Ashton Crocker is having a first-rate second career.
Since switching from healthcare administration to nursing, the Monticello, Georgia, native has received three nominations for the DAISY Award, which recognizes extraordinary nurses.
Crocker is also on track to complete the online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at USC Aiken in August 2020. She works in the Intensive Care Unit at Doctors Hospital of Augusta.
"I missed that component of being able to take care of people and those personal relationships," she said. "That drove me to nursing. I wanted to be able to form relationships with my patients."
The flexibility of the online format helps Crocker work on a degree while concentrating on the bedside as a day-shift nurse and spending time with her three children — Sara Grace (11) and twins Joshua and Sadie (5).
"It is a lot more feasible than I expected it to be," she said. "At the beginning of the week, I plan out when I can do my schoolwork. I sometimes pick up a night shift. I have not had any issues.
"The classes are only seven weeks long, but that seven weeks goes by fast. I am almost done, and it feels like I just started. I have been impressed. I started nursing school when the twins were 18 months old. All they know is mom being in school."
Crocker also has some company in the online RN to BSN program. She and two of her co-workers, along with another one of her friends, enrolled at USC Aiken at the same time.
"It's been nice having friends doing the program with me," she said. "We're going to finish up together. We all work different schedules, but we keep each other up to speed.
"The information in the program is applicable to what I do every day. It helps to be able to put some of the puzzle pieces together."
All in the Family
The idea of becoming a nurse did not come out of the blue for Crocker. Her mother, Christy Leggett, is a travel hospice nurse.
"I grew up around nursing," she said. "My friends and family knew all along that I was meant to be a nurse. They are supportive and encouraging. Of course, my mom is happy that I'm following in her footsteps."
Crocker graduated with an Associate Degree in Nursing from Augusta Technical College in 2018. She started the online RN to BSN program the following year after working as a nurse extern.
"I planned to get a bachelor's degree all along," she said. "I heard about the program at USC Aiken when a representative spoke about it at Augusta Tech.
"I wanted to go to a university that was reputable. I could also go on campus if I needed to. That's why I ultimately chose USC Aiken. It's more comforting to know it is a real school."
So far, Crocker's favorite course in the program curriculum is NURS A460: Leadership & Management, taught by Dr. Katie Chargualaf.
"Dr. C is outstanding," Crocker said. "Discussion boards are a large part of learning, and she always gives feedback on everything you post. She seems to be extremely knowledgeable and interested in what we're doing and where we are headed."
Crocker is already going places in her practice after a little more than one year as an RN. In addition to the award nominations, she will soon have her Facebook post and accompanying picture of herself in personal protective equipment published in HCA Healthcare Magazine.
"I like to write," she said. "A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts and feelings about COVID-19 in an ICU.
"COVID-19 has been much more difficult because families can't be there, and we are the only person in the room when these people die usually. I was decompressing, but the post has blown up. It's so surreal."
Leaps and Bounds
Once Crocker graduates from the online RN to BSN program, she plans to take a vacation with her children. She hopes to walk the graduation stage at the December commencement ceremony.
"I didn't walk for my ADN, so I was planning on walking for my bachelor's degree," she said. "I was hoping to do the August ceremony, but it's cancelled because of COVID-19."
Crocker plans to gain more real-world experience for a couple of years before she pursues another degree. She hopes to become an acute care nurse practitioner. The online RN to BSN program is helping her lay the path to achieving that goal.
"This degree will definitely help open up some opportunities for me," she said. "I had done online courses in the past, but nothing full time like this. I adjusted to it and haven't had any issues. It's easy to get around Blackboard."
Crocker, who enjoys swimming, arts and crafts, and remodeling her home, believes that time management is the key to success in the online RN to BSN program.
"I would tell potential students that they need some flexibility to stay on top of their schedules and plan ahead," she said. "Doing the program online, especially with seven-week classes, is rigorous. Procrastination is not an option. You've got to be willing to do it."
Although it took Crocker a while to find her true calling, she is where she always wanted to be and ready to go full steam ahead into the future.
"Before I left my job in healthcare management, I was the director of health information and registration, but I always wanted to do nursing," she said. "I love what I do. I tell everybody I know who doesn't have their BSN that they should do it through USC Aiken."
Learn more about the USC Aiken online RN to BSN program.
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