Ashley Lewis is a small-town woman who has always had big plans. Long before she ever finished her bachelor’s degree in nursing, she knew she wanted to go further — to teach, to serve, and to lead in the field. She didn’t know how challenging her journey would be at times, but even through personal tragedy and societal upheaval, she knew she was strong enough to persevere and accomplish her goals.
“Being brave is not being afraid to keep going,” she says, “even when you encounter struggles or hardships.”
Years ago, Ashley plotted her future in nursing. First, she would earn her bachelor’s degree and practice as a registered nurse (RN); then, before turning 30, she’d make the push to earn her Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) en route to becoming a family nurse practitioner.
And she knew she’d do it all from her beloved hometown of Ada, Oklahoma, a community of about 16,000 people roughly 90 minutes southeast of Oklahoma City, where she worked as a nursing professor at East Central University while working toward her MSN.
“They’ve poured so much into me,” she says of her community. “So, I wanted to give back the best way I can with the skills that I was given and putting all the effort in.”
Ashley has all the personal qualities one might expect from a nurse who plans to practice at such a high level: loyalty, care, sympathy, strength, and courage. She’s made use of all these characteristics in her personal, professional, and educational journey, and she says she hopes to turn her experience into an opportunity to make a difference for as many people as possible.
“Nurse practitioners have the ability to be a nurse and have that caring and compassionate background, but I wanted to do more with nursing,” says Ashley. “As a family nurse practitioner, I can treat all ages, from pediatrics up to geriatric-aged patients.”
Finding strength through the worst of times
For Ashley, community is important. That’s why she chose to stay close to home while practicing as a registered nurse (RN) and teaching. It’s also one factor in her choice to earn her MSN online from Maryville University — that way, she can take her next step in her education without disrupting her career or leaving Ada.
She was prepared for the rigors of earning an MSN while maintaining a job teaching nursing students, but there was no way she could predict the difficulties — one personal, one global — that occurred in her second semester.
In early 2020, Ashley suffered a devastating loss when her boyfriend of more than three years died unexpectedly. Then, before she even had time to process this life-altering tragedy, she faced a second major event that would change the world — and shine a sudden spotlight on nurses like her.
“I remember calling my instructor that week, and I was like, ‘Hey, I don’t know if I can continue on in this program,’” she says. “I had just suffered this huge loss, and then a week later, COVID hit.”
Luckily, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t immediately have a huge impact on Ashley’s education. Since she was earning her degree online, most of her coursework continued uninterrupted, and she was able to stay on track. There were minor concerns as she began preparing for clinicals, but by the time she was scheduled to begin in spring 2021, things had started to open back up. Once she began her clinicals, she was able to get a whole new perspective through real-world experience.
“It was different,” she says. “It was interesting to see that side of a primary care clinic in the middle of COVID, versus what it was two years prior.”
When the going gets tough, don’t go it alone
In the wake of her boyfriend’s death and amid pandemic restrictions, Ashley wasn’t sure if she would be able to finish her MSN.
She was able to find comfort in the things she loves: her two dogs and two cats, photography, gardening, and weekends hanging out at the lake. But she knew she had a huge support network of friends and family — and her whole Maryville community — when she needed them. She credits them with helping her persevere.
“My instructor [told me], ‘You can take time off if you need it to regroup, collect your thoughts, whatever you need to do,’” she recalls. “But I told myself, ‘I need to keep going. This is my goal; I need to keep going.’ So, I just buckled down and did the best that I could do and relied on my family, my support group, my fellow students, my instructors, and — bless her heart — Kristina, my advisor.”
Ashley says she had a wonderful relationship with her advisor, Kristina Campbell, who supported her throughout the program. She says every time they talked, it felt like they were “old friends catching up.” Ashley also expressed a deep appreciation for Maryville’s information technology team and the help desk, which she relied on for technical assistance throughout the program.
Community goes beyond support, and Ashley says she benefitted from the friendship and collegiality of her instructors and fellow students. They communicated regularly, not just through online courses, case studies, virtual simulation visits, and discussion boards, but also through social media groups. Ashley says the breadth of their perspectives added to her experience.
“Even if I’m doing my clinicals in Ada, Oklahoma, I can still get insights and hear about experiences from all across the nation,” she says.
A master’s degree and career advancement were always the goals, but the friends and supporters Ashley made through Maryville became a valuable part of her educational journey and helped her carry on when she might otherwise have called it quits.
“I look back and I’m so, so grateful for the community that I found,” she says. “And that’s how I got through it.”
A lifetime of education
As a professor helping teach the next generation of nurses, Ashley understands the value of education, especially in a field that changes as quickly as nursing. To prepare for her next career move, she knew she needed to develop her knowledge and clinical skills more fully.
“I really do believe in being a forever learner, and I try to instill that in my students now as well,” she says. “Don’t ever stop learning, because things change and continue to evolve.”
As someone already holding down a full-time career, Ashley was drawn to the flexibility that Maryville offered, the affordability, and the program’s stellar reputation. Not only that, but she knew earning her MSN would help her connect with her current students — and perhaps even inspire them to go further.
“I remember my first day, I told them, ‘Listen, guys, I understand where you’re coming from. I understand exactly what you’re feeling, because not only did I go through the same program that you’re going through right now, I’m also going through a master’s program myself,’” she says. “I think it’s made me a better teacher, able to relate to them more in my job, and make them better students.”
“It’s fun,” she adds, laughing. “College students are fun.”
Accomplishing goals and making moves
As a testament to her skill and education, Ashley received a job offer before she even graduated with her MSN. She’ll be working as a nurse practitioner, which has been her dream — and it’s no surprise that she’ll be doing it in the primary care clinic in Ada.
“I love being a nurse, and I’m so excited to be a nurse practitioner,” she says. “Looking back, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”
Ashley encourages others who are considering earning their online degrees to take the leap of faith.
“Go for it. You won’t regret it,” she says. “You’ll only regret if you put off the decision. You’re never going to look back and regret giving it a chance.”
To current students, Ashley’s advice is simple: Don’t give up, and know your “whys.” Why did you start this program? Why are you taking this next step in your education?
For Ashley, her “why” is: She wants to make herself proud.
“Future Ashley — I want her to be proud of what I’m accomplishing, the goals that I’m meeting, and that I never gave up, even when times were hard,” she says. “That’s a big motivator. I want to make myself proud. … This is my goal, and I’m super-excited that I’m achieving it.”
Ashley’s journey with Maryville Online highlights the power everyone has inside them to achieve their educational goals. With bravery, commitment, and time management, Ashley persevered through the darkest times in her life. She’s now looking at a bright new future as a family nurse practitioner.
“The most rewarding part, I think, is just looking back and saying, ‘I did that. I kept going,’” she says. “Through all of the trials and all of the challenges that life handed me, I was able to do that. And now I have a master’s degree.”
If you’re ready to see how Maryville Online can help you be brave and pursue your educational and professional goals, we’re here for you. Check out our online bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorate degrees, or schedule a call with an advisor today.