Major effort required to obtain this nursing degree


Lists of the most difficult college majors almost always include the BSN – Bachelor of Science in Nursing – degree, and Dr. Christine Mueller, chief nursing administrator for Keiser University, which has a campus in Port St. Lucie/Tradition, doesn’t shy away from that assessment.

“The BSN degree is absolutely one of the 10 most difficult undergraduate programs,” says Mueller, who is on the board of the Florida Board of Nursing. “The course of study is notoriously rigorous, and students need to be able to understand complex concepts quickly.

All the skills – including theory, lab and clinical work – are involved.

“Students need to be able to deal with heavy hours and physical demands, and not be brought down by outside issues. Nursing school needs to be their top priority.”

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing is an undergraduate-level degree program with coursework in psychology, chemistry and anatomy as well as clinical practice. Those enrolled often are working as registered nurses or at other jobs while they pursue their studies.

“Completing a BSN program is one way to start a career in nursing and obtain your RN license,” according to the University of Central Florida, but most students are nurses when they undertake the BSN degree.

Why would someone who already has a well-paying, demanding job as a registered nurse want to tackle a tough BSN program?

One reason is, “Nursing becomes more complex with each passing decade, forcing nurses to transition from skill-based competencies to making complex decisions, understanding health policy, and performing seamlessly in a team,” according to a recent article published by

The article goes on to note 10 advantages of having a BSN degree in addition to RN certification, including better pay, more autonomy, more career flexibility and advancement, graduate school preparation and improved outcomes for patients. The article also reports that an increasing number of healthcare organizations require RNs to attain the degree.

Mueller says Keiser instructors help lighten the load for their students by being available and approachable. They need to be empathetic and caring if that’s the way they want their nursing students to interact with patients.

Despite that help, individual students often must overcome daunting roadblocks on their way to attaining the coveted degree.

Michelle Ismail RN, BSN, is assistant nurse manager at Cleveland Clinic Tradition Hospital in St. Lucie West. “Nursing is a lifelong journey,” she says, recalling the challenges of her own path.

The native Floridian started college wanting to become a teacher, but when a cousin told her about the immense need for nurses, Ismail switched her major. After getting her AA and RN degrees from Florida International University and Miami Dade College, respectively, Ismail enrolled in Western Governors’ University to pursue a BSN online.

At the time, she was a wife and mother and working full shifts as an RN. And as luck would have it, she began the road to her BSN degree just months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put tremendous extra strain on those working in healthcare.

“My family was so supportive – I could never have done it without them,” Ismail says. “My kids helped me study with flash cards. My mom sat in while I was taking exams to help document my work. I was working the night shift at the hospital, coming home, sleeping and then getting up and doing my schoolwork during the day.”

It took her three years to complete the 15 classes required for her BSN degree, in part because of the rigors of the program and in part because of pandemic disruptions and delays.

“My satisfaction has always come from seeing my patients get better or supporting those who were not going to recover,” Ismail says. “That’s what motivated me to go back and get my BSN 15 years after I had last gone to school.”

John Van Saun, RN BSN, is a charge nurse at Health First’s Viera Hospital, the culmination – so far – of a path from his 2002 high school graduation that was anything but straight.

Lacking clear career goals, he drifted into construction work after high school and after a few years met the woman he would marry. His future wife was a teacher, and the lack of dependable work and a steady paycheck in construction was a problem for a guy planning to start a family.

“My mom was an RN for 30 years,” says Van Saun. “When she saw me grappling with the decision about what to do for a career, she said, ‘You’ve always liked taking care of people – why don’t you become a nurse?’”

Needing to fill in some holes in his transcript before getting into a BSN program, the New Jersey resident got undergrad degrees at Sussex Community College and William Patterson University while continuing to work in construction. After moving to Florida with his wife, he enrolled in Florida Gulf Coast University and ultimately received his BSN in 2018, while teaching part time.

“It was tough getting that degree,” Van Saun says, “but it shouldn’t be easy. I would read a couple of chapters and turn to YouTube for additional information to supplement what I was reading.”

The week he started his first nursing job (as a floor nurse at Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center) his first daughter was born. Additionally, he was still studying for his state boards.

Patient interaction is what Van Saun loves most about his job. He forms a bond with patients and truly rejoices when they get better. And he’s not done yet with his nursing journey. Van Saun has begun his first semester at the University of Central Florida in the doctoral nursing program, where he will work toward a DNP degree.

Sissy Jumper, BSN, RN-CNOR, is a cardiac telemetry nurse at Sebastian River Medical Center who will be completing her MSN at University of Central Florida in December. A doctorate degree is in her future, too.

“My parents brought me to Florida from Cuba for the American dream,” says Jumper, who knew she wanted to be a nurse when she was just 4 years old. “We left behind many family members who are still there, working as doctors and nurses.”

Married at 19, Jumper moved to Virginia with her new husband and got an AA in nursing at Paul D. Camp Community College before going on to Liberty University.

She credits the foundation at Liberty University, where she received her BSN, for being a great asset to her success as a nurse. In addition to the demanding course study, Jumper appreciated the emphasis placed on showing compassion and patience to those being treated.

“Liberty added Christian values into each course. That was very valuable for me and helped me to guide my own practice. I learned how to add an additional layer of communication and patient advocacy into how I work.”

Jumper was working nights as an RN and carrying a 12-credit course load during the day while she worked on her BSN. “It’s so important to love what you do,” she says.

Keiser University’s Treasure Coast campus is located at 9400 SW Discovery Way in Port St. Lucie. The university offers a variety of online and in-person nursing programs.

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