Life-Changing Fellowship Spurred Me to Pursue Advanced Nursing Degree

Jun 17, 2013, 9:22 AM, Posted by Imani Baker

Imani Baker is an alumna of Project L/EARN, a graduate education preparation program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). She recently earned her bachelor’s degree in public health from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and plans to become a nurse practitioner.

The two words that I can use to describe my journey through Project L/EARN are: life changing. 

I learned about the RWJF-funded program from an advisor who referred me to its faculty program director, Jane Miller, PhD. Dr. Miller warned me that the program would be “intense” and “much more work than you are used to.”

However, there are no words that could have ever prepared me for what I was about to experience that summer. Before I was admitted to Project L/EARN, I was not confident in my abilities to compete outside of my comfort zone, which included subjects specifically related to the health sciences.

This program forced me to face many of my weaknesses and confront my worst fears head on. Each day, I was overwhelmed with self-doubt. I was not the best public speaker; I struggled in statistics; and there were times when I questioned why I was picked for the program.

I said to myself, “I want to be a nurse. I don’t want to sit behind a computer and look at numbers all day. What did I get myself into?” However, my mentor, Dr. Judith Lucas, EdD, RN, GCNS-BC, taught me why it was so important for nurses to be involved in research and to have advanced graduate degrees.

Understanding research and statistics, and being well-versed in scientific literature, is important in understanding why specific treatment or procedures are done. Evidence-based research can dramatically improve health and health care. Health professionals need to understand not merely why they undertake certain health practices, but how those practices benefit patient health.

Through hard work, perseverance, and love from my Project L/EARN family, I was able to finish my own research project, which was entitled  The Association between Nursing Home Culture Change and Global and Specific Quality Indicators: Deficiency Citations and Antipsychotic Medication Use. Working with Dr. Lucas and Project L/EARN, I learned that we need more nurses behind the computer “crunching numbers,” reading scientific literature, and learning and understanding the language of statistics.

These are the ways in which policies are created that improve the quality of care, which not only affects patients, but health care facilities as well. I learned all of this and so much more from Project L/EARN. It opened my eyes to a different side of health that I may have never experienced if I had not faced my fears. Project L/EARN reaffirmed my choice to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) and spurred me to pursue my master’s degree. I start my coursework this month at the University of Pennsylvania.

During the project, I realized that there are many ways to improve health and the lives of others that go beyond the clinical experience. With a graduate degree in nursing, I can make a difference through health policy, research, and work related to socio-economics.

I am thankful to my mentors and faculty, and to RWJF and Project L/EARN, for opening my eyes to the world that lies ahead of me. And I owe it to myself and to my future patients to seek more by continuing to advance my education by pursuing a graduate degree.

Read a related story about nurses advancing their education.
Learn more about Project L/EARN.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.