A Lifetime of Learning: Rose Schwartz, BSN, MSN, PhD
For Rose Schwartz, BSN, MSN, PhD, nursing is a lifetime learning experience. Over the last 23 years, she has earned multiple advanced degrees in nursing and is now an assistant professor of nursing at Widener University. But for Schwartz, furthering her nursing education wasn’t always part of the plan.
“When I graduated from Villanova in 1985 with my BSN, I swore I’d never go back to school,” relates Schwartz, a member of the nursing pool at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “I was happy to be out in the working world earning money at the profession I loved.”
Schwartz began her nursing career at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in the Neurology unit, caring for acutely ill neurological patients. Most had complex cases that involved severe trauma or chronic neurological disorders. “I found myself wondering what would happen to these patients down the road,” she recalls. “I wanted to understand the issues they faced after they left our care. It was clear that they would need nurses to coordinate their care on an ongoing basis.”
Schwartz became interested in the role of clinical nurse specialists, who educate patients and coordinate their home care needs. “Clinical nurse specialists help patients get the adaptations and equipment they need to maintain quality of life and continue to live in their own homes,” she explains.
She began pursuing more in-depth knowledge by signing up for a non-matriculated course at Penn. “I really liked it, and felt no pressure,” she remembers. “Then I signed up for another course. Four years later in 1989, I had a master’s as a clinical nurse specialist in adult health and illness.”
Understanding that many nurses feel overwhelmed by the time and effort required to further their education, Schwartz advises, “Take it one step at a time and make it fit into your life. It took me three years to complete my master’s, taking one course per semester, but it was worth it.”
Subsequently, Schwartz took a position as a clinical nurse specialist at Cooper Medical Center in New Jersey. She fell in love with the educational aspect of her work, teaching patients about their care. She also realized the importance of understanding a patient’s history to get a fuller picture of his or her situation, and became interested in conducting research on the importance of social support to a patient’s quality of life. Realizing that she needed to enhance her statistics skills to write successful research grant requests, she signed up for a course.
“Again, I took that one statistics course and it led to others, and I was well on my way to earning my Ph.D.,” relates Schwartz. “I knew I eventually wanted to teach so this was a logical step.”
She began her doctorate at Penn and finished at Widener University in August 2008. “For me, advanced education was always about honing my skills so I was better able to help my patients,” relates Schwartz. “And I’ve acquired new skills that help me better assess situations and provide the best care. I’ve learned to question whether scientific evidence exists to support why I do certain things in nursing.
“I’ve also learned to consider the whole person rather than just the patient’s physical condition,” she continues. “My doctoral dissertation focused on how nurses can use personal narratives in their practice. I ask patients to tell me their stories, which helps me to understand how they got to where they are today, and that is valuable in providing care.”
For the last four years, Schwartz has taught undergraduate nursing classes at Widener and finds it fulfilling to share what she knows with others. “If I can do a good job of teaching my students to be great nurses, I will have helped all the patients in their care as well.”
Although Schwartz spends a lot of her time in academia these days, she also enjoys practicing at DCMH, primarily on the 5 Oncology Unit. “Science is changing everyday and it’s important to keep practicing to keep up with the changes,” she notes. “And I would never want to give up sitting by a patient’s bedside.”
Schwartz also enjoys interacting with other nurses at DCMH, some of whom are now former students. “I run research ideas past them and get great ideas for planning my courses.
Although Schwartz has reached the highest levels of nursing education, she says, “I’m always open to developing myself personally and professionally. There is always more to learn. In fact, I just signed up for a class on creating online courses.”