After earning an associate degree more than a decade ago, Christy O'Keefe is eager to finish what she started.
"I have always wanted to complete my bachelor's degree," she said. "Once you get started with your career, life happens with kids, and then my dad, Bill, died of pancreatic cancer in 2016.
"I was finally at a point where my youngest started kindergarten, so it was a good time for me to get back into my studies."
O'Keefe is on track to complete the online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) in August 2022.
The online format is the only way O'Keefe could add school to her busy schedule. A part-time labor and delivery nurse on weekends at Norton Hospital in the Louisville area, O'Keefe and her husband, Damon, have six children — Brittany (24), Rudy (20), Elisa (20), Thomas (19), Trevor (15) and Molly (6).
"It is great and flexible," O'Keefe said of the RN to BSN program. "It had been a while since I'd done online courses in undergrad."
Not long after O'Keefe enrolled in the program, her oldest son was diagnosed with COVID-19 and spent a week in the hospital.
"That was not how school was supposed to start, but there are always challenges that pop up," O'Keefe said. "You burn the midnight oil longer some nights than others. My son made it home and is doing well now.
"Then, toward the end of one of my semesters in December, my youngest was also diagnosed with COVID-19. She never made it to the hospital, but she was pretty sick."
The flexibility afforded by the online format meant O'Keefe could keep trucking with her studies through it all.
Back in the Saddle
O'Keefe grew up in Owensboro, Kentucky. She knew long before high school graduation day that she wanted to be a nurse.
"I have always had the nurturing personality, the desire to take care of people," she said. "It's always been part of me."
After graduating with an Associate Degree in Nursing from Owensboro Community & Technical College in 2009, O'Keefe gained real-world experience and raised her children before enrolling in the online RN to BSN program a dozen years later.
"I like the more traditional aspect of Northern Kentucky University," she said. "It felt more personable when I spoke with them on the phone. NKU has more of an education focus versus trying to shoot out BSNs.
"There are so many online nursing programs that are just a money-maker for schools — it's pass or fail, not a letter grade. I wanted to not only get my BSN but also to gain something from it. NKU is a more quality education."
Even with a lot of experience under her belt, O'Keefe said the knowledge she is gaining in the program applies to her career.
"I can definitely appreciate the difference in the way of thinking between an associate degree and a bachelor's degree program now that I am taking these courses," she said.
She credits the program with building skills for nursing leadership, including budgeting.
"I help with relief charge on the weekends at my hospital," she said. "Doing that and taking these courses, I can see more how it all ties together. I absolutely use what I have learned at my job."
O'Keefe will be the first person to earn a bachelor's degree in her immediate family. She plans to walk the graduation stage at the commencement ceremony at NKU later this year.
"My mom, Marion, said it's not a choice," O'Keefe said. "My family is excited. My 15-year-old son asked me, 'Is your work making you do this?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'So, why are you doing this?'"
O'Keefe is clear about her reasons for completing her BSN. She hopes to parlay the degree into a new role at Norton Hospital.
"They don't have a weekend assistant nurse manager for our department right now, but if they ever create the position, I would like to be ready," she said.
Her long-term goals include obtaining an MSN in nursing education to enable a shift to teaching.
"I think this degree will open up more opportunities in my career," she said.
O'Keefe appreciates the online RN to BSN program for helping her navigate difficult personal waters without missing a beat in school.
"You have to be prepared for unplanned events coming up in your life," she said. "Stay the course, stay on top of things. NKU has good, open communication. If you have a question, don't be afraid to reach out to your instructors — they get back to you quickly."
Even with life's challenges taking hold, O'Keefe knows that her return to higher education was a wise choice.
"It's an excellent value. I am 100% happy with the program," said O'Keefe whose experience as an NKU online student inspired a co-worker to pursue a master's degree program at the university.
"I told her she would like it," O'Keefe said. "I would definitely recommend the online RN to BSN program at NKU."
Learn more about NKU's online RN to BSN program.
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