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When nursing is about more than a degree

By Elizabeth Exline

"I have always thought that the perfect job for me would be to be paid to learn," observes Beverly Jensen, MSN, RN, CNE.

Jensen, who has been teaching at University of Phoenix (UOPX) since 2005, feels like that is essentially her job. Yes, she is an educator — she teaches courses in the Master of Science in Nursing degree track at UOPX — but she also recognizes the ways she learns from her students. In fact, if she had to choose one word to describe her teaching approach, it would be "interactive."

Perhaps this is somewhat due to Jensen’s own long and storied path to becoming an educator. Before moving to Oregon, she worked as a 911 dispatcher and then a civil deputy sheriff, the latter for 14 years.

"I think I had my adrenaline rush already taken care of," she quips.

Finding her calling

When Jensen switched careers, she wanted something where "people would actually be glad to see me."

Her professional epiphany happened during, of all things, a school field trip she was chaperoning for her daughter. The class had traveled to Portland from their rural, northeastern Oregon town to explore future career options.

Jensen had already started a program to become a special education teacher. But when she saw the healthcare career options on that field trip, she realized she needed to switch majors (especially since she was failing the required physics class). She was, she says, too old to go to medical school, but it wasn’t too late to get her nursing degree. So, she switched majors and, as she puts it, "aced all of her classes."

From nursing to education

Jensen always knew she didn’t want to work in hospitals, which she found sad. "I would much rather work with moms and kids!" she exclaims. As a result, she sought out other opportunities to put her nursing degree to work. She took a position with the state of Oregon as a nurse consultant working with foster kids. She also worked with special needs children as part of Oregon’s Education Service District program.

During this time, Jensen began working toward her master’s degree in nursing. After she completed her degree, she accepted her first teaching job with a community college where she became involved with the Oregon Consortium for Nursing Education.

The consortium developed a shared curriculum between state community colleges and Oregon Health & Science University, which enabled students to move from an Associate Degree in Nursing to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This curriculum model was then shared with other states throughout the country, Jensen says.

By the time she arrived at UOPX, Jensen had both the nursing credentials and real-life experience to bring into the classroom. And that’s something that resonates with her students.

A compassionate approach

"Beverly holds all students to the highest standards but is also very nurturing and supportive," says Jean Pickus, MSN, RN.

Pickus worked with Jensen for some 10 years when Pickus was the regional director of academic affairs for UOPX’s College of Nursing. While Pickus has since retired as director, she still teaches at UOPX and so understands firsthand what makes Jensen stand out.

For Jensen, the success of her teaching hinges on making connections with her students.

"I feel like I’m very real with my students," says Jensen, a 2020 Faculty of the Year Award winner. (Of more than 1,300 nominations from students, faculty and staff, only 15 faculty receive this annual recognition in honor of their excellence.)

By way of example, Jensen recalls one student whose sister had died, leaving behind a child who was going to be placed in foster care. Because Jensen had worked with foster children in Oregon, she could relate to her student accordingly.

"[My student] commented back to me, ‘Nobody’s ever shared anything like that as a teacher with me,’" Jensen recalls. "I think making that human connection makes a difference."

Paying it forward

Jensen can also relate on a personal level when her students struggle with meeting the demands of school. When she was in the middle of her master’s program, Jensen had a disabled husband and a teenage child who was going through a crisis.

"I definitely understand how difficult it is for students who have a family and are going through that," Jensen says. That’s why she says she tries to make her classes as "un-stressful" as possible.

Part of Jensen’s commitment to student success is empathy. But part of it is also her belief in the value of education. Jensen went through a divorce after a 30-year-marriage and points to her MSN as the reason why she’s able to "have a life I enjoy."

She likes being able to help her students achieve that same foundation.

The teacher becomes the student

Of course, there is also the satisfaction Jensen gets from that two-way street of education. "Some of the work I see, I sit there and think, ‘Wow! You should be teaching this class!’" she says with a laugh.

One student’s project on educating people about COVID-19 vaccinations particularly impressed Jensen. It also resonated with Jensen after her own experience during the pandemic.

Pickus explains: "Beverly primarily teaches clinical nursing classes at the MSN level. The past year has been especially difficult for nursing students taking clinical classes at the University.

"Clinical sites have been totally closed to students, [and] students have gotten COVID-19 themselves, in addition to suffering the horrible psychological effects of dealing with so many severely ill and dying COVID patients.

"Beverly has been the foundation to keep these students progressing in their program with her strong, nurturing attitude. She is truly a role model for all of us to follow."

Jensen may see her students as inspiring. But it is her lead they are following.

Nursing is a career that looks different for everyone. Explore how three UOPX graduates made this profession their own.

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