Talking MSN: Sean Dent

I have to be honest.

Sometimes I’m on the fence.

I know I want my MSN, but if I stop and think about it for too long, I can almost talk myself out of it.

The time. The money. The work. This negative little voice starts percolating in my ear. If I had listened to it, I wouldn’t have my BSN.

Fortunately, I am surrounded by colleagues who either have their MSN or are in the process of obtaining it. Talking to them helps. This time, I turned to fellow nurse blogger Sean Dent, a full-time Nurse Practitioner student at the University of Pittsburgh, to get his take on graduate nursing education.

Sean is a “second-degree” nurse, originally earning his bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sport Science, and working as a Certified Athletic Trainer. Following a hospital-based diploma program and 5 years at the bedside, he graduated from a RN-to-BSN bridge program and moved on for his master’s.

In this installment of the interview, we talked about Sean’s motivations for returning to school, the type of program he chose and the characteristics that he found important in choosing his program.

Why did you decide to return to school?

 I realized early on in my nursing career that I did not want to do bedside nursing the rest of my life. It was a simple career preference.

I was motivated by many things when I decided to ‘go back’ and get my bachelor’s degree in nursing. There was the immediate increase in pay from my employer and there was the exponential growth of career opportunities. Moving up the echelon of the decision making tree in nursing (and most of the health care world) can only be accomplished with a higher education. I knew I wanted to advance my career, I just wasn’t sure what direction I would pursue.

What type of program did you choose: in person or online? Why?

I realized early on that the on-line learning environment does not mirror the live classroom environment. I actually thought the online choice would provide me with ‘more time’ to myself, since I wouldn’t have to actually attend a class (once, twice or three times per week). I found out quickly how wrong I was.

Most online programs have to equate the ‘total time’ spent in the learning environment as if you were attending a live in-person class. In essence, you do more work with the online program. You have discussion board responsibilities, weekly writing assignments, possible group projects, possible online exams, etc. Don’t let anyone convince you that the online program is in any way easier!

I didn’t mind the work load, but I’m a visual and  tactile learner. I like the person-to-person interaction and real-time Q & A. I like immediate feedback and classroom didactics is much more enriching to my learning curve. So I just preferred the traditional classroom environment.

I will say not having to attend a physical class was nice, but you had to be relentlessly disciplined with the online schedule.

What characteristics did you look for in your program?

First and foremost was the location, unfortunately. As you have already learned I wanted the physical learning environment. I knew I wanted a program whose learning environment and program was conducive to the (adult learner) non-traditional student.  And I was hoping for a program that was flexible with a working nurse’s schedule.

Lastly I actually did look at national ranking, certification passing rates, employer opinions and of course their national accreditation status.

In tomorrow’s installment, Sean looks at grad school vs. undergrad, gives his take on doctoral education in nursing and has some advice for those on the fence regarding whether or not to go for that advanced degree!


Sean P. Dent, BSN, RN, CCRN, blogs at My Strong Medicine and you can also find him at his blog over at Scrubs Magazine.