About Brittany Blythe, MSN, FNP: Brittany Blythe is a Family Nurse Practitioner who currently works for Mercy Clinics in Ankeny, Iowa, where she practices in both family medicine and urgent care. Ms. Blythe spent five years as a Registered Nurse before earning her MSN and becoming an NP. During that time, she worked in the emergency rooms at Unitypoint Allen Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, and Sanford Health.
Ms. Blythe holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. In 2013, she entered the online Master of Science in Nursing program at the University of Cincinnati, graduating from their Nurse Practitioner track in 2015.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background in nursing?
[Brittany Blythe, MSN, FNP] I earned my BSN from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. I then worked in the ER for three years prior to applying for NP schools. I worked in three different ERs over that time and I tell anyone asking for advice how much I value my nursing experience. It made NP school much more tolerable than for colleagues that I know that went straight from undergrad to NP school without working. My five years (total) of nursing experience also made my transition from a nurse to an NP much smoother. I chose to go to the University of Cincinnati for my MSN. I have worked in family medicine with urgent care one day a week since I graduated from Cincinnati in 2015.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What motivated you to pursue your MSN online? What advantages did you see to online education? Did the online program at the University of Cincinnati meet these expectations?
[Brittany Blythe, MSN, FNP] I was skeptical of an “online program” at first but it could not have worked out more perfectly. I chose to further my education online because my husband was coaching college football at the time and we did not know for sure where we would be living year to year. I also wanted to be able to continue working while going to school.
University of Cincinnati has very good nursing, NP and medical programs, that was what initially drew me to their program. I also loved that they weren’t JUST an online program; they have had a well-established, well-known program for many years. I did a lot of researching different programs all over the country over approximately one year’s time. I wanted a program that was very medical oriented and did not focus a lot of time on paper writing, nursing theory, etc. I felt the NP program, along with my clinical rotations, prepared me very well for being out on my own. When sitting for boards, I felt very confident and passed the first time.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] How did UC’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?
[Brittany Blythe, MSN, FNP] I loved that our lectures at university were primarily videos (live and recorded) of lectures that professors were giving to students in person. You could see and hear students asking questions and the professors’ answers. It was about as close to being “in person” as you can get. I always felt our teachers were very easily accessible as well, which was a must for me when deciding to go to school online.
I also liked that each semester the director of our program did a LIVE video “meeting” that was made mandatory, he offered multiple different dates and times to meet everyone’s needs. At these meetings, we covered major topics such as clinical rotations and requirements, graduate projects, licensure and post-graduation topics such as board prep. The best part about this being live is that our director would cover these very important topics and then we had time to ask questions and he would answer them for all of us. We could see him and it made things more personal.
One thing to remember is that every state’s procedures, licensure requirements, renewal requirements and scope of practice are different. Going to school online, you really have to make sure you’re on top of the specific requirements that pertain to you. Other than the mandatory live sessions, it was really up to the student how much they interacted with the professors with questions and concerns, but each student was assigned an advisor that would check in with you at least once per semester via phone call to make sure everything was going well. They were a great point of contact for any questions or concerns I had along the way, and it was really nice to communicate with that one person throughout the entirety of the program.
[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?
[Brittany Blythe, MSN, FNP] I would say the biggest downfall of going to NP school online is trying to budget time, because you are usually working at the same time, some people have children, etc., and taking classes online you don’t have a set schedule of classes. I worked full time my first year of the two year program because the first year of the program is primarily coursework and no clinicals. That was another reason I chose UC over other programs. During the second year I worked part time, and for my last semester I went PRN [Pro re nata] so I was able to get all of my clinical hours in and be sure I was getting the most out of the program. I would say that is the biggest downfall as well as the biggest perk of going to NP school online. You are able to continue working and do it on your own time, but that is not always easy.
The other downfall I came across was it is very difficult to line up your clinic rotations on your own unless you know people willing to precept you. As a practicing NP now, I come across students monthly that are asking for a preceptor. University of Cincinnati did give us a list of providers that previous students had used which helped.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Clinical practicums are a major component of graduate nursing education. Can you briefly describe how the University of Cincinnati 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?
[Brittany Blythe, MSN, FNP] I mentioned above that you find your own preceptors. I tell all of my students that I have now that their time during their clinical rotations is the time to ask questions, make mistakes and absorb as much as they can. In most cases, the only “orientation” you’re going to have as an NP is to get you acquainted with the specific clinic/hospital etc., not to teach you medical knowledge.
I was fortunate and had excellent preceptors which made my transition to working on my own very smooth. From normal day to day chronic care management to acute patients to procedures such as biopsies, paps, and suturing, it was great to get experience while I had someone to help. I made sure to use my time as a student wisely and I viewed it as more of an “orientation” to my new role as an NP and a time to apply what I had learned in classes the first year.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What advice would you give students just starting UC’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 the University of Cincinnati or another institution?
[Brittany Blythe, MSN, FNP] My first bit of advice would be to look at each programs course plan. I loved that I could go straight through the summers for 24 months straight and be done, some people may not want that. I also looked at each individual course that was in the program and University of Cincinnati had the most “medically based courses” as opposed to nursing theory and in a very logical order. I would be sure that you are prepared to manage time wisely and to get your life organized into a manner where you have blocks of free time to really dedicate time to reading, watching lectures and studying.
Another important bit of advice is to start brainstorming who you would use as a preceptor when you start the program and line up your preceptors a year in advance. Another piece of advice – it is easy to get busy with everyday life and go through the motions, get your assignments done and take the tests but be busy with your job/social life and not fully focus on school. My best advice is to take full advantage of the time you have in school, study to truly learn and become a knowledgeable nurse practitioner, not just to pass the test. When it comes to going to school online you can get as much, or as little, out of the program as you let yourself.
Thank you, Ms. Blythe, for participating in our alumni interview series, and sharing your experience as an online FNP student!