May 11, 2020

Jennifer Pettis, MS, RN, CNE ’12, ’17

The Changing Face of Nursing Education

Image of Jennifer Pettis

Nursing is, perhaps, one of the most hands-on professions in the world. That’s why – some might argue – nursing education should be conducted in a traditional classroom, with students sitting in tight rows, staring at an instructor, and furiously scribbling notes before rushing home to commit them to memory.

Jennifer Pettis says that is an outdated notion.

Nursing education, she says, has evolved far beyond the traditional classroom. She should know. In addition to 30+ years in nursing, nursing education, and healthcare management, she earned her bachelor’s degree in healthcare management and her master’s degree in nursing education entirely online.  That education prepared her for her role as associate director for long-term care at Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders at the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. Her education and passion for quality care for older adults also has led her to become involved with the Alzheimer’s Association. She serves as a volunteer board member and community educator for the association’s Northeastern New York Chapter and is the Alzheimer’s ambassador to Senator Schumer. Even in these volunteer roles, Pettis uses skills she learned at SUNY Empire to teach and advocate on behalf of others.

“When I started college 30 years ago, I was in lecture halls with 110 students. Back then, nursing education meant sitting down and memorizing everything you needed to know to be a nurse,” Pettis explains. “It’s completely different now. Now it’s all about problem-based learning and teaching critical thinking. You can’t teach that in a lecture hall with one-way communication. Instructors need to be able to engage students in problem solving and thinking outside the box.”

A Changing Education for a Changing Career

After graduating from high school in 1989, Pettis enrolled in SUNY Adirondack’s nursing program, earned her RN credentials, and went to work as a new graduate at Mary McClellan Hospital in Cambridge, New York, where she worked as a nursing assistant while in high school and college. There, she worked with geriatric patients in the hospital’s nursing home and found her life’s calling in long-term care.

In her 30s, Pettis decided to go back to school to earn her bachelor’s degree in healthcare management.

“At the time, I was teaching, training, and involved in policy work. I was removed from nursing, and didn’t see myself going back into clinical practice. I wanted to learn about human resources, financial management, and facility operations, while supporting my work as a trainer,” Pettis explains. “I was traveling extensively for work at the time, so I couldn’t study at a brick-and-mortar school.”

So Pettis enrolled at SUNY Empire. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she enrolled in the college’s newly formed master’s degree program in nursing education.

She says one of the things that surprised her most about online learning at SUNY Empire was the sense of community she experienced and the college’s student-centric approach to nursing education.

“For anyone who works or has a family, online education is an incredible option. It allows you to travel, or go to a ballgame for your child, or have a bad day at work and not have to go to a traditional classroom before you go home,” Pettis says. “Online courses give you a sense of freedom that a traditional classroom does not.”

Lifelong Learning, Lifetime Connections

After earning her graduate nursing degree at SUNY Empire, Pettis accepted a position as an adjunct instructor in the college’s School of Nursing and Allied Health. In addition to teaching community health at SUNY Empire, Pettis maintains regular contact with and contributes to the college in several ways. She is a member of the Alumni/Student Federation Board of Governors and a member of the President’s Club, which represents the college’s most dedicated supporters. She is also serving her second term as president of Tau Kappa At-Large Chapter of Sigma, the Honor Society of Nursing.

She says SUNY Empire is a special place where she forged strong relationships with faculty and peers. Additionally, through her involvement in Sigma and her connection with SUNY Empire, she has connected with “cherished mentors.”

“I’ve had three very distinct experiences at SUNY Empire. First, as a student. Second as president of Tau Kappa. And third as a faculty member,” Pettis says. “I really love what the college does for people. I feel a lot of gratitude to SUNY Empire.”