Alumni Interview with Judson Lawrence MSN, FNP-C – Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

About Judson Lawrence MSN, FNP-C: Judson Lawrence is a Family Nurse Practitioner based in Longview, Texas, who currently practices full-time at Hospitality Health ER. Before becoming an NP, Mr. Lawrence worked as an RN at Longview Regional Medical Center for over seven years. He has extensive training in Emergency Room nursing, and began his nursing career working in the ICU and CVICU.

Mr. Lawrence earned his Associate Degree in Nursing from Panola Junior College in 2008. After that, he went on to obtain his BSN from The University of Texas at Arlington. In 2015, he graduated from the online Family Nurse Practitioner program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, earning his MSN in the specialty.

Interview Questions

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

[Judson Lawrence MSN, FNP-C] I graduated from Panola Junior College with my ADN in 2008 and began working in the ICU and CVICU at Longview Regional Medical Center in Longview Texas. Three years later, I graduated with my BSN from The University of Texas at Arlington. I stayed in the ICU and CVICU while cross-training in the ER beginning in 2012 and started NP school at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in 2013. I eventually transferred to the ER once starting NP school and graduated from Tech with my MSN in the summer of 2015.

I was awarded a hospital-wide distinctive award in 2009, Exemplary Nurse. I also served on multiple committees within the hospital at Longview Regional, including the Code Blue, ICU Improvement, and Peer Review Committees. I earned my Critical Care Registered Nurse certification and my PICC line placement certification, and became certified in a number of advanced nursing courses.

Since becoming a Nurse Practitioner, I have worked in two remarkably different ER’s. I started in a hospital-based ER, in the same ER I worked as a nurse while earning my MSN. I believe working in the ER as a nurse made me a better qualified, more prepared NP and helped me with my assessments along the way. Nearly a year ago, I began working in a free-standing ER and recently transferred to full-time at Hospitality Health ER in Longview, TX.

[] What motivated you to pursue your MSN online? What advantages did you see to online education? Did the online program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center meet these expectations?

[Judson Lawrence MSN, FNP-C] My wife and I both applied to Texas Tech’s online Nurse Practitioner program while working in the same ER as nurses. We wanted to be able to continue to work as much as we needed to maintain our lives financially, yet needed the flexibility with work that the online program provides. We have never regretted this decision. We also live in an area that does not have a local university that offers a nurse practitioner course, and the closest university is nearly an hour away.

Working full-time (and nights at that) would not have allowed us the time to be on two separate set schedules and would have either stretched our load too thin, or would have been impossible. The online program at Texas Tech allowed us to continue working full-time on the night shifts while doing our school work during downtime at work or during the days when we were off work. We had plenty of time to complete the necessary course load and did not feel like any aspect of our lives was sacrificed.

[] 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?

[Judson Lawrence MSN, FNP-C] Texas Tech’s courses were asynchronous. A lot of the courses included group work, but each of these group meetings were scheduled at a time that was convenient for each individual group. The courses often included a required forum to encourage discussion of medical related topics and topics related to the current coursework. We often were graded based on participation in these forums, which required researching current events. It was organized well and students had time to plan the most convenient time to participate in these forums. I never felt like I was stretched too thin with these and always had plenty of time to submit my discussions.

The platform allowed us to have private or group discussions with classmates. Any difficulties or discussions could be addressed, and all professors gave us their work emails and phone numbers in the syllabi. I never felt alone in the coursework, not did I ever feel poorly informed. Any questions I had, I always had someone I could contact for assistance. My mentor/program advisor, Grace Sun, was an incredible resource and helped in any way possible. She provided a phone conference for test reviews that was optional, but was very helpful in explaining missed questions. She was always available and made the courses a breeze. She was great at preparing us for exams. I believe there were 4-5 students per mentor, so they were not overwhelmed.

[] 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?

[Judson Lawrence MSN, FNP-C] The first time I stepped foot on the campus was for the required orientation, which helped inform us of what was expected. They had a very strong emphasis in obtaining preceptors for the individual clinical courses as that seemed to be where most struggled. Texas Tech had two ladies whose sole job was to help us with obtaining contracts with sites and clinical instructors, and seemed to work tirelessly in completing these.

The second time I was required to come to the campus, which by the way was an 8 hour drive, was for hands-on training, which included radiology classes, suturing and other procedures as well as SIM lab training. This course was prior to any of the clinical components, therefore I feel Texas Tech better prepared myself and my colleagues for clinicals than any other university.

Once clinical courses began, we were required to attend a check-off on assessments, exams and diagnosing that was videoed by our preceptors. This was once a semester and was incredibly helpful in fine-tuning my assessments and in how I approach patients. This was just another example of how Texas Tech’s program was set apart from other programs. I cannot tell you how many times I was complimented by my clinical preceptors on how well prepared I was for clinicals.

[] 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?

[Judson Lawrence MSN, FNP-C] I wanted to advance my education by becoming a Nurse Practitioner. I honestly did not have any other option but to attend an online program. My other option would’ve been to move to a larger city or just sacrifice 90% of my sleep by driving an hour to an hour and a half to and from Tyler as required, in addition to continuing to work nights at work. Working was not optional for me, I had to continue working as my wife and I were both in school at the same time. Many of my classmates quit working their nursing job while their spouses picked up the slack, however we did not have this luxury.

Additionally, my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our first child the first month of school. I can honestly say that I am certain we could not have both continued school and working without the online program. While this situation is specific to us, it is a real example of how important it was that we attended an online program. We also hit a huge road bump when we found out our daughter had Tetralogy of Fallot at 3 months old and would require open-heart surgery in Dallas at 4 months of age. This was emotionally and physically exhausting to add to our plate, but Texas Tech was understanding of our situation and, while they offered to allow us to take a month off of school and allow us to turn in our papers late, we were able to continue with the course load and stay on top of it.

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

[Judson Lawrence MSN, FNP-C] Texas Tech left it up to us to obtain preceptorships and clinical sites. They strongly encouraged us at orientation to begin obtaining these contracts as soon as school started as it can often take months to complete. They also offered a list of previously obtained contracts from earlier students, which was also helpful.

Working in the ER, in the place where I planned to work as an NP, was incredibly helpful in forcing me to transform my role as a nurse to a provider. Clinical rotations were helpful as it provided a gradual transition. I enjoyed each and every one of my clinical sites and learned an incredible amount with each. The hands-on learning and immersion is insurmountable. I was encouraged to ask questions and was often given a task to take home and return with the following day. My best method of learning is active learning, which was covered by my clinicals.

[] 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?

[Judson Lawrence MSN, FNP-C] My advice would be to not just meet your clinical hours, but surpass them. Clinicals are the only opportunity you will have to make mistakes and not be reprimanded for them. You will learn more than you can ever imagine during your clinical sites. Take full advantage of your clinicals, your clinical sites, and obtain as many relationships as you can with providers.

I recommend you create an “external brain” throughout your clinicals that will help you with the small things when you are a provider. I use this term because mine contains all detailed information to make clinicals and work less arduous. I have it sectioned and marked out according to body systems. It was not required that this be done, however I figured it would be a great idea when I was once having a conversation with my father-in-law, who is a Family Practitioner, regarding his book he uses to recall detailed points for things not encountered frequently, but too important to not know. He created his throughout medical school and is still using his, so I figured why not? Making your external brain will be too laborious to do once you’re a full-grown NP. I created mine throughout school and to this day will occasionally use it.

Thank you, Mr. Lawrence, 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.