Alumni Interview with Michelle Lew, MSN, FNP – Gonzaga University

About Michelle Lew, MSN, FNP: Michelle Lew is currently employed as a Family Nurse Practitioner at an urgent care clinic outside Seattle, Washington. Prior to her current role, she worked as a Nurse Practitioner for Sea Mar Community Health Centers, where she saw upwards of 18 patients a day. Ms. Lew was a Registered Nurse for over five years before earning her MSN, working in a variety of orthopedic, gastroenterological, plastic surgery, and general clinics in the greater Seattle area.

Ms. Lew earned her Associate Degree in Nursing from Lake Washington Tech College in 2009. In 2010, she entered the online ADN to MSN program at Gonzaga University, pursuing her master’s in the FNP specialty. Ms. Lew graduated with her Master of Science in Nursing from Gonzaga in 2014.

Interview Questions

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

[Michelle Lew, MSN, FNP] I began my nursing career as a nursing assistant in 2005. I graduated with my Associate in Nursing at Lake Washington Tech College in 2009. As a registered nurse, my experience has been primarily with surgical services in plastic surgeries, gastroenterology, orthopedics, and general surgery. I graduated from Gonzaga University in 2014 with a MSN as a Family Nurse Practitioner. I was also inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing while at Gonzaga.

After graduation, I started out working in community health in a rural area. I saw on average 18-24 patients a day, ranging from acute care to highly complex patients with multiple morbidities. I gave birth to my daughter the following year and found it was hard to balance work and home life so I decided to seek new opportunities. I currently work in an urgent care clinic in the Greater Seattle area and find this new position to offer me that work life balance I desire for the past year.

[] 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?

[Michelle Lew, MSN, FNP] The most important thing I looked for in a MSN program was flexibility. I wanted to continue working while in school. Gonzaga University also offered both a part-time and a full-time option which allowed me to go at my own pace.

In the end, I chose Gonzaga University because they had an ADN to MSN option which allowed me to take courses to fulfill a BSN and merge into the MSN program right away without having to reapply or wait for the next available semester. I also chose Gonzaga University because it was in state and was well recognized.

[] 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?

[Michelle Lew, MSN, FNP] Gonzaga utilizes BlackBoard as their online platform for everything from multiple discussion forums to interactions with faculty and classmates. All of the courses were asynchronous with discussion boards, videos, and PowerPoint presentations.

The faculty at Gonzaga were accessible by email or phone. Students who lived closer to the university were able to make appointments for face-to-face meetings. As an online student, I felt the faculty were extremely accessible by email. I usually will get a reply back within 24 hours if not within 3 hours. They frequently check in with students and always offer support as needed. I was amazed by what they remembered regarding what I wrote on a discussion board, even if it was not class-related.

[] 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?

[Michelle Lew, MSN, FNP] Each semester required a 2 day campus visit. One of these days would be labs where you could practice hands-on skills. The other day was reserved for testing. In terms of labs, we were given the opportunity to practice full head-to-toe assessments, genital exams, insert IUDS, apply different types of splints, learn how to suture, and do biopsies. We also role played different scenarios that one would encounter while in practice. One of the tests that was done on these campus visits had the student play the role of the nurse practitioner seeing a patient for a specific case. You get to interact with your patient as if they were real to gather history, perform an exam, and make a diagnosis. At the end, you are asked about your thought process during this scenario and how you came to your diagnosis.

I felt these campus visits were extremely important in this type of program. While researching other programs, I wanted to choose one that has campus visits that I could go to without taking time off of work. Gonzaga’s campus visits were usually on a Friday and Saturday. These campus visits allow the instructor to get a sense of your skills as a clinician and help you improve in your weak areas so that one can be a better clinician. I also appreciated the labs with real models to practice my skills on and receive feedback.

[] 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?

[Michelle Lew, MSN, FNP] One of the biggest challenges of an online program for me was the waiting — waiting for a reply back either from a professor or a group member. Unlike a traditional classroom, I was not able to build relationships with my classmates as fast as I normally would. It was harder to find people to form a study group with because of this, which can make it more difficult to stay focused. However, being a part of an online program allowed me to meet classmates from different states and expand my networking circle.

However, the greatest thing about an online program was the flexibility it offered. I was able to work full time and do classroom work and study on my days off. I also could do this in the comfort of my own home. I was able to travel and not have to worry about missing anything. As long as I had an internet connection, I was able to access everything I needed. My lectures were recorded which allowed me to view the recording multiple times when studying.

[] 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?

[Michelle Lew, MSN, FNP] We were expected to find our own clinical sites for our practicums. I found this to be very difficult at first because I was working in surgical services and the program required you to do your practicums in family practice. All of my work connections were in the operating room and I didn’t know anyone in family practice. I did a lot of cold calls and emails to different providers in my area to see if they were willing to take on a student.

My advice for anyone that has to find their own clinical sites is to ask your school for a list of organizations they currently have contracts with to do practicums. The school must have a contract with the organization for liability purposes. Contracts can take 3-4 months to be approved, so having this list can save you time. Also, if you are emailing random providers to see if they will take you on as a student, it is likely easier to get in with someone that has already worked with your school. You can also join a nurse practitioner association as a student to find perspective preceptors. These associations will usually have a directory of providers who are willing to precept students and will likely return your email or phone call.

Gonzaga University required you to do at least 600 hours of clinical practicum and 400 of these hours had to be in family practice. I enjoyed working with the different providers and learning their different styles and perspectives. I made sure to ask each provider I worked with to offer some wisdom pearls they felt were the most important to them. When I did a rotation in a specialty, I made sure to ask them what they wanted from a PCP prior to placing the referrals.

[] 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?

[Michelle Lew, MSN, FNP] My advice for anyone that is considering an online MSN program is to make sure that the program offers student support. Gonzaga University offered a variety of resources from advisors to mentors, which were primarily students further ahead in the program. I made sure to connect with my assigned advisor to go over my track in the program. If you are considering a program that offers a part-time option, ask to see if you are able to switch back and forth between part-time and full-time, if that’s applicable to you. My advisor discussed with me which classes he thought I should definitely take together, and which ones I should wait on depending on how many classes I elected to take that semester.

With any online program, you have to make sure that you are organized. Get a calendar and write down when assignments are due and when tests are scheduled. It can be very easy to fall behind with an online program, since you need to manage your own time of when to do what yourself. Also, if you’re feeling like you are falling behind or undergoing a hard circumstance, reach out to your professors. All of my professors were very understanding and accommodating.

Thank you, Ms. Lew, 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.