Interview With Karla Wilson, RN, MSN, FNP-C, CPON: Part 1, Professional Profile
A Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a broad degree with many degree and career specialties to consider. One such specialty is a nurse practitioner. A nurse practitioner is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who has completed advanced education and extensive training.
In this interview, Karla Wilson, RN, MSN, FNP-C, CPON offers valuable insights about her education and career to help aspiring MSN students learn more about becoming a nurse practitioner. This is the first of a three part interview series with Karla. She currently serves as a nurse practitioner for the Department of Population Sciences and Epidemiology in the Center for Cancer Survivorship in California.
- What position do you currently hold? Can you tell us about your key responsibilities as a nurse practitioner?
- Can you describe your typical work-day?
- Why did you decide to become a nurse practitioner?
- Tell us about your educational background. Did you start out studying towards an RN or did you have your long-term career path planned out?
- What is your specialty and how did you arrive at your decision?
- Describe your first job after graduating from nursing school.
- How do you balance your work schedule with your personal life?
- What is your favorite part about being a nurse practitioner?
- What is your least favorite part about being a nurse practitioner?
- If you could do it all over again, would you still become a NP?
- What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment in your career so far?
1. What position do you currently hold? Can you tell us about your key responsibilities as a nurse practitioner?
I am the nurse practitioner for a childhood cancer survivorship program. What this means is that I see patients of all ages who had cancer when they were under 22 years of age. Currently my patients must be at least 5 years from diagnosis and 2 years off treatment. Our program is somewhat unique in that we are a clinical research program and all the patients sign a consent to participate in our program. We screen the patients for late effects from treatment and provide education and counseling regarding healthy life-style practices. We do not treat but refer patients to specialist or to their PCP for treatment of any identified problems. Patients are seen on an annual basis and in addition to the physical exam and diagnostic tests the patients fill out research questionnaires related to their health knowledge and psychological welfare.
- Coordinate the care of all patients within the program – regardless of whether I am the actual provider that they see in clinic.
- Develop comprehensive summaries of their cancer treatment, patient education specific to their risk factors for health care problems based on their treatment exposures.
- Obtain research consent for new patients.
- Recruit new patients.
- Do physical exams, and health education.
- Dictate H&P, review all diagnostic test results, write follow-up letter to patient regarding test results – call them if there are unexpected abnormalities, send letter to patients’ PCP and consultants regarding visit.
- Supervise a clinical research assistant (CRA) who provides clerical and scheduling support for the program.
- Enter data into research data base.
I work 4 days/week and have clinic 2 days/week. On non-clinic days I am preparing patient folders on upcoming patients, completing post-clinic documentations, entering research data, etc. I do a lot of educational programs, lectures, etc., including developing educational CD-ROMs, publications for journals, textbooks, etc. and work on these when time permits- although most of these professional development activities are done outside of actual work time.
I initially became an advanced practice nurse (APN) when most nurse practitioner programs were certificates and not masters. I had worked 5 years as a bedside nurse and then worked in expanded roles and felt that a master’s was important to be able to have broader and more independent roles.
4. Tell us about your educational background. Did you start out studying towards an RN or did you have your long-term career path planned out?
I went to a diploma school of nursing straight out of high school. In all honesty not really sure why I went into nursing other than I had always thought that I wanted to work in an area where I could help people and make a difference in their lives.
I started out as a pediatric nurse out of nursing school because the pediatric unit of the university hospital that I wanted to work at was starting a “new innovation” for the time called primary nursing. It was to replace team leading where the RN mainly supervised LPNs and patient care assistants (PCAs), passed meds, and took care of IVs. In primary nursing the RN actually got to take care of patients and I thought it would be fun to do. I fell in love with pediatrics and it became my career. From the start I really liked working with kids with chronic illnesses – and I particularly loved oncology.
In 1975, nurses had to work 8-hour shifts and the only “straight” shifts were evenings (3-11:30 PM) and nights (11 PM-7:30 AM), so I had to rotate all 3 shifts- often within the same week. We worked long- hard hours and in some ways I feel like it was in the dark ages. We did not routinely have IV pumps and almost all patients had peripheral IVs or “cut-downs” when you couldn’t get a peripheral IV. CT and MRI scans were just coming out and a brand new invention called a Broviac revolutionized care of children with cancer. The mid 1970’s was also the time that parents were first being allowed to stay at their child’s bedside and spend the night in the room – prior to that they were regulated to a few hours of the day visiting their child. Many of the older staff members thought this new way of care was going to be the downfall of pediatrics, where new staff couldn’t imagine what it would be like for a parent not to be able to be with their child. Those first few years of nursing were some of the best times of my career as I learned the foundations of how to take care of children and families and I knew that I wanted to excel at it.
Sometimes it is really tough – especially when deadlines are due. My personal life is very fulfilling and I have lots of friends, wonderful pet companions and I love to garden, hike, and read. I volunteer at my local public library a half-day/week and I volunteer with a cat rescue group and help by trapping and neutering feral cats and fostering others until they are adopted.
Being an independent practitioner within a team and feeling valued and respected for my knowledge and contributions.
Bureaucracy and the lack of equitable health care in the US.
Probably – if I went back in time and still chose to be a nurse, I would definitely become a nurse practitioner. However, if I went back in time I might become a veterinarian instead. I think there are many more options open to women today than there were in the 1970s.
Making a difference in the life of my patients and being a role-model and mentor for others including the development of educational CD-ROMs that have become the basis of education for pediatric hematology/oncology nurses.