You’re Doing WHAT? WHY?

These are the first words people say when they find out I am working on a Masters of Science in Nursing. My husband said, “I thought a PhD was a terminal degree.” My mother said, “Why in the world would you want to do that?” My friend Sheila said, “Good for you.” Most of my other friends and family have responded with varying degrees of surprise, shock, horror, and support. Let me set the stage:

I graduated from high school in 1972. As an 18 year old commercial pilot and flight instructor, opportunities in aviation were limited.   With the exception of one female pilot at Frontier Airlines, airline pilots were men. I didn’t want to be a flight attendant. I wanted to fly. I was attending UNC-Greensboro as an interior design major, but my heart wasn’t in it. I just wanted to fly. And fly I did. My girlfriends and I would hop in my plane, once a week, and fly to the beach. We never skipped the same classes two weeks in a row, so we were good. We kept this up all year. I knew I needed an education, but I really wanted to fly.

I was conducting a training session one Saturday and my dad flew my airplane (okay, it was his, but I flew it all the time) to the beach for the $100 hamburger. The hamburger was only $5, but fuel and maintenance made it much more expensive. Pilots love to fly and they don’t care. Flying to the beach for the day or flying to Roanoke for a hamburger was routine. When my dad got out of the airplane, he was greeted with, “What are you doing flying Suzanne’s airplane? Who are you?” I was busted, big time.

I began looking at my options. I went to the military recruiters and was laughed out the door. I applied for flying jobs to no avail. Less qualified men got the jobs. The airlines were only hiring former military pilots coming home from Vietnam. In a moment of desperation, I got a job in a hardware store. The day I vacuumed up a cockroach the size of my cat was the day I decided to get serious about school.   I decided to go to nursing school. Even if I got a flying job, nursing would give me security.

I attended Central Piedmont Community College for the next two years and earned an Associate of Science in Nursing and became a Registered Nurse. Throughout this entire period of time, I was still flying and I would go to the airport and instruct aspiring pilots. I was flying early in the mornings and in the evenings.   I continued to apply for flying jobs and continued to be turned down.   I decided to continue with my Plan B.

My healthcare career was great and I loved every minute of it. I completed a Masters in Health Policy, since I had moved into administration. I was 43 when my company was bought out by Cigna, so I returned to aviation and got my airline job. However, I found I couldn’t totally leave health care. Since that time, I’ve owned a hospice and a home care company, and I’ve earned my Ph.D. in Organization and Management.

Why am I doing this? I’m a lifelong learner. I love education. I decided 30 years ago that someday I would get an advance degree in nursing, and the opportunity for an MSN presented itself. I jumped on it. Being in school makes me a better professor, too. I have much more empathy when I, too, am juggling work and the demands of the student side of the classroom. The importance of solid feedback is glaringly real, as a “100, good job” frustrates me. It has also forced me to focus and hone my time management skills.

What will I do with this degree? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll do nothing more than enjoy the sense of accomplishment. I’m loyal to a fault and I have no plans to leave my current employer. I really like my colleagues and my students. For now, I’ll just enjoy the adventure.

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