Two-time alumna Mary Ritter, MSN ‘16, RN, FNP-BC, was seeking career advancement, the opportunity to add to her knowledge base and the chance to prove to herself that she could complete a master’s program when she enrolled in Kent State University College of Nursing’s Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) master’s concentration program. Obtaining her advanced degree was also important because she wanted to set an example for her two teenage daughters. “I wanted them to know the value of education,” Ritter explained. “Along with that, I wanted them to know that, with support, your limits are boundless.” A 2016 graduate of the program, today Ritter joins us to share her graduate program experiences and share words of wisdom for other nurses considering a return to school.

Q: Hello Mary. Thank you for your willingness to share your graduate program experience and nursing story with our community. To start off our conversation, can you elaborate on why you wanted to become a nurse.   

A: Thank you for having me. It’s an honor to share about my time in Kent State’s Family Nurse Practitioner master’s concentration program. I became a nurse for several reasons. First, I truly enjoy helping people and caring for them when they are in need. Second, I wanted to have financial freedom and knew with nursing I would have the means to make a good living. Finally, a nursing career could provide schedule flexibility and endless growth opportunities within the profession.

Q: What made Kent State’s graduate program more desirable than other schools?

A: I received my BSN from Kent State in 2011 and knew the university had a reputation for providing an excellent and well-rounded education. Additionally, a few co-workers were attending Kent State at the time and often spoke about their positive experiences. The program structure of meeting one time per week on-campus was very appealing. Finally, faculty members were available to answer my questions prior to starting the program.

Q: What did you most enjoy about the Family Nurse Practitioner program?

A: I enjoyed building my knowledge base as an RN. I came to the program with 17 years of nursing experience, and I had the opportunity to learn even more through theory and by exchanging dialogue with other students and instructions.  

Q: How did you manage both working and being a Kent State graduate student?

A: Managing both work and being a graduate student was very hard, but I had a lot of help from my family and friends. This experience was made possible by my “village.” I had the support of my co-workers and my unit manager. I would plan my work schedule very carefully around tests and family events. My husband took up the slack at home and even took our daughter shopping for a dress for a special occasion.

Q: Where are you currently working and what does your role involve?

A: I work at Northeast Ohio Community Corrections (NEOCC) as an advance license professional (ALP). I am a nurse practitioner in a medical clinic in a men’s prison that serves the Ohio department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC).

Q: How have you applied the lessons you’ve learned in the FNP program to your nursing career?

A: I apply the knowledge I gained from my graduate program daily. In my first NP class, Health Assessment, we were taught that when obtaining a health history, it is important to listen to the story. The story is part of the word history and will always guide you to the diagnosis. I find this to be true in my current clinical setting. Some of my patients have a long history, or story, that accompany their current health problems.  

Q: What advice do you have for other nurses considering getting their advanced degree?

A: My advice is to ask themselves, “if I don’t pursue an advanced degree am I going to regret passing up this unique opportunity?” For me, I questioned if it was the right time in my life, with two teenage daughters and a husband with a demanding career of his own and not a lot of free time. Logically, it was not the right time, but my husband reminded me, “Time will move on regardless. You will either have your master’s or you may regret not having it. There may never be a perfect time so just jump in and do it.”

Q: What would you like to say to people considering coming back to school at Kent State University College of Nursing?

A: I would say to former students welcome back to your foundation and roots. Enjoy your experience. You bring to the table all that you have learned since leaving Kent State and that will help you have an amazing educational experience.

Q: Mary, thank you so much for taking time today to share your story and encourage your fellow nurses about the importance of continuing their educational pursuits. Is there anything else you’d like to share about your Kent State graduate student experience before our time is up?

A: During my graduate school experience, I was able to connect with some very knowledgeable professionals who taught me a great deal. I would encourage current students to use the clinical experience to explore different areas of nursing you might not have previously considered. You just might be surprised where it leads you! For example, I never imagined I would work in a prison. I was stirred to pursue this type of employment because my clinical preceptor was an NP at a correctional facility. Thank you again for this opportunity, Kent State University College of Nursing. It has been such an honor for me. I hope my story inspires other nurses to start the graduate school process!