About Alex Lawrence, MSN, FNP-C: Alex Lawrence works as a Family Nurse Practitioner in Longview, Texas, where she specializes in Emergency Room nursing. She currently practices at both Hospitality Health ER and the Emergency Department at the Longview Regional Medical Center. Prior to becoming a Nurse Practitioner, Ms. Lawrence had already amassed four years of ER nursing experience working as a triage nurse.
After completing a Pre-Nursing program at The University of Texas at Arlington, Ms. Lawrence earned her BSN from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston in 2011. In 2015, she completed her MSN through the online program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, specializing as an FNP.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background in nursing?
[Alex Lawrence, MSN, FNP-C] I graduated with my BSN from University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston in 2011. I then worked in an ER at Longview Regional Medical Center in Longview, TX from 2011 until I graduated with my MSN as a Family Nurse Practitioner in 2015 from Texas Tech University Health Science Center. I was fortunate that I was able to stay in my hometown of Longview, TX and continue working in the ER while obtaining my degree through distance learning. I was honored to receive membership into Texas Tech’s chapter of Sigma Theta Tau.
I had 4 years of ER nursing experience prior to practicing as a Nurse Practitioner in 2015. I continued to work in the ER as an NP at a local hospital and now also work at a local free-standing ER. Throughout my nursing and nurse practitioner career, I have occasionally worked at a primary care office seeing clinic patients. My experience in both critical care and urgent/emergent care in the ER as well as primary care in the clinic has been crucial and invaluable to my development as a Family Nurse Practitioner.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What motivated you to pursue your MSN online? What advantages did you see to online education? Did the online program at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center meet these expectations?
[Alex Lawrence, MSN, FNP-C] Due to my recent marriage the year prior and building a home, I wanted to be able to continue working while going to school. My husband and I both entered this program at the same time and both worked nights. During the downtime at night I was able to study. Online education allowed me to study at a pace that was convenient for me, as I was able to complete my school work and review the PowerPoints at a time that worked for my life. I wasn’t sure I would be able to commit to attending classes certain days of the week and was not wanting to drive an hour or more to attend classes.
Additionally, my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our first child during the first month of school, and then later found out she would require open heart surgery for a congenital heart defect at 4 months old. Given unanticipated events, I have no doubt we wouldn’t have both been able to complete the courses without the flexibility of the online program.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] How did TTUHSC’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?
[Alex Lawrence, MSN, FNP-C] Courses at Texas Tech were asynchronous. Texas Tech’s online platform allowed me to interact with classmates online in the form of class forums. There were also often group projects, which encouraged increased communication and interaction with other classmates. While it is difficult to perform group projects with other students who are on the other side of the state of Texas, it wasn’t impossible and helped me to learn to coordinate with others.
Faculty members would often post questions regarding a particular topic that required response in a forum. This was nearly weekly and it was an online conversation and encouraged discussion. I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful preceptor, Mrs. Grace Sun, who frequently checked on me with my clinical sites, my preceptors, and reviewed my reports. She functioned more along the lines of a mentor. She was incredibly supportive and was there reviewing my performance in our On-Site Clinical Evaluations. Most instructors were accessible all times of the day and responded quickly to any questions.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Texas Tech’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?
[Alex Lawrence, MSN, FNP-C] We travelled to Lubbock, TX nearly every semester during the entirety of the program. The first visit, after orientation, included hands-on training involving suturing, radiology interpretations, and clinical assessments. Texas Tech University Health Science Center’s SIM lab is impressive, and is available at no charge to any students who want to use it at the main campus or in Abilene. The first visit to Tech was informative and invaluable. After discussing our experience with other NPs and students, it was clear that Texas Tech is the only program that offers this experience.
Other visits to the campus included an On-Site Clinical Evaluation, where we would obtain an HPI, physical examination, diagnosis, and treatment to hired actors. Our preceptors monitored our performance through a video in the room. After 3-5 assessments, we reviewed the video with our preceptor who critiqued our performance. These were very helpful in improving assessments.
[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?
