Whether teaching or learning, Jacy Ghast is all about education.
Ghast, 33, is enrolled in the Post-Master's Doctor of Nursing Practice online program at Northern Kentucky University. She has also been an associate nursing professor at Olney Central College in the Illinois Eastern Community Colleges system since 2014.
"I really enjoy my job, but I knew about three years in that I didn't want to be there for 30 more years," she said. "Although I am not looking to leave right now, I wanted to be able to open up my options and be able to teach at a university."
Naturally, Ghast knew that a return to college was imminent. After researching online DNP programs she was intrigued by NKU's offering, with its accelerated pace and 20-month completion time.
"A school representative called me the next day after I contacted the school and said I could start in a couple of weeks," she said. "I sent the program information to my boss and to a good friend of mine who has her DNP. They both said, 'This looks great.'"
The online format is working out well for Ghast who stays busy teaching full time and tending to family responsibilities at home. She and her husband, Tyler, have two daughters, Lexie (9) and Piper (7).
"The program is totally manageable," she said. "Our kids are busy. They are in sports. If I have to get up early in the morning and work, I do. If I have to stay up late and work, I do. It [the online format] makes it flexible. I spend about 16 to 20 hours a week on school."
The More You Know
Ghast, who grew up in Newton, Illinois, had back surgery when she was 15 years old in 2001. That experience led her to her first career choice.
"That made me want to be a nurse," she said. "I spent a week in the hospital and built some good relationships."
After Ghast graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2008, she applied to the University of Southern Indiana (USI) to earn a Master of Science in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner degree.
"I was working in a Level-1 trauma center when my boss assigned me some nursing students," she said. "I was fascinated by how much they wanted to learn and how excited they were about the smallest things. I called USI and said, 'Change my application. I want to go into education.'"
Ghast graduated with an MSN in Nursing Education in 2014 and embarked on her teaching career. Since enrolling in the online Post-Master's DNP program at NKU, she has been able to apply her knowledge to her career.
"We have learned a lot in this program about being leaders," Ghast said. "That has been helpful with teaching. I am the head of a couple of committees at the college where I work, and I think it has helped me with my leadership skills and how to deal with different people. It's a process."
DNP 896: Practicum/Project has been Ghast's favorite course in the curriculum, so far.
"Working on my research project with my faculty mentor, Dr. Lynne Zajac, building that relationship and learning more about research has been tough," she said. "It's a learning process, but I have enjoyed getting to know her and working on my project."
Ghast is on track to graduate in August 2020, so she can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Fortunately, she has a strong support system in place with her family and friends.
"My parents are excited," she said. "My husband is very supportive, but he also said, 'Oh, we're going to do this again.' I did my master's degree when my kids were little. He knew what he was signing up for, and he has been awesome ever since. He's ready for me to graduate."
When that time comes, Ghast hopes to make the trip to Highland Heights for the commencement ceremony to receive her degree. She will be the first person in her immediate family to earn a doctorate.
"I don't know if I can bring the girls to graduation or not, but I hope they can come and that it's something that they remember," she said.
Although that day is still a few months away, she has seen evidence that she will have plenty of teaching opportunities open up once she is officially Dr. Ghast.
"I have already had a university knocking on the door, talking to me about possibilities in the future," she said. "If you look at the statistics, there is a faculty shortage out there. I think it's going to be a high-demand job."
Plus, Ghast can provide even greater insights about the future to her nursing students while speaking from personal experience.
"I always tell them when they are getting their nursing degree, 'You are doing the hardest part right now. Everything after this — a master's degree, a DNP — is another step and learning more things. It's a marathon. This degree is not a sprint. It's a journey. It's not quick. You learn along the way as you go.'
"That's good for me because I don't have a lot of patience. You give me something to do, I am going to get it done. This program has pulled me back from that. It's completely attainable if you're willing to put in the work."
Learn more about the NKU online Post-Master's DNP program.
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