“I wanted more of that holistic approach,” says Kimberly Shepardson, BS in Nursing ’18. The registered respiratory therapist has been with Albany Medical Center since 1995 and in 2012 decided she wanted more out of her health care career. She wanted to be the person who stayed with the patient from start to finish. “It’s really not just the patient you’re taking care of; you’re taking care of the whole entire family,” she adds. In 2012 Shepardson took the leap and went back to school at Excelsior College to pursue her associate degree in nursing; in 2015, she started the bachelor’s program.
As a night-shifter, Shepardson needed a personalized, flexible approach to her education. Excelsior’s RN to BS in Nursing program fit her work schedule. The program “brought together my experiences which was very helpful,” says Shepardson. She explains that Excelsior made it easy to transition from the associate degree program to the bachelor’s degree program. “Enrollment fees were waived, so right away for someone who’s not 22 and their parents are paying for college education…that is a huge thing for me…You didn’t have to do any paperwork, it was a very easy transition” she says, adding that the courses, exams, and projects were relevant and group-oriented which was helpful, too.
Project LEARN, a partnership between Albany Med and Excelsior College that supports employees’ access to nursing degrees, was a large help for Shepardson. “To me, it’s something that makes it easy to continue on with your education while you’re working,” she says, adding, “It’s a great support for somebody who wants to go back to continue their education.” Project LEARN team members at Excelsior and Albany Med work together to develop the best plan to offer students as they work toward their educational goals.
A beneficial learning environment isn’t the only thing that has helped Shepardson on her path to complete her degrees. She also works in a very supportive environment and has been associated with Albany Med for more than half of her life. “It is a huge part of me,” she says. She’s made lifelong friends and they’ve shared their lives together—marriages, babies, divorces, sadness. She’s had so many experiences over the 20 years she’s been there and she’s learned from each one.
A former colleague was a big influence on Shepardson. “You knew that you could go to her with any question at any time and she would a) know the answer because she was amazing and b) never make you feel like you were less of a nurse for asking…. I was very lucky to have her in my life for so long,” she says. She was what everyone strives to be: the “go-to” person. Shepardson adds she was knowledgeable, encouraging, and a good teacher. “I want to be just like her…she made me want to be a better nurse,” says Shepardson.
She’s also received a lot of advice over the years. Shepardson says, “I have to say the best advice I have ever received from one of my mentors is to listen…listen to other nurses, listen to other health care practitioners, listen and learn. And most importantly, listen to your patients.” You can get valuable information from patients and their families if you listen.
She adds that her best piece of advice is to never stop asking questions. Asking questions is how we learn. Shepardson explains that it’s also important to be a person that’s encouraging and supportive when people ask questions. Health care is a difficult environment and nurses deal with the good and bad. “We have to be in it together,” she says. It’s important when you are in this type of enviroment, we all need to support each other, and there can’t be a fear of asking questions. Shepardson explains, “In the end, the nurses are affected, but the patients could be affected if we’re not helping each other.”
Shepardson is finishing her capstone course this spring. It is an amazing feeling on its own, but she says she feels even more pride because she is paving the way for her son, who is a freshman in college. She explains it is like showing him the importance of lifelong learning. “I feel like me going back and accomplishing this; there’s no ending to education,” she says.