Timing is Everything for Online MSN Graduate

Written byHope Aucoin

“One of the things that surprised me was the level of support that we got from the program from Dr. Jennifer Lemoine and Dr. Christy Lenahan. We could go to them whenever we had questions or concerns or needs, and they really supported us. They wanted us to be successful.”

Dana Wallis stands near the commencement stage at the Cajundome Convention Center ahead of Fall 2023 graduation.
Dana Wallis
Graduation Year
M.S. in Nursing

For M.S. in Nursing graduate Dana Wallis, there were three elements critical to succeeding as an online graduate student: Good time management; supportive classmates; and timing.  

“Everybody at my house needed to be able to bathe themselves, dress themselves, and fix their own food before I could go back to school,” Wallis says. “That sounds so basic, but that was one of the big deciding factors was everybody had to be able to sustain life without me.”

Wallis originally enrolled in a master’s in nursing program in 2012, but after having her second child with a three-year-old at home, she knew she wasn’t on a sustainable path.  

By putting off her pursuit, Wallis enrolled in the LHC Group • Myers School of Nursing with renewed purpose. She excelled academically, earning recognition in Fall 2023 as the University’s overall Outstanding Master’s Graduate, while balancing a full-time job and prioritizing her children’s important events.  

Staying Versatile

Wallis was drawn to nursing for its versatility, and that’s remained a cornerstone of her career.  

When she originally enrolled in college, Wallis explored engineering, but her interest quickly faded in favor of healthcare. A family friend and nursing instructor encouraged her to pursue nursing.  

“She said, ‘If you do nursing, you'll still be taking care of patients, but in the long run, you can choose hospitals versus working on doctor's office or even becoming a nurse practitioner. It'll open so many doors for you; just apply.’”

Wallis did and was able to immediately enroll to earn her BSN degree.  

That was more than 20 years ago. Since then, she’s worked in a range of roles: cardiology, nursing management, emergency, skilled care, and school nursing.  

Working in management was Wallis' first nudge toward pursuing an MSN program. Seeing the impact of nurse practitioners during and after the COVID-19 pandemic was the final push.

"There were so many healthcare needs that were unmet at the time, and nurse practitioners were filling those needs,” says Wallis.  

When a colleague who was enrolled in UL Lafayette’s online M.S. in Nursing told Wallis the program didn’t require GRE scores, she decided the time had come to finish her master’s degree.  

Establishing a Support Network

Wallis immediately knew that to tackle the two-fold challenge of graduate-level coursework and online learning, she’d need support. She recruited a colleague she learned was also enrolled in the program as an ally.

"He supported me very much in the technical aspect of that first semester, and I was able to help him because I've always been a writer, so I would read his papers and give him suggestions,” says Wallis.

But soon, Wallis didn’t just have a buddy. She had an army of fellow nurses to lean on for everything from study sessions to moral support.  

“There was a group of us who would meet on Teams where we chatted all the time, asked questions, brought up important points, reminded each other about deadlines — whatever it was we needed, we helped each other. Then we would have a live study group if we had tests coming up,” says Wallis. “I don’t think I could have made it through the program without my classmates.”  

Fall 2023 MSN graduates hold up their hands in the UL Lafayette sign during commencement exercises.

The support of her peers was compounded by support from graduate faculty and her employers.

“One of the things that surprised me was the level of support that we got from the program from Dr. Jennifer Lemoine and Dr. Christy Lenahan,” she says. “We could go to them whenever we had questions or concerns or needs, and they really supported us. They wanted us to be successful.”  

As Wallis progressed through her coursework, she was still working two jobs, which meant a lot of late nights reading or completing assignments. When it was time for her to begin her clinical hours, her employers offered her the flexibility she needed to do so.  

“When I notified my supervisor that I needed to resign to complete the program, she was able to work with my schedule to allow me to complete clinicals,” says Wallis. "And I scheduled my clinical days around my kids’ sports schedules as much as I could.”

Stepping into Advanced Practice Nursing

Before she completed the program, Wallis could already see the impact in her practice.  

“You go from being very focused on whatever the complaint is to considering the whole patient and doing full assessments,” says Wallis. “I could feel that shift over time.”

Now — ever the champion for versatility — Wallis is getting ready to apply her advanced practice full time to provide primary care in one of the state’s psychiatric hospitals while working part time in an urgent care setting.

“In the hospital, the psychiatrists handle the mental health care, but I’ll take care of their primary care needs: monitor lab work, manage blood pressure, and all of that,” she says. “Even if I love that, I still like the idea of having an urgent care job, because with you get to keep up your clinical skills — suturing and taking care of acute problems. I think that I'll always kind of keep that on the side.” 

Advance your nursing practice and your career. Learn more about UL Lafayette’s online MSN degree program.  

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