About Charla Watson, MSN, FNP-C: Charla Watson is a Family Nurse Practitioner who works for a primary care clinic in Alabama. Along with this, Ms. Watson is an adjunct faculty member at Bevill State Community College. She has experience working as an NP in urgent care, and served as both a Medical-Surgical and Geri-Psych nurse before earning her MSN.
After earning an associate degree in nursing in 2010, Ms. Watson decided to pursue her master’s through the University of South Alabama’s online RN to MSN program. She completed the BSN portion of the program in 2012, and two years later, graduated with her MSN in the Family Nurse Practitioner specialty.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background in nursing?
[Charla Watson, MSN, FNP-C] I started with an Associate degree in nursing in 2010, from there I knew I wanted to pursue my Bachelor’s degree. I worked as a Medical-Surgical and Geri-Psych nurse at a local hospital as I enrolled into more schooling. In 2011, I started at the University of South Alabama in Mobile for my RN to MSN degree. My specialty was to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. In the summer of 2012, I earned my BSN degree after three semesters of online classes. When the Master’s portion started is when I had clinical rotations to learn the application and physical exam process in clinic. I continued to work as a RN until after I finished my program. I graduated with my Master’s degree in December of 2014.
Since becoming an FNP, I have worked in two different office settings. As a new grad, I worked full time in the urgent care setting before taking my current position at a primary care clinic. The differences are mostly what one would expect. Having my MSN also has allowed me to work as an adjunct faculty member for Bevill State Community College.
[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 South Alabama meet these expectations?
[Charla Watson, MSN, FNP-C] I was motivated to pursue my MSN degree online due to convenience since I worked the whole time through school. Plus, living in rural Alabama it is hard to actually “go” to class for a Master’s program.
It was in the university’s best interest to offer an online version of classes. This made it easier for people out of state to participate in pursuing their education and most importantly their dreams. USA had the online portion of classes down to a “T”. Class assignments/lectures were easy to guide on their website. It made me working night shift be able to access my schooling at any time. The program was excellent at meeting my expectations and helping me succeed.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] How did USA’s online platform enable you to interact with faculty members and classmates? Were lectures 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?
[Charla Watson, MSN, FNP-C] The online format was easily accessible at all times of day. There were set lectures that we could log into (real time) and then re-watch as needed. To talk with our professors, we had the lectures we could type and ask questions through, email, Skype, FaceTime, and regular telephoning. Many of our classmates interacted on social media to keep in touch after our first visit to campus for checkoffs. With this format of learning you could be as social or nonsocial as you want to be.
Interaction with staff was no problem as stated before. We generally had a live lecture for each section of testing content. Then we also had a clinical instructor that we would report to weekly in a forum about our rotations. We actually talked more to this faculty than the others due to the nature of the assignments. Most instructors would email you back within 24 hours and quicker near testing days.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] The University of South Alabama’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?
[Charla Watson, MSN, FNP-C] The required “check off” was when we had to actually go to the Mobile campus and learn how to do stitching, pap exams, and DREs, to name a few skills. This was an intense few days of classes then check offs with an instructor watching you. We did not have to travel for anything else unless you wanted to attend graduation.
The check off session was not really that much of a learning experience, as we learn in real life with real bodies better. I did not know this was a requirement until I was already in the program. Some people had a long ways to travel and I felt bad for them compared to my day trip. It would have been harder if I had children and had to leave them at home, but wasn’t that bad for me.
[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?
[Charla Watson, MSN, FNP-C] The pros of an online nursing degree is definitely the easy, laid-back approach that you can log on at your pleasure. The school was in-state for me so I didn’t have to pay out-of-state tuition. USA also didn’t have the requirement of the MAT test which I think is irrelevant to my schooling.
The cons of online nursing school is if one isn’t technology savvy, some schools are higher with tuition, and some people are not disciplined enough to make themselves do their work and study without an instructor in front of them.
I did have some technical issues at times with my laptop, but I had someone help me install the programs I needed for school along the way. The internet in my area isn’t the best and it was a problem at times. I really enjoyed the friends I made in the program and their encouragement helped us all succeed.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Clinical practicums are a major component of graduate nursing education. Can you briefly describe how the University of South Alabama 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?
[Charla Watson, MSN, FNP-C] Once in the Master’s portion, you start your clinical rotations. Your clinical instructor has their own class and you report all pertinent paperwork and contracts so you can get approval for a site. USA does not help you find clinical sites and this is a downfall of the program. Luckily, my area had nurse practitioners and physicians who were more than happy to let me precept with them.
The clinical rotations are so important for your personal growth and knowledge so you can transfer to the advanced practice role efficiently. It really takes a lot of practice and exams to be comfortable with yourself and your patients. My favorite providers always would tell me little tips and tricks to help me along the way, and now it all makes sense. When you first start you never think you will remember everything, but repetition and seeing conditions multiple times in clinical really helps.
If I was fixing to start this program, I would definitely get verbal agreements with clinics to do your clinicals at BEFORE you start the school portion. Some people had to quit and postpone their degree because they didn’t have sites.
[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What advice would you give students just starting USA’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 South Alabama or another institution?
[Charla Watson, MSN, FNP-C] As mentioned before, I would find my clinical sites for primary care, internal medicine, pediatrics, and OBGYN. I would also get the fastest internet available for your area and get a laptop primarily for school only. The faculty get paid to teach you so make sure you email, call, video chat if you are having problems with the format and material until you learn what works best for you.
Another helpful thing would be to find someone in your area that you can hold accountable and study together. Having someone understand what you’re going through in a graduate program is really nice. For clinicals, I would also recommended keeping a notepad handy to write down vital information like disorders and treatments.
Thank you, Ms. Watson, for participating in our alumni interview series, and sharing your experience as an online FNP student!