Leading with determination and grace with help from UW-Green Bay’s MSN program

Meet Lauren Wooten: Nurse and UW-Green Bay Master of Science in Nursing student, gracefully balancing motherhood, her VA job and graduate studies. Story photos by Josh Buntin, University Photographer

“I’ve been a nurse for 16 years, and I was being put in leadership situations at work. I thought to myself, why am I resisting something that’s just intuitively happening?”

The demand for nurses is exploding; so is the demand for those who can lead them.

No one needs to be told that being a full-time nurse is a daunting challenge—one filled with long hours, emotional demands and life-and-death responsibilities. Lauren Wooton has not only welcomed but thrived in this non-stop environment for nearly two decades. Now, mid-career, she’s pivoted to the challenging world of graduate school, while working full-time—and blending in the joys and trials of new motherhood, for good measure.

“I like to be busy,” Wooton admits. Her schedule would strike fear in even the most energetic individuals, but Wooton seems to be cut from a different cloth, confessing, “I’m somebody who does well, to a degree, under pressure.”

Wooton snuggles with her new baby girl

Pressure has only served to shape her into a more multifaceted individual. “I think it actually grounds me to have a little bit more responsibility at home and things to do with the addition of school and Grace, my baby,” she says, finding a silver lining in her action-packed to-do list. Thus, her calendar is a marvel of meticulous planning, balancing full-time work at the VA (the Milo C. Huempfner Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic) and Aurora Bay Care’s emergency department, teaching a class, and progressing through her Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.

Though her roots are in Wisconsin, Wooton’s nursing journey began in Ohio. “I got my bachelor’s in nursing from The University of Cincinnati and have been working ever since as a nurse,” she recalls. Her decision to return to school in the midst of a flourishing career stemmed from her inherent leadership qualities and to advance those talents. “I was the president of my sorority, then president of a local women’s non-profit organization (Service League of Green Bay,) I’ve been a nurse for 16 years and I was being put in leadership situations at work. I thought to myself, why am I resisting something that’s just intuitively happening?”

As she delved into her MSN program, the support system at UW-Green Bay became a cornerstone of her success. “I started by speaking with a nursing program advisor and admissions staff at UWGB,” Wooton acknowledges, shedding light on her preparatory steps. But it was the faculty’s involvement that truly bolstered her resolve. “I have had some great professors in Dr. Susan Hopkinson and Dr. Janet Reilly, who have been very supportive and influential in the feedback that I’ve received as a student,” she reflects, their encouragement resonating with her deeply, especially during challenging times. “They supported me through that journey, especially in the fall semester, because I was in my third trimester at school, welcomed my baby and still finished the semester out strong. ” Not that she was going it alone, extending the remainder of her maternity leave out over a period of time to gain bit more flexibility. “And with the support of my spouse and my family, I’m able to continue to work both jobs and do school as well,” Wooten says.

UW-Green Bay’s MSN program is offered almost fully online

The program has a two-year periodicity, meaning courses are offered every other year. Pace of completion really depends on an individual’s goals and ranges from 2 to 5 years. UW-Green Bay also offers a certificate in Nursing Leadership and Management, with transferability of credits to the master’s program. Some students are also enrolled in the Bachelor of Nursing (BSN) to MSN program, providing students the option of taking some master’s credits while they are pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

All the coursework is completely online—the one exception is an eight-hour per week time commitment in the final year of the program spent in the field with mentors in a professional practice where students start by shadowing and then move to interacting and engaging in professional practice.

Reflecting on her experience, her success in the MSN program has been as much about personal growth as it is about academic achievement. “It just comes along with developing emotional intelligence and growing as a professional for the last 15 plus years,” she reflects on the maturity and focus she brings to her studies. There are new lessons to be learned, she admits, “There’s definitely a learning curve sometimes when it comes to technology.”

However, Wooton finds the program’s structure to be surprisingly manageable. “For the most part, I think the program is doable,” she says, appreciating how the curriculum is designed to accommodate busy professionals.

Wooton speaks with a colleague at the VA clinic.

Being a nurse, then a graduate student and a new mom, has also taught her that every life experience, even the most challenging, can be a source of gratitude. “You have to give the MSN program credit because I believe that the curriculum, the online format, and the work required are well coordinated to allow students to manage the work and everything that everyone is juggling in their lives to be successful,” she concludes.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Wooton feels the experience is making her a better person, albeit more sleep deprived. “I am a little bit more focused and intentional in what I’m doing,” she admits, “even allowing for the occasional getaway to the family cottage.”

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