Paula Pintar MSN ’12 RN, ACNS-BC, CIC, was busy for 21 years after obtaining her nursing license with a family and a career in the ICU. Then, after sustaining a back injury and being off work for a short time, she transitioned into the role of infection prevention. It was around that time, Pintar knew she had more to offer — both professionally and personally — to her patients. She decided to return to school to obtain a MSN. Pintar explored both classroom and online nursing programs and chose Alverno College.

“I just knew right away Alverno was right for me. The whole atmosphere and interaction with people during visits and orientation were open and conversational. I knew this is where I wanted to be.” Balancing work, family and school can be difficult, but the Weekend College program worked well with her schedule. Pintar gave herself time to adapt to the changes and discovered the encouragement and support from fellow students helped her transition into being a student again.

For Pintar, obtaining a master’s degree was, at first, only a personal goal. She knew she could achieve it and with that mindset she started the program. However, as she advanced through the first couple semesters, she began to notice a change. Exposed to new opportunities, she become conscious she was experiencing a personal revitalization in nursing.

“I realized the potential nursing has on both the local and global communities. That broadened my whole perspective. I stopped looking just at how I was going to do in this program and started looking at how I could impact patient care. This went beyond just me.” Pintar could feel the momentum gaining speed.

When Pintar had first moved into infection prevention, she worried about leaving a position she had always known and anticipated a big learning curve in her new position. However, because of her coursework, she looked at the new position as an opportunity for her to use her background and skills. While she was doing a different kind of work, Pintar ultimately realized she was still taking care of patients. “Instead of one-on-one work, I was now working with groups. In the end it’s still working with patients.”

Pintar gained new experiences and built confidence in her work. At the same time, she aligned her new position with her MSN studies. It turned out to be the catalyst for her final project.

All MSN students complete a final project before graduation. While most students present research studies or quality improvement projects that follow typical research procedure, Pintar was encouraged by faculty and fellow students to take a different approach. She developed her idea into a concept for an article. The thesis focused on integrating a Clinical Nurse Specialist into an infection control role within health care facilities. Not many programs were that specific or had that specialty, so Pintar’s idea was received with rave reviews. Enough so that her paper, “An Intrepreneurial Innovative Role: Integration of the Clinical Nurse Specialist and Infection Prevention Professional” was published in the May/June 2013 issue of Clinical Nurse Specialist.

“I was thrilled. I never thought I would be good enough for publication because I’m not a writer. As nurses, we’re always abbreviating and writing facts quickly, and so it was a challenge to write at an academic level,” said Pintar. While completing her project, she received steady and supportive feedback from the faculty, which helped fine tune her writing. “Writing used to be one of my weaker skills, so having it published is really gratifying.”

The Alverno experience gave Pintar a new skill set, and one that she is eager to share with her fellow nurses and her patients. She continues to write and focuses on improving nursing care at the bedside by incorporating infection control with evidence-based projects. She no longer thinks of nursing for just herself. “I want to help make nurses better and more educated. I hope to see improved patient care and patient outcomes.”

She also has a renewed confidence in herself.

“At Alverno, you learn to think more broadly, more outside yourself. It’s certainly a commitment of time. I knew I was going to get a good education, but the professional and personal development have become so much more important so I can focus on how to better help others.”

About the Program: Experiences Shape the Course of Learning

The world of health care and the role of advanced practice nurses are changing faster than ever. Meeting the demands of expanding health care needs, the Alverno College Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program continues to adapt and transform to both anticipate and meet the needs of its students and the community. Alverno offers three tracks in the MSN: Family Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist/Nurse Educator and, new this fall, the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. The program also offers the opportunity for post-masters certification for men and women.

Carol Sabel, associate dean of the MSN program, has been with Alverno College for four years. Prior to transferring to academia, she worked as a staff nurse in Obstetrics and then Ambulatory Surgery for 23 years. She believes the Alverno MSN program faculty and staff are dedicated to meeting the needs of the students and the community. “There are always changes coming through the various certification organizations, including those for nurse educators, clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners. To keep current with those changes, it is important we continually evaluate and evolve the curriculum content to meet student needs. For example, the Graduate Nurse Curriculum Committee, made up of MSN faculty, is dedicated to this purpose.”

The MSN program and curriculum development is collaborative. A graduate nurse advisory board, consisting of students, faculty and members, meets twice a year to discuss changes in health care, the future roles of Advanced Practice Nurses within organizations, and provide insights on community involvement.

Students move through the program at their own pace. The MSN is offered as a Weekend College program, but some classes have multiple sections and are offered on weekday evenings. After acceptance at Alverno, students are matched with an advisor to discuss the student’s track, the time commitment available and then plan the student’s course schedule. Each student comes to the MSN program with personal reasons for obtaining an advanced degree: to provide primary care; for workplace advancement; to be a primary care provider in a community setting; and to use the education to further their knowledge. “We are here to assist students to meet their goals, no matter their reasons for wanting an advanced degree.”

Alverno offers an experiential way of teaching that provides students the opportunity to combine skills learned in the classroom with their practicum experiences. In the flexible program, students tailor their projects and activities within courses according to their areas of interest. For example, when choosing settings for practicum hours which are required for certification (665 or 590 depending on the track,) students often chose experiences dependent on their area of interest.

Sabel sees Alverno MSN students achieve success because they are exposed to a variety of opportunities that open new pathways. “We encourage the students to develop their projects in areas that interest them. We want them to choose a project because it’s important to them, their organization or their patients.”