“To be successful in online learning, it is just as important to have a virtual environment that is free of distractions as it is to have a home environment free of them.”

Bryan Hansen is studying to earn his Certificate in Forensic Nursing at Johns Hopkins University, located in Baltimore, Maryland. He is also currently pursuing an MSN en route to his PhD in Nursing at Johns Hopkins University. Bryan holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.

Bryan chose to pursue this certificate because it expands his understanding of nursing and helps to advance his career. He chose to study online to accommodate his schedule as a full-time student with a part-time job.

In your own words, what is forensic nursing?

I would say it is the field of study where the legal system and the healthcare system intersect. They are trained to care for the victims and perpetrators of abuse and violence. They also possess knowledge about the legal system, can testify in court and can offer advice to legal authorities.

Do you have a specialty within the field?

At Johns Hopkins University, it is an online certificate program that I am pursuing in addition to my doctorate in nursing. In a way, it is like a specialty within the field of nursing. In order to pursue a certificate in the subject at Johns Hopkins University, students must hold a bachelors degree in nursing and be currently licensed as a registered nurse.

Why did you choose to get a certificate?

I chose to get a certificate to broaden my opportunities as a nurse. Although I am pursuing a doctorate in nursing, I still find the the curriculum very interesting. It has changed my perspective on the field of nursing by expanding it and making it more complex.

I chose to pursue the certificate online because at Johns Hopkins University the program is only available online. But I have also discovered that being able to study in my home office works well with my part-time job. I like being able to study when I can fit it in.

What do you find most and least enjoyable about studying this subject?

The most enjoyable aspects of studying this subject have been the extraordinary connections I have made with people and the clinical experiences my program has facilitated. My clinical study sites have been very unique and helpful to my professional development.

The most challenging part of studying it has been trying to balance my school and work responsibilities. The online classes I take accommodate my work schedule, and that has helped me balance my responsibilities a little better.

When you first considered pursuing an online certificate, what were your major concerns?

Some of the work is hands-on, so I was concerned about not having direct contact with patients, examples and resources. Once I began the program, however, I realized that a focus on hands-on experiences was not necessary for every class.

You need to have a solid understanding of the theories and concepts of the subject before you can begin working. The online classes provided me with that kind of knowledge, so my concerns about the class format were put to rest.

How did you choose your graduate school?

I have been enrolled at Johns Hopkins University for a couple of years, so it made sense to pursue a certificate in forensic science from the same school. The fact that the certificate program was offered online was great. It meant that I could watch lectures and study for the classes at home.

What is your program’s curriculum like?

My program’s curriculum tries to present students with an understanding of what forensic nursing is, where it comes from, what its goals are and the relationship between the legal and healthcare systems. The classes we are required to take address the fundamentals, family violence, injury pathology, advanced trauma assessments and mass casualty and disaster response. We also have practicums where we learn to use what we have learned and apply it in real-life situations.

I would say that the majority of the classes are meant for the practitioners. The classes do have reading assignments to familiarize students with theories, but they also have practical elements so that the students know how to apply these theories to practice.

What parts of your curriculum or particular classes do you think will be most valuable for your future goals?

It is difficult for me to say which class will be most valuable to my goals for the future. You really need to understand many different theories and approaches, and how they all fit together. As a whole, I think the curriculum will be very helpful to my goals for the future.

Do you have residency requirements for your program, and if so, how do you fulfill them?

We do not have residency requirements for the certificate program at Johns Hopkins University, but we are required to complete 2 practicums, or practical internships, which are facilitated by the professors. I have really enjoyed these clinical experiences, as they have put me in contact with people and situations I would not otherwise meet or experience.

The time spent doing these practicums is invaluable because you get to put what you have learned in class to use. My practicum was with the State of Maryland’s Attorney General’s Office. There, I helped review elder abuse cases and provided a nursing perspective to the cases.

How do you interact with your professors?

I interact with my instructors over the phone and through e-mail. The instructors encourage their students to set up meetings with them, either over the phone or in person. For distance learners, the instructors really encourage them to stop by the campus if they happen to be passing through the region. With e-mails, most of my instructors have been very quick to respond, which has been really helpful.

Are you able to interact with your peers while studying online?

How you interact with your peers and how often you interact with them really depends on who your instructor is and how they set up the online class. I have had classes where we use video chatting, texting, discussion boards and book synchronism.

Making friends is not an important aspect of online learning for me. I don’t really look for it, but I will say that I have developed collegial relationships with some of my classmates. We discuss possible future collaborations and our research interests.

In the online classes, it is hard to figure out the age of most of my classmates. It seems to be that most of them come to the program at Johns Hopkins University after practiced as nurses for some time.

What personality traits do you think would help a student to succeed in the program and what traits would hinder success?

To be successful in the online program, a student needs to be motivated, assertive and self-directed. You really need to have some degree of passion for the program in order to succeed. You also need to be someone who makes their own study schedule and sticks to it. In an online program, it is important to be assertive and advocate for yourself when you aren’t getting what you need out of a class or the program.

I think someone who is studying in this field just because they want the credentials or want to say that they studied it won’t do very well in the program. You really need to be motivated to practice to succeed.

What are the biggest benefits and drawbacks that you have found in pursuing an online certificate?

One of the biggest benefits of pursuing a certificate online is that I get the institutional attention that any on-campus student would receive, but I am able to study from the comfort of my home office.

One of the drawbacks of online learning is that it is easy to be distracted by e-mails and other online attractions while you are trying to study. You really have to be able to sit down and focus on what you are doing to not be distracted.

What is your weekly schedule?

During the week, I probably have about 40 hours of schoolwork, including classes. This includes studying, watching online lectures, reading and completing homework. That sounds like a lot of time, but it isn’t too bad. I also have a part-time job as an examiner. Between school and work, I manage to keep some of my evenings and weekends free.

How do you balance your studies and your personal life?

I am not naturally the kind of person who plans ahead, so I try to balance school, work and my personal life by developing a systematic approach to planning for the future. I try to look ahead and anticipate what might be happening.

In order to keep these parts of your life balanced, you have to be able to concentrate on 1 thing at a time. This can be very hard with online learning. Because a lot of the work you do for an online class is on the Internet and on your computer, you can become very distracted by e-mails and pop-ups. To be successful in online learning, it is just as important to have a virtual environment that is free of distractions as it is to have a home environment free of them.

What are your plans for after graduation?

After graduation, I will work for an academic institution as a member of faculty at least part of the time. But I am also interested in clinical study, so I plan to remain clinically active along with teaching.

It is difficult to say what kind of salary a student can expect after earning a certificate. It really depends on a number of factors, but my best guess is somewhere in the $70,000 range. The nice thing about this certificate is that as you gain more experience, and there are a fair amount of consulting opportunities available that pay quite well.

Now that you have completed 7 months of the program, if you could go back to college, what would you do differently?

It is hard to say what I would do differently, but I think I would probably study more and study harder. But I like where I am now and am honestly just happy I made it through school the first time.

What advice do you have for students who are considering an online certificate in this field?

For students interested in studying this program, I would suggest that they be open to all of the different opportunities that will be available to them. It is a much bigger field than most people realize. In practice, students could be helping the elderly, youth or sexual assault victims, or on global issues.

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