[Alex Lawrence, MSN, FNP-C] Pending acceptance into the program we were all informed that the hardest parts of the program, contributing to majority of those who were unable to complete the program, were secondary to an inability to obtain preceptors for the courses. With this in mind, I obtained preceptors as early as possible and completed the paperwork as soon as it was accessible. I recommend anyone anticipating going through an online program to seek preceptors as early as possible for OB/GYN, pediatrics, primary care, geriatrics, and a specialty of your choosing as these spots fill quickly.
Another interesting encounter I had was many of my preceptors were weary of accepting students from certain schools, particularly private online programs where there was less supervision and less hands-on training. I was fortunate that my preceptor was also a Texas Tech alumni and was excited to have a student from her alma mater.
One of the major pros to obtaining my degree online was the convenience of the program, as it allowed me to continue my work schedule and I was able to also continue to work at night. School did not interfere with my pregnancy, newborn, or my child undergoing heart surgery, and actually my preceptors were more than accommodating to all three situations.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Clinical practicums are a major component of graduate nursing education. Can you briefly describe how the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center 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?
[Alex Lawrence, MSN, FNP-C] The school had a list that was accessible online of all the previous preceptors in each region with prior contracts with the school. While I already had preceptors in mind and had contracts either pending or completed, this list would’ve been helpful if I were in a crunch for a preceptor, as it can take several months to complete a contract. The woman who was managing preceptorships and contracts seemed to work endlessly to ensure these were completed as soon as possible. There were a few instances where I had questions about the status of a preceptor contract and she responded in a reasonable time and had helpful responses.
We were expected to independently obtain preceptor contracts and did not have assistance with matching student-preceptor relationships. This was addressed in orientation and was not a surprise to any of us, however. I was fortunate that I did not have difficulty in obtaining these relationships and was also able to find correct preceptors for each course. I would certainly not advise waiting to obtain these, as you need to start as early on as possible in completing your hours.
I did the majority of my practicum hours, which was 260+ hours over the summer, with two preceptors. By using few preceptors for this course, it allowed better continuum of my learning as my preceptors were aware of my progress and abilities. We quickly advanced to a position in which I would see the patient, do the exam and give a report to my preceptor along with my diagnosis, anticipated treatment and necessary testing. We would then go in to see the patient together and she would critique my findings, diagnosis, treatment, and testing. This method worked well for both myself and my preceptor, and helped me apply my knowledge into the clinical setting.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What advice would you give students just starting TTUHSC’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 Texas Tech or another institution?
[Alex Lawrence, MSN, FNP-C] My advice would be to continue working as a nurse in an area that is applicable to your desired degree or area where you plan to work as a Nurse Practitioner. I worked in the ER since I planned to continue working in the ER as an NP. Not only did I work in the ER, but I worked nearly solely as a triage nurse. This allowed me to learn how to make quick assessments, obtain H&P’s, and forced me to have constant interaction with patients as we saw 100+ patients daily. It is true that what you don’t use, you lose. Without continuing to work, I fear that I may have lost a lot of what I learned as a nurse that is the foundation of a nurse practitioner.
Before starting or considering an online MSN program, look for preceptors and obtain relationships with physicians and nurse practitioners in your area. Without contracted preceptors, you will not be able to complete the courses and you will be wasting your time. It is less stressful to go ahead and work on obtaining these relationships prior to and early on in a variety of specialties, as procrastination is not in your favor with these online programs.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What type of support services does TTUHSC offer online students? Did the school offer career services, and if so, did you use them and find them helpful?
[Alex Lawrence, MSN, FNP-C] Majority of the support services I received came directly from my program preceptor, Mrs. Grace Sun. During the practicum and early courses, we worked on our portfolio and curriculum vitae, which was helpful once we graduated. I was grateful that we had a course that included this support and even included a mock interview. This allowed me to furnish a CV and portfolio that was complete by the time of graduation and applicable in the real world. Career services were not necessary, as part of one of our courses included joining a local NP group and we receive monthly emails about facilities wanting to hire NPs. The support from all my professors and preceptors was invaluable and extraordinary. I would recommend this program to anyone considering wanting to become an NP.
Thank you, Ms. Lawrence, for participating in our alumni interview series, and sharing your experience as an online FNP student!