Nursing is unique because there are many points of entry into the profession. Many individuals don’t realize they are interested in nursing until they have already graduated from college with a degree in another discipline. Kevin Hsu is one such student who recently graduated with his Master of Science in Nursing from Rush University, College of Nursing.
Tell us a little bit about yourself (background, education, etc.).
I grew up in a town just north of Chicago as the first in my family to be born in the United States. My parents sacrificed a lot for me and my brother to have the best education, for which I’m eternally grateful and attribute my strong work ethic and ambition. In high school, I was fortunate enough to have a chemistry teacher that sparked my scientific curiosity and turned me into a lifelong learner. During my undergraduate education at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), I earned bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences and psychology, volunteered at Rush University Medical Center, and took an EMT-Basic course at Oakton Community College at night. Shortly after, I gained licensure as an EMT and started working for a private ambulance company.
I learned to love helping people at their most difficult times and realized I wanted to make a career of it. Although I had the education and training, I was unsure of which route to take in health care. I decided to expand my scope of practice and gain more experience by attending a paramedic program at Edward Hospital, during which I spent countless hours in class, clinical, and a field externship with a local fire department. After becoming a licensed EMT-Paramedic, I reflected on my journey and the valuable insight I gained. Through all of it, nurses were the unwavering constant, the heart of the healthcare team that kept its beat. Anywhere I encountered nurses I saw them providing skilled care and giving valuable input towards clinical decisions, all the while not having to sacrifice their time spent with patients. It wasn’t long after that I decided to apply for nursing schools and came full circle back to Rush University, which turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
What advice would you give to aspiring nurses in terms of preparing for school?
I would say to volunteer! Whether it’s for a hospital, nursing home, after-school programs, or anything else, nothing will start your nursing career off right like gaining some perspective into why you’ve chosen to pursue a profession that dedicates itself to helping others. After you’ve been accepted to a nursing school, remember to also take some time for yourself. There’s plenty of time to spend studying after school starts but enjoy your time with friends and family while you can, because they’re who will be there to support you. It’s all about balance.
What is the most challenging part of your program?
I found the demands of my program taking away from my social life to be the most challenging part. Even with a conscious effort to set aside time for friends and family, nursing school still has the potential to take over your life, which can be frustrating. This is when you make that lemonade from the lemons you were given and lean on your classmates in school for friendship and support. They’re the ones who truly understand what you’re going through since you’re all in it together. I might not have made it to where I am without the love and support of my friends and family, but I definitely wouldn’t be able to keep pushing forward without the help of my classmates.
What is the most enjoyable part of your program?
My program is full of opportunities to become involved and to become engaged as a student leader, which has been very rewarding. In a relatively short amount of time, I have gained an immense amount of experience. I fell into a role as my cohort’s representative in our school chapter of the National Student Nurses Association, which quickly graduated into me becoming Volunteer Coordinator and then President. I also became a Peer Tutor, co-leading class-wide study sessions for our pathophysiology course, and got a job as a Nursing Assistant in our institution’s emergency department. All you have to do is be open to opportunities and you will find yourself making the most of your education doing things you love.
What is your typical week like?
The following weekly schedule is based on my current school term:
- Sunday: Wake up at 4am, work a 13-hour paramedic shift as part of a ground transport unit for a hospital-based medical flight/transport team, return home and review last week’s course content.
- Monday: Student Nurses Association (SNA) meetings once a month from 7-9am, tutoring appointments during the day, complete any unfinished assignments, briefly review next day’s content and prepare lecture materials.
- Tuesday: Class from 9am-4pm and then reply to emails, work on assignments, or take a nap before working a nursing assistant shift in the ED from 7pm-7am.
- Wednesday: Sleep and recover from the night shift, then study and prepare for clinicals.
- Thursday: Clinical rotation from early morning to early/mid-afternoon, then study/assignments.
- Friday: Clinical rotation from early morning to early/mid-afternoon, then study/assignments before meeting with friends.
- Saturday: School-free day! Except if I have to study for an exam, work on an assignment, or work on anything for the SNA.
Rinse, recycle, repeat. And somewhere in there, I also try to find time to sleep, exercise, catch up on my TV shows, and see my wonderful fiancée who supports me through this incredible but demanding journey.
Why did you decide to pursue a GEM degree?
I already had a bachelor’s-level education and wanted to push myself to be the best nurse I could be, so pursuing the GEM degree seemed to be a natural fit. I also have a passion for education and dream of someday becoming nursing faculty somewhere, so that I may shape the minds and hearts of future generations of nurses while they inspire mine.
What skills or characteristics do you think are important for a nursing student to be successful?
The things that are absolutely necessary to make a great nursing student, or “future nurse,” are empathy and compassion. Empathy allows you to understand and share the feelings of another, while compassion is the concern for others that leads you to act. The strongest and most inspirational nurses are the ones who truly care for others.
Do you have any tips/strategies/hobbies for stress relief?
Just do it. Anything that interests you or takes your mind off how stressful school can be is worth doing. Self-care is essential to a healthy work/school-life balance. I personally like to watch TV, play guitar, work out, or sometimes just take a walk to physically get away. Find something that works for you and don’t let that go, no matter how busy you get.
What do you plan to do with your degree?
Very simply, I’m hoping to pass the NCLEX and get hired at a hospital emergency department. While I may have big dreams for the future, I know firsthand how important it is to gain a solid foundation for clinical practice. After gaining the experience and skills to make me into a confident and proficient nurse, I’ll look for opportunities for professional development and education. I want to be the kind of nurse that constantly pushes myself out of my comfort zone so that I’m always learning—the kind that others look to for guidance and support.
Please feel free to share any other thoughts/tips/ideas.
First of all, please don’t let my busy schedule or level of involvement scare you from applying to a GEM or other program in nursing. You can be minimally involved in extracurricular activities or school organizations and still become a great nurse, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice. Find the things you’re interested in professionally and make an investment, because your professional practice truly begins in your education. Find the balance that works for you.
Also, nursing is all about teamwork. That’s one of the most beautiful things about the profession. There are no rankings in nursing school like there are in other professional schools, so it encourages collaboration. Taking this further, remember to advocate not only for your patients but for yourself and your fellow nursing students.
Lastly, have fun! As grueling as school may be at times, take time to realize how interesting the things you’re learning are and appreciate how far you’ve come.
Please note the GEM program at Rush University, College of Nursing is formally called the Generalist Entry Master’s program. The GEM program is designed for individuals who have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline. NursingCAS categorizes these types of programs as “Master’s (Entry-Level) for Non-Nurses with a Bachelor’s Degree” (see more details). You can use the participating program directory to search for these types of programs and learn about their admissions requirements. You might also consider “BSN/BS (2nd Degree) for Non-Nurses with a Bachelor’s degree” which are similar programs designed for individuals who have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline.