December 18, 2018 | Katherine Adams
Some people take many years to decide what their career path in life should be. Karen Alexander knew by the time she was six that she wanted to be a nurse. Today, she’s program director of University of Houston-Clear Lake’s RN-BSN program, and assistant professor of nursing, and although she has held many positions within the field of nursing, she has spent the last 16 years as a nurse educator, committed to delivering the highest possible level of education and training to her students.
“I come from a long line of nurses and there’s nothing else I ever wanted to do,” Alexander said. “I joined the United States Air Force and was trained as a medical technician. I later became a registered nurse and transitioned to medical-surgical nursing, then to perioperative nursing.”
Alexander has spent a total of 33 years in the nursing profession, having retired in 2001 from the Air Force after 22 years of service with the rank of captain. “I’ve spent 16 years as a nurse educator,” she said. “My passion for teaching came when I had the opportunity to be a perioperative nurse educator in the military. That transitioned me into academia and I transitioned from clinical nursing to teaching nursing at the college level. “It was a difficult decision, given my love for the clinical arena and the operating room.”
However, Alexander said she recognized an urgent need in the nursing profession for experienced nurses to deliver a strong formal nursing education to college students. “There’s a real shortage of nurse educators,” she said. “I decided it was for me to give back what I was fortunate to get. I’m here to help students achieve a higher level of education. I was always told that if I found a job that I loved, I would never work a day in my life. I love this program. I teach students, and they teach me.”
One of the highlights of UH-Clear Lake’s RN-BSN program, Alexander said, is the result of the fact that the students are already registered nurses. “That means our students are at various levels of experience in their careers, and they’re from diverse backgrounds,” she said. “That’s part of the richness of the program. There are so many opportunities to be innovative. We become very closely bonded along the way.”
Mentoring students, she said, is central to the program’s success. “We teach, we mentor, we help our students along their career trajectory,” she said. “They’re graduating from a rigorous program and they’re well-prepared for the challenges of earning an advanced degree beyond the BSN—and almost all of our students do go on to achieve graduate degrees.”
Alexander said that the new Health Sciences and Classroom Building, scheduled to open for classes in the spring 2019 semester, would allow the RN-BSN program at the UHCL Pearland campus to expand. “We’re educating nurses to move into leadership and management roles within the profession,” she said. “Our vision is to develop a graduate level program for nurses, as well as specific continuing education programs for nurses.”
She added that the new building contains a nursing simulation lab, where students can excel and refine their skills. “It’s also available for use to community partners and health care facilities,” she said.
She said she’d been inspired since childhood to continue advancing her education. She thought of her father, a music professor, who had taught her that education was the key. “He kept his diplomas on the wall, including a master’s degree and post master certificate. When I would look at them on the wall, he told me to aim higher and visualize myself putting my own Ph.D. on the wall,” she said. Alexander received her Ph.D. in nursing education from University of Texas Medical Branch-School of Biosciences in Galveston in 2011.
“I have a passion for nursing, fitting education into my love for nursing and my desire to give back to others is why I do what I do.” I have the opportunity to help shape the next generation of nursing leaders.
For more information about the RN-BSN program at UHCL Pearland campus, visit www.uhcl.edu/academics/degrees/rn-nursing-bsn.
Learn more about Karen Alexander in a full video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=oW0bVJwk0V4.