Lesa Boone has met many of her classmates, just never in person.
They talk on the phone and schedule Zoom calls to discuss their group projects for UNC Greensboro’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. They can’t easily meet face-to-face, though.
That’s because Boone, who earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from UNCG in 1984, is working on getting her MSN from her home in Louisville, Ky. She’s the only student in her cohort who lives outside of North Carolina.
“One of my classmates who I’ve actually never met in person was texting me yesterday, and we’ve only met through Zoom,” said Boone, who started UNCG’s MSN Nursing Leadership and Management Concentration in Fall 2020. “So that’s been really cool.”
The School of Nursing’s nationally ranked MSN program is offered only online. It gives nurses in North Carolina and two dozen other states around the country the flexibility to earn an advanced degree from UNCG while continuing to work full-time.
Students in the three MSN concentrations – Nursing Education, Nursing Leadership and Management, and MSN/Master of Business Administration in Heath Management – take online classes that work with their busy schedules.
They do class assignments during their free time and fulfill their clinical requirements from wherever they live.
Hailey Crocker lives nearly 300 miles from UNCG’s campus in Knoxville, Tenn., where she works as the nurse educator in the pediatric intensive care unit at the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
Crocker said she had been considering going back to school and getting her MSN because she enjoys the teaching aspect of nursing. She grew up wanting to be either a teacher or work in the medical field like her mother, and she has managed to do both in her position as a nurse educator.
“After about a year, I started talking with my colleagues and just decided that getting an MSN was the next step for my career,” Crocker said. “And especially since I was in that educator position, I felt like it was really right for me at the time.”
Crocker said she sat down one day with a fellow nurse, and they started talking about nursing schools around the country that offered an online MSN program.
Crocker’s colleague is from the Winston-Salem area, and one of the schools she recommended was UNCG. Crocker did her research and learned that the School of Nursing’s MSN program is nationally recognized.
UNCG is ranked No. 14 by the U.S. News & World Report in its 2021 ranking of Best Online Master’s in Nursing Programs. The Nursing Education Concentration is ranked No. 8 nationally.
“It just felt right,” said Crocker, who started the MSN Nursing Education Concentration in Fall 2020.
Boone, meanwhile, has spent all but one year of her 37-year nursing career working as a pediatric oncology nurse. She said she’s so specialized that she has never needed an MSN to do her job.
Boone said she had thought over the years about going to graduate school, but she kept putting it off to raise her children and focus on other things in her life. That changed, however, after the cancer institute that she works for in Louisville was sold to a private corporation.
She wanted to learn more about the management side of nursing, and after looking at several schools, she decided to return to her alma mater – albeit from afar – to get her MSN.
“I have always supported UNCG. I’ve always donated back to UNCG and to the nursing school because the experience I had there was incredible,” Boone said. “One of the things that, for me, matters the most is being able to problem solve and think outside the box, and UNCG taught me that.
“I just really wanted to have the best experience for me, and I felt like UNCG was still that place.”
Boone is scheduled to earn her second degree from UNCG in the next two years.
Crocker said earning her MSN will be such an accomplishment she plans to travel from Knoxville to Greensboro next year to attend UNCG’s commencement ceremony. It will give her an opportunity to catch up with classmates she has only seen online.
“I’m excited for graduation one day because there are these people that I have discussions with that I have never met before,” Crocker said, “and that will be the day that we all finally get to meet.”
Story by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing
Photography courtesy of Lesa Boone and Hailey Crocker