In 1976, Cheryl Dyer was 19 years old and eager for the first day of nursing school at what was then Northern Kentucky State College. However, excitement gave way to grief when her mother, Ruth, died that very same day.
"I didn't finish school," Dyer said. "Life just went on. I had wanted to become a nurse since I was little. When my mom passed away, I wondered if I was ever going to fulfill that dream."
Dyer persevered and built a successful nursing practice. Now she is a student in the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program at Northern Kentucky University.
"When I decided to go back for a bachelor's degree, the thought occurred to me, 'I wonder if NKU has a program?'" she said. "Sure enough, it did. I thought, 'I don't want to go anywhere else. I want to finish what I started.'"
Dyer is taking a break from school after starting a new job as a triage nurse in the call center at VITAS Healthcare in Lombard, Illinois. She previously worked in post-acute care, medical-surgical nursing and home health and hospice before landing her current role in January 2019.
"I miss school so badly," Dyer said. "I cannot wait to get started again. I work nights, so I have to balance everything and plan ahead. I like the flexibility of the online format. I usually don't take more than six credits at a time because I want to be successful in school. I don't want to leave anything to chance."
Dyer grew up in Independence, Kentucky, not far from the NKU campus. After leaving school as a teenager, she became a wife and mother and worked as a hospital outpatient registrar and then as a food claim processor at a daycare center. One of Dyer's co-workers, Krista Gnatt, encouraged her to return to school and pursue her dream of becoming a nurse again. There she met a new friend who helped her through the associate degree program.
"I met Tawanda in nursing school, where we supported one another through difficult times," Dyer said. "Krista then broke everything down for me with how long the classes would take and how long it would take for me to graduate. She was instrumental in me going back to school.
"Tawanda was my cheerleader. Eleven years later, she's still being my cheerleader."
Dyer enrolled and followed through on the plan by graduating with an Associate Degree of Applied Science in Nursing from Morton College in 2010. She is the first person in her immediate family to earn a college degree.
After eight years of real-world nursing experience, Dyer was eager to return to higher education and pick up where she left off at NKU. She enrolled in the online RN to BSN program in May 2018.
"I had always wanted my bachelor's degree," she said. "You work really hard when you are in school and then you get out. I decided to take a break from school after the associate degree."
PHI 200: Bioethics, which was a prerequisite for Dyer, is her favorite course in the online degree program, so far. She typically spends 15-20 hours per week on school.
"That class stuck out to me," she said. "I learned a lot and it was quite challenging. There was so much I didn't know about the subject of ethics. The class opened my eyes as to the different ways of thinking."
She also enjoyed NRP 477: Leadership, NRP 474: Models of Care Delivery and NRP 470: Role Transformation for their applicability to her job.
"All of them have helped me with work," Dyer said. "This program will help open up opportunities for me in the future."
Dyer, who enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, is excited about returning to school in May 2019 and continuing to work toward graduating with a BSN next year.
"My friends and family are so happy for me going back to finish the bachelor's degree," she said. "They are all very supportive. After I finish my bachelor's degree, I would like to do care coordination or case management."
Staying one step ahead is important to balancing a full-time job and an online bachelor's degree program, according to Dyer. Once she adopted that strategy, everything else fell into place.
"It's a mindset in that you have to be organized," she said. "Planning for the classes is key. Being on top of your schedule and keeping your deadlines is key. In addition to being organized, you have to be proactive. Otherwise, it's not going to work."
Dyer realizes graduation day is going to be a powerful experience and she looks forward to walking the stage in cap and gown to receive the degree she started 45 years earlier. She is sure her mother would be proud of her for never giving up on her dream and crossing the finish line.
"Coming back here to Northern Kentucky is so special and very emotional," she said. "I have told anyone who ever questioned whether or not they could become a nurse, 'If I can do it, anybody can do it.' It's something that you have to set your mind to."Learn more about the NKU online RN to BSN program.
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