There is no single, perfect path to a graduate degree. For Tabitha Underwood, it took multiple paths.
First, she had to find a way to college without a high school diploma. Then, she had to earn enough credits through a community college to transfer to a four-year university. Then, once she made it to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, she had to figure out what she even wanted to do.
And that was just the beginning.
Through those winding paths, Underwood found a passion for nursing and a love for UL Lafayette that eventually brought her back to earn her MS in Nursing degree and encourage her family to do the same.
“I came to UL Lafayette because of proximity and then just loved the college of nursing,” she says. “I convinced some of my sisters to enroll, so I have one in undergrad right now and one that is going to be starting the MSN, Family Nurse Practitioner, program in the spring.”
Creating Her Own Path
Underwood, of Lafayette, La., didn’t attend high school. Instead, she worked through her teen years. Eventually, she earned a GED, which allowed her to begin taking community college courses. Once she accrued 18 hours of college credit, she transferred to UL Lafayette to major in health information management.
But she wanted a career that would allow her to connect more directly with patients.
“I liked people and wanted to move into a career where I had more people interaction and not as much of the admin side,” she says. “During that time, I was working as a nanny for a doctor, and he kind of introduced me to the world of nursing, and I just fell in love with it. I consider myself extremely fortunate for the individuals that exposed me to that world and for those who have supported my decision to pursue what makes me happy.”
In 2016, she earned her BS in Nursing degree and has been working in the Ochsner Lafayette General ICU as a critical care nurse ever since.
"We have everything — trauma, neuro, cardio — all the different groups that you take care of in critical care. So, I’ve gained a wide range of experience through that."
But Underwood knew she wasn’t finished.
“I realized how much more there was I needed to learn,” she said. “Finally, I decided it was time to go back for further development and better opportunity. My driving factor for going back to get my master's was to provide our family a better opportunity.”
Finding Balance through Intentional Time Management
With an infant daughter and full-time work schedule, Underwood wanted an MSN degree program that would allow her to complete coursework online, and she knew the quality of faculty in the LHC Group • Myers School of Nursing.
“I applied to a few schools, but I know the faculty at UL Lafayette, and they have always been very supportive and encouraging of us pursuing and advancing our education. It just seemed like the best route for that,” she says.
“The ease of being able to take courses online was definitely a factor for me. I wanted something that was going to be at my pace, from home. I wanted to continue to work and did work full time ahead of the clinical portion.”
The MS in Nursing degree program is 42-45 credit hours, usually completed online over five semesters. Students must also attain 600 precepted clinical hours in Louisiana and complete either a thesis or focused scholarly project.
Managing online courses — especially as a spouse, parent, and full-time RN — was entirely new to Underwood. Through supportive faculty and by being intentional with her time and attention, Underwood was able to transition smoothly to her additional role of graduate nursing student.
"They did a great job presenting the material that we needed and giving us all the resources or teaching us how to use the resources in order to complete our assignments,” she says.
"I was very intentional about each opportunity, focusing on the things that are important and investing as much of me as I can into my family when I’m with them, and when I was working on my schoolwork, I was intentional about making the most of that time.”
Making the Most of Opportunities
In her approach to patient care, Underwood combines that intention with the understanding of evidence-based practice developed through the MSN degree program.
“Being in school has put me more in the mind frame of diagnosing and treating and always reading about different things and trying to learn as much as I can with each case that comes in,” she says.
Underwood says for the time being, she’s going to take time to learn what opportunities may be available that can leverage her experience as a critical care nurse and her credentials once she’s licensed as a Family Nurse Practitioner.
In the meantime, her focus will be making the most of what she’s taken away from the MS in Nursing degree program.
“I tell everybody just to make the most of every opportunity and apply yourself,” she says. “If you want to be a great nurse — or whatever career field you go into — you can be as good as you want to be; you just have to apply yourself. Make the most of every opportunity and do the most with what you have.”
Make the most of your nursing career with an MS in Nursing degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Request more information today to learn more about the program and three concentration options.