About Jerry “Bo” Barton, MSN, FNP-C: Bo Barton is a Family Nurse Practitioner based in Mobile, Alabama who currently works for Integrity Health, performing disability compensation exams for Veterans Affairs. Prior to this position, he was employed as a Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner by Pulmonary Associates of Mobile, the seventh largest pulmonary practice in the United States. Mr. Barton worked as a Registered Nurse for over five years before becoming an NP, including stints at both Brookwood Hospital and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Mr. Barton began his nursing career with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of South Alabama. In 2017, he earned his MSN through the online program at Troy University, graduating from their FNP specialty track.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background in nursing?
[Bo Barton, MSN, FNP-C] My career in the medical field began after I graduated from the University of South Alabama with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Upon completion, I relocated to Birmingham, Alabama where I worked for UAB (The University of Alabama at Birmingham) hospital. I initially gained experience in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit before moving to the Cardiac Cath Lab, as well as becoming a Stat Nurse, responding to specialized medical needs, IV access, and urgent life-threatening situations.
While gaining critical care experience, I quickly realized I wanted to carry my career forward and continue expanding my education. Therefore, I enrolled in Troy University’s online Family Nurse Practitioner program. Throughout the program, I completed clinical rotations in pediatrics, internal medicine, gynecology, and emergency medicine. I also completed a three-month training stint for pulmonary, and am currently completing health care assessments for veteran’s administration.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What motivated you to pursue your MSN online? What advantages did you see to online education? Did the online program at Troy University meet these expectations?
[Bo Barton, MSN, FNP-C] I elected to pursue my MSN online as it initially afforded me the opportunity to continue working in a full-time position, while completing my coursework. I was able to maintain my work schedule and complete the assignments around my daily responsibilities and call schedule. Each week, my work schedule would change. Therefore, having the flexibility of not having to attend a brick and mortar classroom, at a set time, provided the advantage of completing the assigned tasks and assignments around my given work schedule.
Troy University met my expectation of letting me know up front, as a student, when assignments were due or when meetings were to be held so that I could adjust my schedule well in advance around any conflicting requirements. Troy University also allowed for early submission of assignments so if I knew I had a call day on a particular assignment deadline, I could complete the task ahead of time and submit it earlier than required. The flexibility Troy University afforded me was truly one of the biggest advantages to my education.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] How did Troy’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?
[Bo Barton, MSN, FNP-C] Troy University allowed for student-teacher interaction via means of phone calls, texting, e-mail, online forums, and video chatting. Students had access to these communication means at any time throughout the semester. The lectures of the courses were mostly asynchronous, having been prerecorded. However, this method allowed me the opportunity to watch the lectures according to my time schedule. Furthermore, once a semester, we were required to attend a physical class meeting, or attend via means of video, if you lived too far away from the group meeting.
As the courses grew more intense throughout the program, interaction with faculty members increased. During the preceptorship requirements in the program, each semester, a clinical instructor was assigned who would come and observe our clinical hours in person. Also, during the capstone courses, students were assigned a faculty liaison that provided specific quick and direct feedback to our required capstone research projects.
In regard to communication with classmates, Troy University’s programs created online forums for student-to-student interaction, as well as required multiple group assignments. As students, assignments required a collaborative effort in assigning responsibilities and deadlines for the submission requirements.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Troy 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?
[Bo Barton, MSN, FNP-C] The requirements for the once a semester physical class meetings and/or labs included practicing head-to-toe assessments on mannequins and testing props. Once those assessments were completed, students were then required to perform physical head-to-toe assessments on other students while being graded by a faculty member. Also, throughout these meetings, students were required to provide feedback on a unique patient experience from the clinical rotation during that semester. For our research projects, students were also required to complete a poster presentation on our research topic, as well as be prepared to answer questions regarding the research.
I believe these hands on requirements enhanced the learning experiences of Troy University’s online program by allowing me to put online learning into practice, while gaining immediate feedback and instruction from faculty members. These opportunities also allowed me the chance to meet other students in person, to assess and compare my clinical experiences to theirs, as well as learn vicariously through their experiences.
While researching Troy University, I was pleased with the idea of attending a group meeting once a semester. However, I did not initially realize just how valuable the experiences would be until I compared my retention of the content and knowledge to other students. It was hugely beneficial to see just how much I truly was learning via Troy University’s online methods.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] 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?
[Bo Barton, MSN, FNP-C] The major pro of pursuing my MSN degree online was the opportunity to continue working full-time, without having to attend class at a specific time period. In the nursing industry, work schedules often rotate from week to week. Therefore, online education allowed me the opportunity to complete my courses around my job. Unfortunately, the major con of pursuing online education would probably be time management for ensuring you are learning the material and, in a way, being able to self-teach.
One specific challenge I experienced throughout the program was difficulty during the group projects. Having various students, with multiple individual schedules, allowed for difficulty in receiving feedback from others in the group, as well as receiving their portions of the assignments in a timely manner. As a group leader of an assignment, I tried to rectify this problem by creating multiple deadline points throughout the assignment so that the project could be completed ahead of schedule, which allowed for a thorough review prior to final submission.
The most enjoyable aspect of completing my MSN online was truly the flexibility the program allowed. Even during the required clinical components of the program, I was still able to work the required hours around my assignments and work schedule.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Clinical practicums are a major component of graduate nursing education. Can you briefly describe how Troy 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?
[Bo Barton, MSN, FNP-C] Troy University places the responsibility of finding preceptors for clinical rotations on its students. The good thing about this is that students are able to seek preceptors in close proximity of their physical locations. However, the downside is that preceptors are often difficult to find, particularly if students are seeking them on their own, without the assistance of a school coordinator.
One major piece of advice for any other student seeking to enroll in Troy University’s online MSN-FNP program would be to seek preceptors early in the program, two to three semesters prior to needing them. Particularly, if you live in a heavy populated medical industry area, preceptors get taken quickly and can be difficult to find if you wait until the current semester to begin seeking them. Therefore, it is not unlikely to have to drive more than an hour to find a willing clinical site.
The clinical practicum rotations allowed me the opportunity to gain experiences in multiple disciplines, broadening my scope of practice. I was able to complete rotations in internal medicine, gynecology, pediatrics, and emergency medicine. These experiences provided the opportunities to collaborate with health care providers regarding diagnoses, treatments, billing, as well as various charting methods.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What advice would you give students just starting Troy’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 Troy University or another institution?
[Bo Barton, MSN, FNP-C] Specifically, my advice to a student just starting Troy University’s online program would be to make sure you are structured. At the start of each semester, get the syllabi and create a schedule conducive to your life, then stick to that schedule. Also, make sure you communicate with your instructors, ask questions if you are uncertain, and check the forums daily. Frequent participation is key to being a successful student. Also, network with other students for encouragement, as well as for finding preceptorship opportunities.
My advice to online students in general would be to stay proactive. Procrastination can be one of the greatest hindrances to your learning. Give yourself plenty of time to submit your assignments, to ensure you are learning the materials, and to have time to review for tests. Education will always benefit you, if you allow yourself to gain the full scope of the experience. Be an active participant in your learning.
Thank you, Mr. Barton, for participating in our alumni interview series, and sharing your experience as an online FNP student!