Karen Cotter is a nursing professor at Oklahoma Baptist University. She graduated with a BSN and minor in education from Oklahoma Baptist University in 1994, MS in nursing education from University of Oklahoma in 2000, teacher certification from University of Central Oklahoma in 2003, and is currently getting her PhD in nursing education at the University of Northern Colorado. Karen holds RN licenses in Oklahoma and Texas, and is a member of Oklahoma Nurses Association and Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society for Nurses Beta Delta Chapter. Karen loves her role as a nurse educator and says “it is rather rewarding to know I am impacting the future of my chosen profession.”
A: I began as an undergraduate student working toward a degree in elementary education. After some practical classes, I decided I really did not like being around children all of the time…this is a problem for elementary school teachers. I had met the Dean of the College of Nursing during the summer, and we talked. She told me I had good interpersonal skills and thought I should give nursing a try. I changed my major and spent two extra years finishing a bachelor’s degree in nursing with a minor in education.
I love being a nurse, and along the way I had various clinical positions that included teaching clients, of course, and eventually, teaching other staff about policies/procedures and safety—all of those required annual training activities. In about 1998, I was rather miserable in my clinical position and decided to return to graduate school to pursue a degree in nursing education. In 2000, I finished my master’s degree in nursing education and took a full time teaching position the following summer. The rest, as they say, is history. I love teaching as much as I love being a nurse. It is rather rewarding to know I am impacting the future of my chosen profession.
Q: Can you tell our readers about Oklahoma Baptist University?
A: Oklahoma Baptist University (www.okbu.edu) is a liberal arts college in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The college of nursing is just one of seven colleges within the institution.
Q: When and how did you start working at OBU?
A: I accepted a full time assistant professor of nursing appointment with the College of Nursing in the fall of 2003.
I graduated from OBU in May 1994. I had a great deal of respect for my faculty then, and it was the first bachelor’s program in the state of Oklahoma, founded in 1952. I had taught practical nursing for a couple of years after completing my master’s degree, and when the position became vacant at OBU, I received a call from the Dean to submit my application. Oklahoma is a rather small community of nurse educators, and the Dean of the College of Nursing and I had stayed in contact over the years following my graduation. I interviewed for the position and have stayed at OBU for these nine years.
Q: What’s it like working at the university?
A: OBU is a teaching institution. We all teach full loads, and not much time/value is given to the research/discovery aspect of scholarship there. It is a small university with 120 or so full time faculty. We have 10 faculty members within our college of nursing. The college has approximately 1,500 full time students and it is a residential university. A majority of students live in campus housing. It fosters a close-knit community of students and a lot of campus activities. Faculty are encouraged to take part in various campus activities, as well. For example, the freshmen are welcomed to campus with a weeklong event called “welcome week.” I often participate in the event by making an effort to meet freshman nursing students and taking a group of freshman to dinner that week. Part of what makes OBU special to me is the sense of community that I feel with my nursing colleagues, as well as colleagues across our campus.
Q: Typically, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
A: My day-to-day responsibilities vary from week to week. A typical week during the fall semester includes teaching in the classroom for groups of 15-32 students in courses like Health Assessment, Pathophysiology and Nursing Care, and Skills courses. I teach in the clinical area as well, Adult Acute Care/Med/Surg. Students in the clinical setting are practicing skills related to assessment, invasive procedures and application of the nursing process, and planning for nursing interventions.
Q: Can you share a funny story about working with a student?
A: I had a student in the clinical setting who was assessing a client with a below the knee amputation (I did not know this at the time). She had documented her head to toe assessment but failed to document the pedal (feet) pulses. I asked her to return and conduct that assessment in order to complete the document. She returned to me with her face downcast and told me that the client was missing one of his/her feet. I laughed and said, “See, this is why we have to document/assess head to toe! We had a good laugh about it later, but I think that student, who is now completing a graduate program, has never forgotten to assess her client’s feet again.
Q: Are there other areas of interest for you as a nurse, either clinically or educationally, that you plan to pursue?
