Alumni Interview with Michelle Tanner, MSN, FNP-C – University of South Alabama

About Michelle Tanner, MSN, FNP-C: Michelle Tanner is a Family Nurse Practitioner who currently works in the Emergency Department at Dixie Regional Medical Center in Utah. Along with this, she runs her own skincare business, and recently helped organize a medical clinic in Guatemala. Ms. Tanner has over 13 years of experience in health care, working as both a Medical Assistant and Registered Nurse in a wide range of settings before becoming a Nurse Practitioner.

Ms. Tanner holds an associate degree in nursing from Dixie State University, and a BSN from Brigham Young University-Idaho. In 2014, she graduated from the online MSN program at the University of South Alabama, earning her master’s degree in the FNP specialty.

Interview Questions:

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

[Michelle Tanner, MSN, FNP-C] I have been in the medical field since the age of 17 (13 years). I started as a Medical Assistant in an OBGYN clinic until I received my ADN (Registered Nurse) degree from Dixie State University in 2010. As an RN, I worked a variety of positions including rural emergency department, labor and delivery, as well as pediatric/adult/trauma emergency in some of the largest hospitals in Las Vegas.

I completed my BSN degree from Brigham Young University-ID in 2011. In 2014, I graduated from the University of South Alabama with my MSN (Family Nurse Practitioner) degree. Since becoming a Nurse Practitioner, I have continued to work in Emergency Medicine in Las Vegas, Nevada as well as Utah. For the past year, I have also run my own skincare business and am certified in cosmetic injections.

My additional certifications include ACLS/BLS, NRP, PALS, TNCC, ENPC, and ABLS. I am also passionate about travel medicine and providing healthcare to the underserved. In May 2017, I helped to organize a medical clinic in Guatemala where another Nurse Practitioner and I offered free medical exams in rural villages. This will now be an annual service project.

[] 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?

[Michelle Tanner, MSN, FNP-C] I have always been the primary source of income for my family. The online program was very appealing to me in the fact that it allowed me to continue to work full time as an RN while continuing my education. I loved that I could work on assignments on my own time schedule, even at 2am, or oftentimes if I was slow at work. Attending a traditional on-site graduate program would not have been realistic for my needs of full-time employment. Being able to continue my work experience went hand-in-hand with the material I was learning in my graduate program.

USA’s program met my expectations in that they only required one on-campus visit throughout the entire program. The remainder of my education was arranged on my own time schedule and completed online. I also had a baby during the program. Although stressful, doing the program online allowed me to still keep up with my work and family life.

[] How did USA’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?

[Michelle Tanner, MSN, FNP-C] USA’s platform was a combination of asynchronous and synchronous courses. The majority of the coursework was completed through typed assignments, modules and remote testing controlled by a purchased security device to allow tests to be taken at home. Interaction with instructors was mostly via email and upon student request. A few Skype sessions were done with instructors throughout the program. Faculty members were accessible during their office hours. The majority of the program required students to be fairly independent and was not focused on faculty interaction.

[] 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?

[Michelle Tanner, MSN, FNP-C] USA required one site visit which consisted of three days of clinical skill training. The skills taught were suturing and pelvic exams. The fact that only one on site visit was required was a pro when I was researching programs. This significantly cut down on the cost of attendance since I did not live locally in Alabama.

The onsite visit was a positive experience as far as getting to interact with fellow students and faculty face to face, however I do not feel it enhanced my clinical skills. The same skills could have been demonstrated online and performed in clinical rotations.

[] 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?

[Michelle Tanner, MSN, FNP-C] The major pros of completing my degree online were being able to continue to work and provide an income for my family while attending school. Being able to complete my coursework any time of day was a huge advantage to my efficiency. I enjoyed being in control of my schedule and spending less money in the process. All online programs have their struggles. I basically felt in charge of my own education which can be a good and a bad thing. Good in the fact that if I chose to be proactive and truly delve into the material I could learn more, but bad in the fact that the independence also left a lot of room to skimp on material. No matter where you attend school, there is a lot of hoop jumping involved that include pointless assignments and an online program is no different.

The biggest challenge was the lack of support with finding clinical preceptors. I felt very fortunate that I was eventually able to locate preceptors independently, however this was a huge source of stress. I had to become creative in solving this issue and do my own networking. Overall the pros of an online education far outweigh the cons for me.

[] 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?

[Michelle Tanner, MSN, FNP-C] Finding clinical sites was by far the largest source of stress with completing my degree online. USA did not offer any assistance in finding clinical preceptors. In fact, I felt they were too picky with not approving certain preceptors who were willing. As a student I was expected to find all preceptors independently.

After dropping my CV in person to multiple Doctor’s offices and still not having any success, I finally had the idea to email the Nurse Practitioner Association for my state asking if they could forward my email to all of the members. This is how I was eventually able to secure all of my preceptor sites. My other sites were obtained through my personal Physician and contacts.

I found that the more proactive I was in my clinical rotations, the more I learned. If I was timid and waited for the preceptor to allow me to see patients on my own or perform procedures, it would never happen. When I took the initiative to perform tasks and express my opinion, I was more respected and trusted by the preceptor and thus had more learning opportunities. Hands-on is always better than observing.

[] 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?

[Michelle Tanner, MSN, FNP-C] Obtaining an online degree is an excellent option. In most cases it is much more cost effective as well as convenient. It is a huge advantage to be able to work and carry on with life while furthering your education. When researching online programs, I would be careful to consider what kind of assistance they offer for clinical placement. I would also find out the guidelines for what their clinical requirements entail as far as number of specialist hours and family practice hours, and if they allow you to work with a PA, DO, MD, NP, etc.

Any program you choose will have its pros and cons. I would choose a program that allows you to finish quickly and move on to your work experience, since that is where you are truly going to gain the knowledge and experience. I would also highly evaluate the cost of programs. Getting into massive amounts of debt is not worth it. NP’s are high in demand. No one really cares where your degree is from as long as you have a license to practice. Find a reasonable priced program that is accredited and moves you through efficiently.

Thank you, Ms. Tanner, 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.