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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Student Overcomes Many Challenges to Earn Doctorate

By Irvin B. Harrell

Jane Lee's journey to a Doctorate of Nursing Practice at Old Dominion University has been full of regimen but far from routine.

Hers is a story of hard work, perseverance and the accommodations the School of Nursing made to help bring her dream to fruition.

The 42-year-old mother of three has spent a great deal of her life on the move, married to an active-duty serviceman in the Army. Lee was born and raised in Long Island, N.Y. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in English literature from Binghamton University in southern New York, she took a finance job in New York City for a few years.

Once she met and married her husband, Cedric, in 2003, her life became a whirlwind.

"We had a wedding, a honeymoon and then we flew straight to Germany where we were stationed for 7½ years," she said. "During that time, we moved five times, traveled all over Europe and had three kids."

When they returned to the U.S., the Lees settled in Kansas. While Cedric was deployed to Afghanistan for a year, Jane began taking prerequisite courses for nursing school. Upon his return, Jane attended the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. In reflection, she said, her change to nursing was a calling.

"When I was young, I knew I wanted to help people but did not really know in what way," she said.

Cedric returned from oversees, and soon afterward the Lees relocated to Norfolk, where he took a job as professor of military science at Norfolk State University. Jane applied and interviewed at ODU in 2016 and began the DNP program - specializing in nurse anesthesiology - in the summer of 2017.

Being a military spouse often means change when you least expect it, Jane had learned. Committing to a long-term program would not be easy.

Two weeks before the start of her program, Cedric found out he would be stationed in Fort Sill, Okla., in 2018.

"At that point, the only way for me to complete the program would mean a two-year separation from my family," she said. "I made an appointment with Dr. (Nathaniel) Apatov to let him know that I would unfortunately be unable to start the program."

Apatov is director of ODU's nurse anesthesiology program. He advised Jane that perhaps ODU would be amenable to finding a unique way to assist her in finishing the program.

"What the nurse anesthesia faculty agreed to do for me and my family that day was even before they really knew me as a student, since the program had not even started," Jane said. "The way I see it, that day I went to decline my spot in the anesthesia program, if Dr. Apatov had said what I expected him to say and what any other programs would say, I wouldn't not have been able to obtain my degree at ODU."

Karen Gillikin, assistant program director and director of clinical studies in the nurse anesthesia program, took on Jane's case. She front-loaded Jane's specialty clinical rotations so that she would be done with the majority of her specialty requirements early. That made it more manageable for her to go to Oklahoma, finish her general rotation there and graduate.

Still, it wouldn't be easy. Jane would have to spend more than a year living apart from her husband and three children. Her sons, Caden and Jakob, were 12 and 10, respectively; her daughter Ellery was 8. But her family helped her power through.

"My husband and my kids have always been my biggest cheerleaders," she said. "They have always believed in me and supported me."

Gillikin's huge task was to find the right clinical site for Jane in Oklahoma. It had to offer a wide range of experiences. It also had to be a drivable distance from where the Lees lived.

"Dr. Apatov and I searched for some appropriate clinical sites, and many fell through," Gillikin said. "On our initial find, her very young daughter wrote me a thank you note for finding her a site so she could see her mommy more often. I could not have lived with disappointing a 6-year-old."

Gillikin connected with ODU graduate Heather Beus to develop the clinical site in Oklahoma. Beus, a 2017 graduate from the ODU nurse anesthesia program, was the chief certified registered nurse anesthetist(CRNA) and clinical coordinator at AllianceHealth Midwest, in Midwest City, Okla. Gillkin flew to Oklahoma to ensure that the clinical site was appropriate.

"We had to keep the clinical education comparable to what we provide locally," she said. "Ensuring Jane received the same experience as her classmates. Remotely administering exams. Jane made it easy, because she sought out appropriate experiences and never complained."

Beus became a mentor to Jane,"constantly seeking out opportunities for me to learn and grow." And Jane's work in the intensive care unit solidified her desires to be a CRNA.

"I had several opportunities to interact with certified registered nurse anesthetists, and I would ask them about their job," she said. "Every CRNA I spoke to loved his or her job and had such a profound sense of satisfaction in providing the best patient care."

Pursuing an education meant missing countless of important family moments. But her family continued to encourage her and accentuated the positive, Jane said.

"My husband is a dedicated, husband, father and soldier," she said. "For the 12-plus months that I did not live with them, he maintained his busy military career, while raising the kids. ... Without my family, this journey would have been impossible."

In Oklahoma, Jane faced an hour-and-a-half commute to Midwest City, schoolwork and family responsibilities.

"If I was not at clinicals, I was home studying or working on a DNP assignment, while also trying to do the everyday tasks required when raising a family," she said.

Despite the challenges, Jane maintained her resolve. Surrounding yourself with positive influences and people who support and believe in you is key, she says.

"Everyone has challenges or reasons why doing something may be difficult," she said. "Take the challenges as they come and know that, as my husband and daughter like to say, 'everything is figure-outable.'"

On May 1, Jane had figured it out. She passed her boards and earned her degree. Cedric and the children threw her a party at home with a menu of sushi, cake, dancing and karaoke.

"It was perfect," she said.

So where will Jane go from here? Jane prefers not to hammer anything into stone. But with her latest educational conquest, she knows she's ready to make a difference.

"Being a military spouse for 17 years, I have learned not to make plans but instead to have goals," she said. "My goal is to be the best mom, wife, and professional that I can be. I know that I will continue to learn and make mistakes, but I am excited to continue this journey and learn from all those that have come before me."

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