Linda Keenan, RN-BC, BSN, MPA, NMCC, CPUR, a nurse for more than 30 years, graduated from Chamberlain College of Nursing’s RN-BSN online option in 2007, and went on to earn a Master of Public Administration from Keller Graduate School of Management in 2009.
Below, she shares her journey to her current role as Chief Nursing Officer at Harris Health System, where she oversees eight departments, 22 sites and hundreds of healthcare staff members:
When did you first know you wanted to be a nurse?
I grew up in the northern part of England, near Liverpool, and as a child I had an affinity for emergency rooms. I would take my teddy bears to the emergency room and watch the nurses put band-aids on them, as I would sit and drink orange juice and eat cookies. I was there so frequently that I was almost a part of the ER. When I was 10, I actually had to go to the emergency room after an accident. That incident really solidified for me what it was I was going to be doing for the rest of my life.
Where has your nursing career taken you?
Professionally, I’ve gone from being a bedside nurse, to being able to promote and support policy that protects the bedside nurse, to providing community health both behaviorally and physically, because they are very much interrelated.
I started nursing school when I was 17 years old in England and later emigrated to America in 1986. I have always wanted to make sure that I had a couple of ways to work, meaning I wanted to have a couple of certifications or specialties. I am very much focused on population health, disease management and patient education. I’m also a board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse and I’ve worked in managed care for many years as a health services leader. I very much enjoy teaching and I teach at Texas Women’s University and at the University of Texas at Houston.
I’ve worked in many nursing venues and it’s very exciting to see where nursing has come. I feel very, very blessed to still be in nursing. I really treasure what I’ve experienced and I want to experience more!
Why did you decide to go back and complete your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree?
The BSN is the starting point for where you now need to be as a new grad. For me, as an older grad, it was setting the tone that I’ve done this and I can move up from here. A BSN degree is the basis of professional nursing practice.
I’m currently pursuing a PhD in public policy and healthcare administration. I’m very much a proponent of going to school and staying in school even at my age — I’m a grandmother now. Education for nurses is so important because healthcare changes very fast and I believe that nursing leaders need to have a good business sense, as well as a professional nursing practice sense. We need to be able to move and align with healthcare policy and promote patient advocacy.
Did completing the RN-BSN online option help advance your career?
Absolutely. It is very rare now that you will find anywhere that will hire an RN without a BSN. When I’m interviewing candidates, it’s BSN-required, not preferred anymore. It lets nurse managers know that a candidate understands the nursing process, has the ability to think managerially, and holds a broader, more global view of nursing.
Nursing, for a long time, has not necessarily been very good at aligning standards of practice across different states. We may all take the same NCLEX and certification boards, but the educational programs have not all been the same rigor. When you move from state to state, and even from country to country, as I have done in my career, it’s not always easy to prove what you know and what you don’t. With a BSN, you hold the set standard of practice. When I’m looking to hire, I know what a BSN is and I feel very comfortable in that and knowing that nurses will have a certain amount of knowledge going forward from which to build.
What advice do you have for someone embarking on online learning?
I enjoy online learning because it gives me flexibility. My computer goes everywhere I go, even on vacation. I work it out so I do final papers before I leave, and I just participate in discussions while I’m away. For me, online learning was the best way to do it, but you do need to be very organized. You also have to not be afraid to ask questions, and really get out of the discussions what you need. You could do the bare minimum and scrape by, but I don’t think that’s fair to yourself or your faculty.
Chamberlain is a great school, and it was a wonderful experience. I flew to St. Louis for the graduation ceremony. I really enjoyed that and meeting the instructors who I had online.
How do you fit in your schoolwork with such a busy schedule?
You just do. You have a supportive family and you set expectations for them and yourself. You’re organized, but you also have to be flexible. I am very organized at work and in my personal life. I was able to complete the RN-BSN degree completion option in seven months, and I did my Master’s in one year.
While I’m very detail-oriented and I set goals for myself, I also realize if I go home one night and I’m very tired, then it’s not worthwhile me for me to start writing a paper because it’s not going to be of value. I will do a little bit of work towards it, but I will wait until I have a clear head before I actually start writing. There are also times when I take a couple days off of work, where I just sit and write.
You have to realize that it is a journey. Education, even if you’re not in a formal program, doesn’t stop. You’re always learning something. Journeys have hiccups along the way, but you just have to keep at it.
Chief Nursing Officer Linda Keenan was recognized for Excellence in Nursing Administration and Leadership by the Good Samaritan Foundation. Watch her profile here: