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GEM Alumni Profile: Cristina Gonzalez

What are your thoughts about gaining nursing experience before entering/applying for an advanced practice degree?

I believe it is imperative to gain nursing experience before entering and/or applying for an advanced practice degree. Working as a nurse you gain experience in various areas: patient care, critical thinking, interprofessional collaboration while gaining these experiences and improving your overall skill set as a nurse you really begin to get a sense for which type of patient cases you really enjoy working on, skills you excel in, and areas or specialties that excite you. Advanced practice programs, especially for nursing, are so specialized: family, psychiatric, pediatric, adult/gerontology, public health, anesthesia, systems management etc.; you may think you know what you would like to specialize in right from the beginning of your career, but that may change as you gain work experience.

What were important elements in your GEM program that you believe prepare you to succeed at a high level in an advanced practice program?

I feel that the GEM program prepared me well for both my career as a novice RN and in beginning by DNP journey. Being associated with such a large university hospital system like Rush allowed me to learn and practice in a variety of different clinical settings from outpatient clinics to critical care units. When speaking to co-workers from different nursing programs I really began to realize how many great opportunities I had during the GEM program and how many different patient population groups I was able to provide care for and learn with. As any GEM grad will confirm, the GEM program is very intense academically and clinically, but because of this I was able to work on and develop study patterns that suited my learning style and that I am able to carry over to my advanced practice program.

What are your thoughts about the GEM to DNP structure, that is, a strong generalist master’s foundation progressing to a specialty doctoral focus?

I believe that by completing the GEM program the transition to a DNP program was easier. Some of my GEM classes are a part of the DNP program, so my course load is lighter. I also knew what to expect from a Rush program academically and was familiar with the associated educational tools such as BlackBoard and the University Portal. Having an idea of how demanding and time consuming the courses would be also helped in factoring whether this was the right time to begin an advanced practice degree and whether I wanted to go to school part or full time.

Describe your favorite aspect of the GEM program.

Upon completing and graduating from the GEM program I felt confident in my ability to begin my career as a nurse. My last term immersion experience really solidified this for me. Until I reached my immersion I was still skeptical as to whether or not I had made the right decision to purse a degree in nursing. I had kept an open mind throughout all of my clinicals and felt like I still had no idea what kind of a “nurse” I wanted to be or where I would like to practice and this made me nervous. For my immersion I was placed in the Emergency Room and during that time was when I had my “ah-ha” nursing moment. I felt right at home in the ER. My personality, skill set, and work style fit the flow of the unit and I loved that I was able to utilize almost all of the nursing skills I had learned. Upon completing my immersion, I had no doubt that I would be able to make the transition from nursing student to novice nurse. I felt confident in my abilities and was able to shake off some of the self-doubt I carried. Upon graduating, I did find a job in the ER and now work in a large level I trauma center—something I never thought I would end up doing upon beginning my GEM journey—so I will forever be grateful for my immersion experience.