A registered nurse who had just started with a home health agency, Kerrigan says that as a matter of feeling secure in her role with the company, she needed a bachelor’s degree.
She had years of experience as a hospital floor nurse, but she wanted to get into the business development and possibly educational side of nursing.
That was nine years ago, and she’s never looked back — except perhaps to admire how her family supported her. A sole provider who was working full time, raising two high school kids and nursing her late husband back from a stroke, Kerrigan says the online format just worked with her life. “It was crazy, but it was great. My school week started on Tuesday and went through Sunday. I just finagled it. Everybody supported me.”
Kerrigan does remember having to buy a laptop computer and overcome software hurdles right out of the gate. “Patient charts were still manual then. It was a challenge to get up to speed online. I really had to keep up,” she says.
One of the things that propelled her was seeing her lifelong desire to work in nursing gain steam. She loved her classes — in fact, her voice still lights up with enthusiasm when talking about how each course opened up new areas of learning for her.
“I didn’t have great grades in high school, and so when I did aptitude testing, they said, ‘Don’t be a nurse.’ They told me I should be an interior designer. But I said, ‘Listen, I want to be a nurse and that’s it.’”
She says dedication and self-motivation went a long way for her. “There were times when my goal seemed so far off, but I did it. It isn’t an easy program, and you really have to work at it,” she says. “In my personal life, I also reminded myself that I could always go back and catch up on some of the things I missed.”
To students — adult learners especially — who hit a wall on the way to earning their college degree, Kerrigan says it’s important to press through obstacles and troubleshoot problems.
“You have to ask yourself why you don’t think you can finish. What’s holding you back? Then, if it were me, the next step would be just to finish the class I was in. Just finish that. And while doing that, I would get on the phone with my advisor to see if the obstacle or origin of my doubts has a solution they can help with,” she says.
In her case, she remembers taking a break from classes. “My husband was very ill, and my son was graduating from high school. I was pretty exhausted, and I just needed to take that one break to reset. It really helped,” she says.
Now 55, living in Hanover, Pennsylvania, and working in the nursing field she has always loved, Kerrigan says her degree gave her something she never anticipated — the knowledge that she’s a leader.
“In a couple of the classes there had to be a team leader for a group project. I was always shying away from that,” Kerrigan says. “In one of the classes, no one stepped in, and I said, ‘Listen, we have to have a leader.’ I took the leadership role almost by default, and it went better than I ever thought it could. Leading a group successfully helped me grow.”