As a working mother, nurse Laura Istanboulian was delighted to be able to pursue her nurse practitioner's degree online, since it offered her great flexibility. (Photo courtesy of L. Istanboulian)

Using your computer as a classroom

Online nursing program caters to students’ varied schedules and geographic locations

For nurse Laura Istanboulian, working in the intensive care unit has challenges that she’s delighted to be able to discuss with other nurses nationwide.

Istanboulian is a student in the master’s of nursing program (nurse practitioner area of emphasis) at the University of Toronto’s Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing. The program is delivered online

“I’m in my final year of the master’s program, and so far the experience has been very positive,” said Istanboulian. “Academically, it has been challenging but very rewarding.  Though the program’ is on-line, the community of students and faculty is extremely supportive.”

Professor Monica Parry (pictured, right), director of U of T’s nurse practitioner programs, says the two-year program, which started a decade ago, has approximately 140 students across both years. Lectures are delivered online and all the  courses involve the use of the Blackboard Academic Suite -- it contains course outlines, evaluation methods, expected learning outcomes, case studies, important references and links, as well as discussion groups. Students come from all across Canada and last year, they admitted one student each from Bermuda and the United States.

The program also involves 700 hours of clinical placement, and the students are required to attend the two on-campus residency periods, each being four-to-five days in length.

“I have been lucky with excellent clinical placements, supportive preceptors, and interesting patient populations; the reputation of this program has clearly preceded me [helping her to get these excellent placements],” said Istanboulian.

Parry says both the master’s and post-master’s programs with the nurse practitioner area of emphasis are extremely popular, receiving approximately 200 applications a year for the 70 spaces. To enroll, students must have an undergraduate nursing degree and have two years of relevant clinical experience.  The program has 16 instructors in total; supported by clinical teaching supervisors, teaching assistants and IT personnel.

Online courses require 10-to-15 hours of time each week for reviewing material and completing assignments. Students can access the Blackboard system 24/7, so lessons can be completed around work and family schedules. 

Istanboulian says having the online option was key to making it work for her current life needs.

“I love being in a classroom; however, the distance learning option has afforded me the flexibility me participate post-graduate studies, work, and not lose precious time with my family,” she said. “I think it is amazing that in the past two years I have been able to (nearly) complete a rigorous master’s program, work, and help raise two little boys.

“The support of my partner and the faculty at U of T has been instrumental in permitting this for myself and for many of the other students.  For a distance learning program, it really is a wonderful community.”

Parry said the online foundation lends itself well to the content.

“You can still have discussion online with students and question them about the care of the patient that you present in a seminar,” she said. “We bring in guest speakers and if we offer guest lectures onsite, we invite remote students virtually and tape the sessions so that they are available online for review/re-review..”

Istanboulian says her experience in the program was incredible and very relevant to her current job.

“This program has challenged me to consider the needs of patients both in and out of the hospital bed and along a time trajectory that includes prevention of illness and the support of chronic states of illness after an acute episode,” she said. “It has broadened my perspective.  It has also helped me see even more clearly the value of all members of the interdisciplinary health-care team.”

As her coursework winds down, she is even becoming a bit nostalgic.

“Although the pace of the program is more intense than anything I have ever done and many of us are counting down the weeks to completion, I actually think that I will miss it once it is over.”


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