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‘You have to have the knowledge’: Redefining her career after more than two decades


When is the best time to redefine your career? Whenever you’re ready. There’s always room to grow and more to learn, especially if you want to pursue a passion or grow your earning potential.


For nurse Deborah Askey, that moment came about two and a half decades into her career, when she decided to earn her Master of Science in Nursing and become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. She graduated with her MSN in 2022 and was already an accomplished nurse. But she knew her new knowledge and skills could help her accomplish more.


“I’ve been a nurse for, like, 26 years now. I hate to say that, because it makes me sound really old,” she says. “I’ve been everything from an ER ICU nurse to a psych nurse, and now I’m going to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner.”


Most recently, Deborah completed a two-decade stint as a corrections nurse. With more than two million people incarcerated in the United States, according the the Pew Research Center, there has always been great need for professionals like her who are willing and able to tend to a vulnerable and sometimes forgotten population.


It’s that attitude of care that helped inform Deborah’s next move. She says she had “maxed out” after 20 years in corrections, and she knew she wanted to pursue something new.

Refining a passion for mental health care through supportive education

Even after a quarter-century treating patients, helping people, and saving lives, Deborah had more she wanted to accomplish. She had worked in psychiatric nursing and found it compelling.


“There are so many people that suffer from mental health issues, and there’s a stigma with mental health issues also,” she says. “So, that’s why I’m passionate about the field.”


She says pursuing an MSN in psychiatric mental health allowed her to seek a new position as a nurse practitioner (NP), meaning she could expand her role, provide better patient care, and have more professional autonomy, including the ability to prescribe medications.


Deborah chose an online MSN so she could study and learn on her schedule, working around her demanding nursing career. She chose Maryville because of its history, its physical location, and the quality and reputation of its nursing program.


“I liked the history. It’s been here for over 150 years now. I like the fact that there was an actual place you could go to — it was an actual university. Also, I didn’t want one of those ‘cookie-cutter’ degrees,” she says. She was more drawn to the real-world, future-focused approach to online learning that distinguishes Maryville’s MSN. The experiential elements and clinicals she could complete locally helped ensure that the education Deborah received would give her the skills and practice she needed to succeed.

A culture of support

Once she began the program, Deborah found that it offered the support she needed as a nontraditional student returning to college classes after so long. Many courses offered alternative ways to study that suited her learning style, advisors were responsive and helpful, and accessible resources like the online writing studio helped her ensure she was able to get the most from her education.

When I first started, it had been 25 years since I’d been in school, so the computers and the writing — I had to kind of learn it all over again. My instructor pointed me toward the writing studio, and that was really helpful.

She also credits her professors with helping her when she reached out to them. One class in particular, psychopharmacology, proved to be difficult, but Deborah’s professor put in the extra time through video chats and emails and was able to help her through it.


“He did a really good job teaching us, and we learned a lot,” she says. “That’s a very, very hard subject and he made it a lot easier than what it would have been. …We went over some things, he gave me some tips, and I passed the course.”


In the end, her professor even complimented her on how much she improved throughout the semester.

One step at a time

Deborah graduated in April 2022, and she already had a new position lined up. After 20 years working in corrections, she’s excited to begin her new role as a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Primary Health Network in Pennsylvania.


It’s her next step, but not her last one. When she decides it’s time for another change, Deborah already knows what she wants to do: see the world and continue to help people through travel nursing. And she knows it all starts with the right education and the right approach.


With Maryville, that approach meant learning firsthand how to take the knowledge from the classroom and apply it in real-world scenarios.


“You have to have the knowledge,” she says. “But knowledge isn’t good enough if you don’t know how to apply it.”


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 degreesmaster’s degrees, and doctorate degrees, or schedule a call with an advisor today.

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