When Mike Niotis suddenly fell ill, the outstanding care of his nurses and patient care team inspired him to do the same for others, throwing his life and career in an entirely new direction.
Niotis, 50, is graduating this spring from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.
Michael Niotis changed careers in his 40s and has now earned his BS in Nursing through UL Lafayette Online.
Before nursing, Niotis supported his family by working in food service and restaurant management. He began moving his career in a new direction after a sudden illness landed him in the hospital.
Niotis took note of how his care team worked together and how they treated him.
“It gave me a sense of teamwork and professionalism. I felt, both while I was there and after, that I wanted to be a part of that,” Niotis says. “I wanted to do something that had meaning; to be a part of something bigger and better.”
Once he regained his health, Niotis was reluctant to make sweeping career changes that would affect his family before he was certain, so he volunteered in a psychiatric hospital to get a feel for working in the environment.
After five years, Niotis went to work full-time as a patient care technician at the same hospital where he had volunteered. It was a significant shift from working in restaurants, but Niotis was ready to do the work.
“Once you’re in service, you’re always in service,” he says. “It was the type of service that changed.”
The road to UL Lafayette Online
After working a few years as a patient care technician, Niotis signed onto a program through his employer to advance as a care provider.
The agreement stipulated Niotis would work full-time while taking courses to become an RN. And once Niotis became a licensed RN, he would have two years to earn his BSN.
When his board exams were done and he had license in hand, Niotis knew the clock was ticking. He needed an online RN to BSN program that would allow him to keep working full-time and be present as a father.
“I had a crunch for time. I had to look at the financial side of things and decide what was the best for me,” he says.
It was two colleagues, themselves Ragin’ Cajun grads, who shared their experiences in UL Lafayette’s online RN to BSN program that piqued Niotis’ interest.
“They had nothing but good things to say,” he says.
UL Lafayette Online checked all the boxes for Niotis — flexible, accelerated courses, tuition he could afford even out-of-state, and a great professional reputation. He says the choice was easy.
Thriving with supportive faculty
Then it was time to become a fully online student and some serious anxiety set in.
“I was completely nervous,” he says. “You know, obviously, I’m 50 years old, so all the college experiences I’d ever had were all in-class.”
Niotis reached out to his instructors immediately, and he was struck by how available, helpful, and patient they were.
“I met my very first professor online — Tara Horsley, and she was exceptional — she basically took my hand and walked me through everything.”
Looking back, Niotis feels that finding his footing in the first few courses, with Horsley’s help, was the foundation he needed to be a successful student moving forward and that’s the advice he would give to incoming students.
“Learn carefully what to do in the beginning. You learn the foundations in the first two or three classes, and everything else pretty much follows suit after that,” he says.
Confidence, teamwork, communication
Niotis holds himself to a high standard with how he treats his patients and his colleagues, and he feels the RN to BSN program has helped him grow in both respects.
As he advanced from patient care technician to RN, Niotis was hyper aware of how an RN’s leadership affects the team and the patient.
“[As an RN] not only was I now responsible — fully — for the care and safety of the patient, but I was having to delegate to the technicians what to do, when to do it, how to do it. It was a little nerve wracking.”
So, he put pressure on himself to be the kind of RN he had most appreciated working for as a patient care tech — someone knowledgeable, thoughtful, and generous.
And now, as his expertise continues to grow, he is excited to be a more capable and confident advocate for his patients’ care working with doctors and management.
“What I’ve noticed in myself already is my ability to speak with higher management,” he says.
With a greater knowledge of policies and organizational structure, Niotis feels more ready to communicate a patient’s needs strategically, to anticipate questions from doctors and administrators, and to get out ahead of misunderstandings or delays.
In much the same way that the care he received as a patient inspired him years ago, the guidance and support Niotis received as a student has him considering a future in leading the class.
“I went from ‘I just want to be an RN,’ to now, I want to be a little more [specialized], maybe in a teaching role, or use my experience to mentor future students.”