Diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer at 16 years old, alumna Erica Casto BSN ‘13, RN, was surrounded by many unforgettable nurses who helped her navigate that stressful time in her life. “Thankfully my cancer was caught at an earlier stage and therefore was treatable. Now it’s my turn to pay it forward. Reflecting on my own experiences as a patient has shaped who I am as a nurse today.” A current student in the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program at Kent State University College of Nursing, Erica chose to advance her education in order to have autonomy within her practice, enhance her critical thinking skills, and increase her professional development. She plans to graduate with her master’s degree in May 2020.

Having obtained her bachelor’s degree from Kent State, Erica chose to come back to the university because of the supportive and welcoming community within the College of Nursing. “Kent State has a very reputable nursing program which helps in career placements,” said Erica. “The nursing program has a strong sense of community where students feel acknowledged and prepared to transition from student to registered nurse. This support is why I chose to come back for my master’s degree.”  

Erica is an advocate for preventative health and wanted to be able to educate and help patients with disease prevention. “Oftentimes as a nurse we are treating the patient after the disease has occurred. I wanted to be a part of disease prevention and obtaining my masters will help me do so,” she said. “I am enjoying the online aspect of my program as well as occasionally attending in-person classes where I’ve met my fellow students and professors. The teachers are absolutely wonderful. They are approachable, helpful, and understanding, and actively working as nurse practitioners which helps the learning process as they share their real-life experiences during lectures.”

Currently, Erica works as a med-surg nurse on a medical/telemetry floor at Southwest General in Middleburg Heights, OH, where she cares for a wide variety of patients with chronic illnesses such as congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic kidney disease (CKD), and diabetes. Previously, she was an oncology nurse for 5 years at University Hospitals in Cleveland, her first job as a new Kent State BSN graduate. In order to balance work and school, Erica joked that it took a lot of coffee and perseverance. “It’s tough work, but doable. You need to be dedicated and self-motivated,” she said. “Kent State’s part-time master’s in nursing science program has allowed me to work full-time while earning my degree.”

Although graduation is still a few months away, Erica shares that she has already begun applying the lessons she is learning in class in her current nursing role. “My assessment and critical thinking skills have greatly improved. I am able to thoroughly assess my patients and anticipate their medical needs quicker,” she said. “This helps with communication amongst the medical team including doctors, social workers, therapy, and others.”  Erica hopes to encourage more nurses to pursue their master’s degree. “Nursing education is centered around treating the whole patient, rather than just the disease at hand. This concept is so important to ensure effective care for our patients,” she said. “This unique foundation separates nurses from other healthcare providers!” For those individuals who are debating about advancing their education, Erica’s message is simple – “Just do it! It will be worth it in the long run. Kent State will guide and support you throughout your entire program. I had a great experience and the opportunity to network with many wonderful nurse practitioners.”