My journey to nurse educator: A military spouse shares her story

Katie A. Chargualaf |

Fourteen moves in 21 years: Becoming a teacher helped her remain in nursing.

My journey to nurse educator: A military spouse shares her story
Nursing or teaching? She couldn’t make up her mind between being a nurse or an educator until one night when the choice suddenly became easy.

My journey to nurse educator: A military spouse shares her storyMy journey to nursing education began long before I gave the idea due consideration. During my middle and high school years, I was often asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. My dilemma was whether to pursue teaching or nursing. My mother was a nurse, and her siblings were also in healthcare, so nursing seemed the logical choice. But teaching was also an interesting option.

I spent considerable time as a volunteer in the acute-care setting—in various capacities—and felt comfortable in that environment. For a better understanding of what it is like to be an educator, I also talked with teachers who taught in elementary school. Back and forth I vacillated, making lists of pros and cons, reflecting on what might be best for me, still not being able to choose. One night, with the deadline for finalizing my college selection and submitting applications looming, it hit me: Nurses could teach but teachers couldn’t nurse. That was it! Finally, I had a plan! I would begin in nursing and later, if interested, move into nursing education.

I graduated from the same small diploma program that my mother had graduated from 30 years earlier. I began my practice in the medical-surgical setting and was instantly hooked. Because a nurse needs to be knowledgeable about many physiological conditions, the environment is always changing and always exciting. Enamored with medical-surgical nursing and eager to demonstrate my competence, I obtained certification from the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses in 2006. At the same time, my husband, who was in the United States Air Force, was zealously learning what he needed to know to be successful in his various roles. To achieve our goals, each of us was driven to pursue learning and executing our work responsibilities.

But I love nursing!
It’s funny how things have an uncanny way of meandering toward unforeseen goals and interests. I loved nursing and, honestly, could not imagine doing anything else. I also enjoyed being the lead preceptor for a medical-surgical unit and serving as an adjunct clinical faculty member at a local university. But my husband’s hard work and dedication to the Air Force meant frequent moves for our family, increasingly long hours at work for him, and frequent trips away from home. For me, it became harder to balance and coordinate child care and other family responsibilities while working 12-hour shifts, weekends, and holidays. As one possible solution, I began to investigate moving into nursing education.

The thought of becoming a nurse educator scared me a bit. Did I have the clinical experience needed to teach others? Did I have sufficient nursing knowledge? Could I communicate effectively to others what I had learned and experienced? What would my career move mean for our family? Would my nursing self-image change if I moved out of clinical practice? Was I too young? Would it matter that I had never worked in the ICU or ER? When my husband’s active-duty service required additional moves, would I be able to continue working as a nurse educator? I was riddled with self-doubt. I enjoyed teaching, but could I make it happen?

I was willing to take calculated risks and try new things even if the outcome was not always clear. I had done it before and succeeded, and this risk was no different. So I returned to school to earn a Master of Science in Nursing degree with a concentration in nursing education. The school’s online learning platform provided the flexibility I needed to juggle working full-time, caring for my family, and managing course work. It also allowed for continuity in my education, even with two military-related moves while completing the program. Upon graduation, I felt prepared for my new role as a nurse educator.

Finding my way in academia
As a nurse and military spouse, I had often encountered reluctance on the part of nurse managers to hire someone likely to relocate in the near future. So, as I began searching for teaching opportunities, I was concerned that the same would continue to hold true. I was not particularly concerned about finding a tenure-track appointment at that point, because I lacked formal teaching experience and knew I could not achieve tenure until my husband separated from active duty or retired and would no longer need to move every year or two. I hoped my medical-surgical certification would help me stand out and that schools of nursing would find value in hiring an educator whose spouse was in the military. Many months and many employment applications later, I was thankful when a small, private, faith-based university took a chance and hired me. I am forever grateful.

That first teaching position was both exciting and overwhelming. Not unlike the reality shock described by Kramer or the transition shock described by Duchscher, I, too, endured a steep learning curve during my transition into academia. I found it to be true that, despite educational preparation, the full scope of a role is often difficult to appreciate until one is in it. Nevertheless, the school’s academic leaders saw my potential as an educator even when it was not obvious to me. Soon, I was given greater responsibility—as a course coordinator, manager of numerous skills lab sections, and membership on a university-level committee. Developing relationships with fellow faculty members, seeking out other novice faculty members, and being willing to share my experiences all contributed to my success as a nurse educator. Although I have since moved away from that area, I remain in contact with many of the faculty members, and they have helped articulate my worth to other schools of nursing.

Thanks, mentors and students!
Looking back on my career in nursing education elicits fond memories. I have taught in four traditional and accelerated baccalaureate degree programs across all learning platforms. At each school, I was fortunate to be surrounded by strong mentors willing to share their knowledge and experience in academia so I could grow in my own way. Students have also contributed to my growth. I am amazed by their fortitude, perseverance, and dedication—to their education and to the profession of nursing. I believe that each nursing program, fellow educator, and student placed in my path was there for a purpose. Quite simply, without them, I would not be the nurse educator that I am today, and I am indebted to them.

As with other military spouses, I struggled to create and maintain a professional career despite the demands and mission requirements associated with active-duty service. I believe my nursing practice was enriched by the opportunity to practice all over the country and observe differences in nursing care and process. Those experiences enhance how I teach nursing and the perspectives I bring to the classroom. The circumstances that influenced my decision to pursue a career in academia also provided unique opportunities to demonstrate leadership traits, such as role modeling to support positive relationships in the profession and developing innovative teaching and learning strategies that maximize organizational and community collaborations.

Nursing education provided a meaningful way for this military spouse to remain actively engaged in nursing. My husband is now retired from the military, which means our family is also retired from the military, and we have settled into our forever home and town. I accepted a tenure-track teaching position in a baccalaureate nursing program, which I already consider my academic home. For that, I am thankful. RNL

Katie A. Chargualaf, PhD, RN, CMSRN, is assistant professor in the School of Nursing at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Editor’s note: Katie Chargualaf will present a session titled “The Transition From Military Nurse to Nurse Faculty,” on Saturday, 21 April at Nursing Education Research Conference 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Check out these additional articles by presenters at Nursing Education Research Conference 2018.

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