Alecia graduated from the Direct Entry Master’s Entry in Nursing (MSN) for Non-Nurses: Clinical Nurse Leader at Rush in 2014 and started the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program in the Fall of 2018.
Alecia is currently a Primary Nurse Coordinator at the Stone Institute of Psychiatry at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
What are your thoughts about gaining nursing experience before entering/applying for an advanced practice degree?
I believe it is absolutely imperative to gain nursing experience before applying to an advanced practice degree. After working in psychiatry for almost two years, I started to feel the pressure from my friends and family to return to school. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that quite yet, so I took a job in the operating room. While I learned so much and grew as an RN, I knew that my return to psychiatry was inevitable. I realized at this point that school would feel much more fulfilling, as I had no longer had any doubts that psychiatric nursing was the field I belonged in. Without these important clinical experiences, it would be difficult for me to decide definitively that this is the path I wanted to pursue, especially for the rest of my career.
What were important elements in your GEM program that you believe prepare you to succeed at a high level in an advanced practice program?
The emphasis on leadership and the rigor of the classes in the GEM program have made my transition from GEM to DNP feel pretty seamless. The pace, structure, and difficulty of the course work is challenging, but manageable, which makes transitioning from a classroom setting to online learning a bit easier. Even the simple things like knowing how to navigate Blackboard and the library website have made the transition easier. There is also a big focus on more independent learning, which is helpful in the DNP program, when some of the learning objectives, projects, and papers are more self-directed.
What are your thoughts about the GEM to DNP structure, that is, a strong generalist master's foundation progressing to a specialty doctoral focus?
When looking at nursing programs, I felt like the GEM to DMP structure would be best suited for me and my future goals. While I wasn’t 100% sure about becoming an advanced practice nurse when I entered nursing school, I wanted the option to be available. Having the ability to take doctorate level courses in the GEM program is what sets the GEM program apart from other nursing programs. When I eventually did apply for the DNP program, it felt like a no-brainer to apply to Rush, as I had already completed several of the course requirements in the GEM program.
Describe your favorite aspect of the GEM program.
My favorite aspect of the GEM program was the sense of community and camaraderie. As students, we spent a lot of time together, and I felt like we got to know each other quite well. We would celebrate together, we would commiserate together, and at the end, we graduated together. I have gained some of my best friends from this program! Also, in talking to nursing students from different schools and different geographical regions, I personally believe that we had some pretty amazing and unique clinical sites. I got to spend clinical time not only within hospitals, but in various community settings as well, all over Chicago. I believe spending time in some of these areas helped to destigmatize them, and helped me to understand how vital these partnerships are for not only the community, but for the hospital as well.