Even as a child, Ashley Blanchard knew what she wanted to do.
"We had a play in second grade where we had to go on stage and say what we wanted to be, and I said 'nurse,' and it happened," she said.
Blanchard works as a charge nurse at Lafayette Physical Rehab, a facility that works to restore independent function in stroke and motor vehicle accident victims so they can return to their normal lives.
The LPN to RN degree she earned at Lamar State College-Orange paved the way for her to enroll in Lamar University's online RN to BSN program this summer. She expects to complete the program in Summer 2019.
Born and raised in New Iberia, Louisiana, Blanchard moved to the Lafayette area during her freshman year of high school. Early exposure to the medical world drew her to a caring profession.
"My grandma had a stroke that resulted in going into a nursing home," she said. "That situation, just being in that setting -- we would visit her often and I was drawn to it. It felt like home, basically.
"My father had gotten in an accident that resulted in him being a quadriplegic, so even in high school I was kind of being taught medical things. I've always been a nurturing person, always wanting to help people. Things in my life seemed to pull me in that direction. So I would say I can't remember a time of not wanting to be a nurse."
Blanchard got her start in nursing through a Certified Nursing Assistant program offered through her high school and worked as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) for four years. "The goal was always to be a registered nurse. So I went back to Lamar-Orange to do the LPN to RN program there," she said.
Her desire to have more knowledge so she could give better care to her patients motivated her to enroll in an RN to BSN program. Choosing Lamar University was a no-brainer for her.
"Lamar-Orange is a sister school to Lamar University, so I found the least resistance with transferring all of my credits. I ran into a lot of issues at other universities. I would have to take a lot more classes elsewhere compared to Lamar University," Blanchard said.
She is completing some of the prerequisites for the RN to BSN program through on-site classes at South Louisiana Community College (SLCC). Before taking a class at SLCC, she utilizes the assistance available at Lamar University to check if the class will transfer. She is also taking some prerequisites online through Lamar University.
As a busy nurse with her hands full as a wife and mother, Blanchard knew that attending an on-campus program was not an option. "Having so many obligations, it's just difficult to navigate a schedule and physically be in a program," said Blanchard, who lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, with her husband, Ben, and their three children -- Mason (7), Aubrie (5) and Avery (3).
She credits her ability to fit studies into her busy life to the flexibility of the RN to BSN program's online format.
"Online gives me the opportunity to continue to go to school but still participate as a mother, as a wife, and in my career," said Blanchard whose hobbies include tent camping, distance running and crafting.
"My days off of work is when I do the bulk of my studying and assignments and then, I try to log on daily, even when I do work. It's around the kids' schedule really -- any free time that I have."
She does most of her online coursework after she drops her kids off at school, or when they're sleeping.
Blanchard typically takes two to three courses at a time and spends at least 24 hours per week on her studies "to make A's in everything." Of the courses she has taken in Lamar University's online RN to BSN program so far, NURS 4316: Comprehensive Holistic Health Assessment stands out for its relevance to her work as a nurse.
"The Shadow Health module has really has helped my assessment skills. It's a computer program, but it's like a real patient," she said. "It gives you more education for your assessments, so I've actually carried some of the things I've learned through Shadow Health into my practice at work.
"I'm more thorough with some of the questions I'm asking. I have better critical thinking skills from learning some of those assessment findings."
NURS 4390: Nursing Inquiry and Evidence-Based Practice is another course that gave Blanchard the tools and critical thinking nurses need to provide optimal care.
"If I don't agree with some of the things they're doing at work, I will be able to research it and present it with supporting facts as to why we shouldn't be doing it this way or make a suggestion to do it a different way," she said. "I'll have documentation and studies to support the claim that I'm making."
Learning to Lead
NURS 4550: Nursing Practice: Leadership and Management will be Blanchard's first clinical class in Lamar University's online RN to BSN program. The course combines computer-based assignments with time spent in a community-based clinical setting.
"There are certain criteria that have to be met, but primarily students find their own clinical sites [in their local area]," she said. "And we're all in the medical field, so we generally know a lot of people in different areas and it's usually pretty easy to do that."
Through the clinical component in NURS 4550, Blanchard will follow a nurse manager or the infection control nurse, for instance, and gain a different perspective.
"You draw information from your clinical experience with whomever you're following. It wouldn't just be my usual daily tasks that I do at my job. I'm supposed to follow the management aspect of it versus working on the floor," she said.
Abundant support on the home front enables Blanchard to focus on her studies. Her husband and her mother-in-law, Denise, rally around her to help her manage the demands on her time.
"My husband is the backbone. Whenever I have to study or if I have a big assignment coming up, he will really go above and beyond, like take off work or get off early, tend to the children, bring them out for a play date," she said. "My mother-in-law actually moved down the street from me to be able to help me as well. So I just have the best family support system anyone could ask for.
"It takes that pressure off if you have other people rooting for you and doing things to try to help you get to your goal."
Blanchard plans to attend the graduation ceremony at Lamar University. "I will probably participate just because I've worked so hard -- I feel like it's an achievement," she said.
Her end goal is to be a nurse practitioner, and having a BSN will position her for the master's degree she'll need to become one.
Get to It, Stat
"Just do it" without worrying about having enough time or waiting until the kids are older is Blanchard's advice to anyone considering the RN to BSN program.
"The truth is, life just keeps going on," she said. "If you balance everything out, you can make it work. Even if you want to take one or two classes at a time, you can go at your own pace. Reflecting back, I would have been much further along had I started [the program] whenever I first started entertaining those thoughts."
Blanchard expects what she gains from Lamar University's RN to BSN online program to continue paying dividends long after she graduates.
"I don't think you can put a price on education. These are going to be skills that I can build on and something that's going to stay with me forever," she said. "I haven't even graduated yet, and I'm already seeing the value in it -- just in my everyday life when I'm practicing and when I'm on the job."
Learn more about Lamar University's online RN to BSN program.
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