Online master’s program
trains nurse leaders from underserved rural areas
by Dan Heuchert
Drum (right) of Galax, Va., and Erin Cruise of Dublin, Va.,
are both nursing students enrolled in U.Va.’s online
master’s degree program.
By Dan Heuchert
Erin Cruise, who supervises
the school health program in Montgomery County, has long sought
a master’s degree in nursing.
“A lot of people see me as a resource,” she said.
“I thought I needed more education.”
The problem: with a staff of eight part-timers serving 9,000 students
at 22 schools, there wasn’t much time left over on weekdays
to enroll in a full-time master’s program. And with her
own parents to care for, even her after-hours time was precious.
“I thought I might have to make a choice between quitting
my job and getting my master’s,” she said.
The solution: The School
of Nursing’s new online master’s program. Cruise
could work at her Dublin home at night and on weekends, while
making only two day trips to Charlottesville per semester.
The program was funded by a three-year, $693,000 grant from the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources
and Services Administration. Charlottesville-based professors
redesigned and enhanced their curriculum for online use, assigning
readings, papers, exams and online discussions. Students and professors
interacted with one another via a commercial software package.
The two-year program should be especially helpful for nurses like
Cruise, who work full-time in often-underserved rural areas, said
Doris Glick, an associate professor of nursing and director of
the master’s program.
Despite some reservations about the perceived quality of online
versus in-person education, Cruise joined the program’s
charter seven-member class this fall. An additional seven students
are signed up to begin in the spring semester.
The quality of the education has been a pleasant — and challenging
— surprise, Cruise said. “It’s different. You
don’t have the visual contact, the intuitive feeling that
you get from a live person, but we have had some really fascinating
discussions. I have learned so much.”
Said Glick, “The quality of the program is the same as the
regular in-class program — the same admissions requirements,
the same course requirements.”
The school offers two of its five master’s tracks online:
community and public health leadership, and health systems management.
Both have incorporated concepts of emergency preparedness, Glick
The classes are also open to master’s students in residence
as an alternative to the traditional classroom-based format, and
many have taken advantage of the option.
Glick taught one of the new online courses this fall, “Epidemiology
in Health Care.” After years of teaching in the classroom,
she found the online medium to be “an interesting challenge,”
The feedback from students has been excellent thus far, she said,
and the interaction has been as good as, or better than, classroom
discussions. “If I ask a class a question, they respond
in a short period of time,” she noted. “If I ask online,
they take their time to answer, and the answers are usually better
Like Cruise, online student Janice Drum of Galax, who manages
the emergency department at Twin Counties Regional Hospital, had
her doubts about the quality of online offerings. “I had
always been skeptical about online programs. People don’t
think you get the same quality of education.
“But it has been difficult, very challenging,” she
said. “It’s been wonderful — so intellectually
A master’s degree has been a personal and professional goal
for years, said Drum, 54. But attending classes in person would
be “impossible” while managing 21 nurses and 13 emergency
beds, she said.
She hopes a master’s degree will re-energize her career.
“I want to stay in management, and I want to at least explore
the opportunities for executive management in nursing. I love
nursing, and I want to see it advance.”