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Nurse knows best: Dr. Jennifer Rogers paves her own educational path

Like most high school seniors, Jennifer Rogers did the typical college campus visits. She wondered which classrooms might open the door to academic and career success; in which coffee shops life-changing conversations might be had; and which arenas might host the most nail-biting games of the season.

What might life be like as a young adult? she wondered.

Then, the dreams turned negative. “I got anxiety thinking about it,” Jennifer shares.

So, she went a different route and enrolled in a three-year nursing program in Trenton, New Jersey. Once she graduated, she passed the NCLEX exam and started her nursing career, which she maintained for 10 years without a formal college degree.

At that point, everything changed again.

A surprising start

In 2000, Jennifer and her family relocated to South Carolina. Her husband, Waylon, was hired at a new company, which required him to complete his college degree. He researched a few options and landed on University of Phoenix because the online course offerings best fit his life and work schedule.

Jennifer Rogers

“I saw firsthand the flow of how online education works,” Jennifer says. More importantly, she observed this as her own industry was changing and a bachelor’s degree in nursing was increasingly necessary for career enhancement.

After Waylon completed his bachelor’s degree in business, he encouraged Jennifer to pursue her degree as well. She refers to Waylon as her “best friend and rock,” so she readily accepted his advice, especially when she discovered she could potentially earn college credit at UOPX for holding an RN license.

With encouragement, flexibility and credit for her prior education and nursing license, Jennifer started the RN to BSN program while working full time and raising children who were 2, 7 and 9 years old. How did she do it?

“Good time management,” she states. “And I couldn’t be where I am without the support of my family. I had awesome role models and mentors who saw more in myself than I did.”

Can’t stop, won’t stop

Jennifer begins our conversation with, “I know I can be hard to get a hold of.” And for good reason! She is the chief nursing officer at Prisma Health Hillcrest Hospital and Laurens County Hospital, both part of the largest healthcare system in South Carolina. She wears bright blue scrubs that match the color of her eyes, and she speaks with purpose and kindness as if we were chatting over a cup of coffee versus a video chat on her work break.

All the while, Jennifer’s can-do attitude, resilience and determination shine through every anecdote, answer and observation.

Waylon’s reflection on her college experience underscores these qualities. “For Jennifer to be able to balance a demanding job in healthcare while running a household, [she had to get] the kids into a routine to make day-to-day tasks more efficient,” he says. “Balancing their homework and projects with her own meant staying up late and working on weekends and holidays. There were several personal events and invitations we declined throughout the journey.”

The adjustments and sacrifices were justified when Jennifer graduated with honors in October 2014. But she didn’t savor the moment for long: She decided to go for her master’s degree.

The Rogerses considered it, weighing carefully the career opportunities that might align with a graduate degree. Then there was the allure of the kind of work she could pursue with a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nursing Education.

“I love teaching and helping. Nursing school is hard, and I like mentoring,” Jennifer says.

She enrolled and continued to work full time while pursuing her master’s. After she completed her MSN in June 2016, she became a nursing education specialist within her organization. That’s where she could gratify her passion for mentoring and sharing her knowledge with newer nurses.

At that point, however, she reached a turning point, one where she spent a lot of time reflecting on a central question so many of us answer throughout our lives. “What do I want to be when I grow up? I was still trying to figure that out!” she says and laughs.

Jennifer had friends in leadership roles and realized the common denominator was the doctorate. Waylon strongly supported her taking this next step. “I simply said, ‘Why stop at a master’s?’ We had previous discussions with family members including my father who always said Jennifer was the brightest and smartest.”

Going the distance

Jennifer acknowledges that the doctorate was the most challenging of the degrees.

“There is some redundancy in nursing theory at the bachelor’s and then master’s levels,” she says. “And I am not being negative about that. The doctorate … classes were another level.”

Jennifer enrolled in the first course for her Doctor of Health Administration in 2018. The classes were tough, but it was the in-person residency requirement that really got to her.

“Having to travel to Phoenix for her initial doctoral residency meant she had to miss our oldest son’s lead performance in the school play Aladdin,” Waylon says. “This personally hurt Jenn, as a mother, that she for the first time in this journey would miss such an important event in one of our children’s lives.”

That was just one challenge. The other was COVID-19, which would’ve been tough enough as a nurse and mother. Jennifer, however, was smack in the middle of her program when the pandemic hit. She was not only balancing the duties of family life but also head high in coursework and front and center working new roles in infection prevention and regulatory policies at two hospitals.

“Personally, I sat there in awe of what I witnessed as the hospital was holding calls several times a day on how to manage through this crisis,” Waylon says.

Jennifer remembers another call during which she was on the verge of quitting. “I can’t do this,” she cried to her instructor while discussing her dissertation.

Her advisor recommended a pause, but Jennifer had never once taken a break. “I had never done that before and was afraid I would never go back,” Jennifer confides. “Those were stress tears. My instructor told me, ‘I am not asking you to save the world! Just narrow it down.’ For a perfectionist, this helped me take a small piece of the pie.”

Jennifer encountered additional challenges, such as when her program chair changed, but she kept moving.

“No one told me I had to get a doctorate,” she says. “It was about self-fulfillment, which I guess sounds selfish, but I come to work every day because I want to pour into people so ordinary people can see how extraordinary they are.” 

At this point, Jennifer hesitates. “You are going to make me cry,” she says, but this time, they are happy tears. “I only walked for my doctoral degree in Florida because that was the final step. It had been a family effort, and I wanted them to be part of the closure.”

She takes a deep breath. “We did this together! It is hard to describe that feeling when you see the look of pride on your children’s faces.”

Her daughter is set to graduate from college in 2024 with a degree in political science. Jennifer encourages her to look for a position where she will be supported in getting her master’s degree, just as Jennifer’s employers supported her in each of her three UOPX degree programs.

After all, Jennifer Rogers is proof positive that educational journeys can look many different ways. They don’t have to happen immediately after high school or even in person. They just have to help you reach your goals. 

Find out if your employer is one of the more than 1,500 organizations University of Phoenix works with to offer education benefits. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Hoselton has always enjoyed a good story. She gained an English degree from Texas A&M University with the plan to teach or write. As life happens, she fell into recruiting and didn’t look back. Stephanie spent over a decade in agency recruiting, placing candidates at SAP, Verizon and across financial services and healthcare. She started in Talent Acquisition with the University of Phoenix in 2021. She loves hearing candidates tell their career stories and sharing the story that is University of Phoenix.

Headshot of Raelene Brooks

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Dr. Raelene Brooks, dean of the College of Nursing, has been a registered nurse for more than 25 years and practiced extensively in the areas of ICU, trauma and critical care. Her publications include a focus on nursing education, critical care and diversity, equity and inclusion. She is a leader in creating, guiding and launching innovative curriculum.

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