, so that’s a question worth asking the admissions coordinator. It’s beneficial to know the overall cost of the program to weigh your return on investment. I did know a few nurses working toward their NP degree that struggled to obtain clinical rotation site contracts because their program was not accredited. Gonzaga’s program is accredited; however, this is definitely something to check on before signing up for an MSN degree online.

One final piece of advice just starting out in Gonzaga University’s online MSN program is to get organized before each semester. Know your deadlines, understand the assignments and follow up with fellow classmates and professors if you have questions. Set up strong clinical site rotations and take as much knowledge with you. Realize that the responsibility lies on you to be the best provider possible. Your patients deserve it!

Thank you, Ms. Zimmer, 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.