A: I am very interested in global nursing service. I travel overseas about once per year, most recently to Gulu, Uganda to serve at a Catholic girls’ school. We worked there to do health assessments with students and faculty. We spent about three-to-four days there and could have spent much longer. I have also traveled to Burma to teach in a nursing assistant training program. I did not return to Burma this year because of some family obligations, but I plan to return there next June to teach in the same programs.
Q: What do you like most about your job? What do you dislike most?
A: The thing I like most about my job is the impact I can make on the future of my profession. Nurses are the key to our healthcare system and research shows that bachelor’s prepared nurses have better client outcomes. I am contributing not only to the profession but also to the health of society at large on some level.
The thing I dislike most about my job has to be when I must tell students they are failing to meet the objectives of the program. It is difficult, but nursing programs are difficult. Not everyone can do it. We are the gatekeepers of the profession and sometimes those difficult conversations must occur. I often hope they can pursue nursing at a lower level and then return later to the baccalaureate level. Oftentimes those discussions are to international students who simply do not have the English proficiency to succeed in a nursing program.
Q: As a nurse, what have you learned about “practicing what you preach” when it comes to exercise and fitness?
A: For years, I lectured on the importance of diet and exercise for remedying various types of illnesses. However, I was not the picture of wellness or exercise. I had an event in 2008/09 where I herniated a disc in my lower back. I had physical therapy and eventually required surgery to repair it. In 2009, my doctor told me if I could lose some weight, then I could probably avoid a second surgery. Well, I started walking one-to-two miles with a friend that fall (2009) and was still having daily pain in my lower back.
My walking friend and I started talking in the spring of 2010 about setting a goal. We talked about walking a half marathon in the spring of 2011. I decided then that we would need a tool to help us with our tracking since we would need to achieve a 4 mph pace to complete the half marathon in a respectable time. In June, I downloaded the app, Endomondo Sports Tracker. We began using it during the summer of 2010. It was a great tool and often we were using it as a stopwatch until we learned more about what the app could do. We set a distance goal one day and learned that it would tell us our lap (mile) time with each mile completed. A little later, I found the web site for the app, and learned that I could see all of our miles trekked and routes on that site. It has been a great tool to assist in this journey of fitness.
Over the course of these two years, we have walked 1,700 miles. I have lost about 45 pounds of weight from my heaviest and am still about 35 pounds from my goal weight. I want to lose 25 lbs by the end of this summer with a goal to walk at least four miles every day in June and July. It is much easier now for me to lecture about the importance of exercise when I am able to show the students what I can do within the physical limitations of my back injury. I am trying really hard not to become one of those “fitness snobs,” but I see people and I think, “I did this—you can too!” Just start moving.
Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned over the course of your career?
A: Protect the patient. We protect the patient not only by providing a safe and protective environment for them in the acute care setting, but also by promoting healthier lifestyles with diet and exercise. Also, teaching the client about health options and working to help them access the often difficult healthcare systems in the US. I share the resources and skills I have to help others, and hope that the benefit will impact the health and wellbeing of those I serve.
Q: What advice do you have for others thinking of becoming a nurse educator?
A: Be prepared to be a novice again. It is an amazingly rewarding career choice, but it takes time to learn a new area of practice. Nursing education is a specialized area of nursing practice. It is taking the skills you already have, and applying them in a new context. Instead of patients, we deal with students. We cannot care for them like we care for patients, but we can mold them into nurses with guidance and role modeling of professional nursing practice.
Q: How has working in education allowed you to grow professionally?
A: It allows me to stay up to date on the latest trends in professional nursing because I have to prepare new graduates for a rapidly changing healthcare environment.
Q: If you could sum up your job in one word, what would it be and why?
A: Adventure. Every day there is a new challenge. Even though I teach similar content year after year, every class of students is different and requires me to problem-solve and figure out the best way to present information in ways that will be retained and applied, if not this year, then later in the careers of these future nurses, future leaders in this profession.
Source: NEWS-Line for Nurses