Alumni Interview with Alejandra Villegas, MSN, FNP – Samuel Merritt University

About Alejandra Villegas, MSN, FNP: Alejandra Villegas is a mother of two, working as a Family Nurse Practitioner in Imperial, California. She currently practices at both a local health care clinic and an OB/GYN office. In addition to these positions, Mrs. Villegas is a part-time nursing instructor at Imperial Valley College. Prior to her current roles, she was employed as a Registered Nurse at a local hospital, working in both the Medical/Surgical and Emergency Departments.

Mrs. Villegas earned her BSN in 2013 through the hybrid program at University of Phoenix. She went on to earn her MSN from Samuel Merritt University in 2016, taking part in the FNP program’s first fully online cohort.

Interview Questions

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

[Alejandra Villegas, MSN, FNP] My name is Alejandra Villegas, I live in a small (underserved) community in Southern California. I earned my BSN through a hybrid program with University of Phoenix in 2013. I worked at the local hospital as an RN in a Medical/Surgical department, as well as in the Emergency Department. I completed the MSN/FNP online program (the first fully online cohort) from Samuel Merritt University in 2016. I currently work as an FNP in a local outpatient clinic, an OB/GYN office, and as a part-time Nursing instructor at Imperial Valley College.

[] What motivated you to pursue your MSN online? What advantages did you see to online education? Did Samuel Merritt’s online program meet these expectations?

[Alejandra Villegas, MSN, FNP] As a Registered Nurse who had earned her BSN, I realized that I needed to further my education because the community was in desperate need for primary health providers. I had a 1 year old child and I was working full time; I knew it was not feasible to go to a school that required me to be on campus. I knew an online program was the only way for me to earn my degree, but I could not find a school that offered the MSN/FNP fully online. That was until a coworker told me about Samuel Merritt University. I immediately got in contact with a counselor and within a month I was starting my first class.

Samuel Merritt University not only provided me with excellent education, they also were supportive every step of the way. I became pregnant in the middle of my program and I was still able to accomplish my degree in 20 months. I did not have to take a leave of absence because my instructors were able to accommodate me. I was able to complete assignments in the middle of the night with a newborn by my side, a toddler, a very supportive husband, and working as an RN.

[] How did Samuel Merritt’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?

[Alejandra Villegas, MSN, FNP] The courses were asynchronous. You could work on the material at your own time. The deadlines for assignments were fair and they helped the students to keep engaged week by week. I was very interactive with faculty because they provided the students with their cellphone numbers and made it easy to text any doubt or question we may have. Instructors were always accessible and if by any reason they were going to be out of reach they made sure to have someone else available to answer the student’s question.

[] 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?

[Alejandra Villegas, MSN, FNP] The major pro was how accessible and manageable the program was to complete my degree online. Also another major pro was the faculty and the great program we were using for the classes (CANVAS). The platform was easy to navigate and accessible via phone app.

One con was the intensity of the classes and how to time manage with my personal life. It is not fair to say this is a con for an online program. If anything, this would have been even worse if I was required to attend physically on campus. I really enjoyed the online program, I felt like I was part of a class that was much invested even though we were not physically together to study. We had good online discussions on many topics. I enjoyed the faculty and everyone that was part of the online program.

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

[Alejandra Villegas, MSN, FNP] As the first online cohort for Samuel Merritt University, the clinical practicum and placement was probably the most challenging aspect of the program. We had a clinical coordinator that was supposed to find the student’s placement but became really difficult due to the students distance and widespread locations. In the end, it was up to us to find a place where we were interested in doing clinical hours and the clinical coordinator would take it from there.

The clinical hours could be done locally and that was a big plus. I did not have to go to the closest “big city” like other programs; I was in the same community that I was planning to practice. This allowed my current employer to see my capabilities and I had a job waiting for me as soon as I graduated. If I could give any advice to other students it is to find a clinical placement where you are interested in working. This could serve you as a learning experience and job training.

[] What advice would you give students just starting Samuel Merritt’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 Samuel Merritt or another institution?

[Alejandra Villegas, MSN, FNP] If you believe online programs are easy, you will quickly learn otherwise. Online programs are just as difficult as on campus program. You need to manage your time wisely and use all the resources offered by your program to be successful. Additional recommendation to new students is to find good clinical sites with a classmate and work together. My advice for prospective students is to “go for it”, you can never take back the time that has passed, but you can decide to take control and make good use of your future.

Thank you, Mrs. Villegas, 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.