40 years in the making – A journey toward becoming a Gator Nurse

Gator Nurse Ashley Williamson is a registered nurse at the NCH Heart Institute in Naples, Florida. There Williamson – who has been an RN for two and a half years – works with the cardiothoracic surgery team at the clinic adjacent to the hospital where she was born. She is currently in her fourth semester of the UF College of Nursing RN-BSN program and plans to graduate by the end of 2022.

Williamson has always wanted to be a nurse since she was a little girl, and has dreamed of being a Gator her entire life. After high school, she attended community college, but never completed her degree. Williamson married and started a family, where she would go on to work in sales and health care marketing for over ten years. After her marriage ended, she found herself a single mother of three children, ages 15, 14, and 11 at the age of 38. She knew she needed to better herself to support her children. In 2017 she enrolled in the accelerated associate’s degree in nursing program at Rasmussen University and fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming a registered nurse.

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With one goal checked off her list, she began researching how she could take the next step in her nursing career and earn her BSN. At the time she was not aware of the UF Online RN-BSN program but discovered it while assisting her son with his college search during his senior year. When he was accepted to UF for the Summer 2020 term, she was not sure who was more excited: her or her son. Shortly after beginning his first semester at UF, Williamson’s son encouraged her to apply to the UF Online nursing program. She had given up on the dream years ago, but with advancements in technology and the ability to complete the program entirely online, her dream became a reality, with the bonus of her son as a fellow Gator and first-generation student to cheer her along!

Williamson’s years of working in health care have taught her the value of education and the success that comes from being a lifelong learner. She considers it her duty as a nurse to continue her education and stay up to date with the latest skills and evidence-based practice, recognizing it will also qualify her for career advancements and positions that would not be available to her without a bachelor’s degree. Earning a BSN from UF, ranked 5th in the nation for public universities, and UF Online ranked first in the nation for online bachelor’s programs by the 2022 U.S. News & World Report, will further improve her chances of academic and professional success.

“This program has impacted my life and career as a nurse. The UF curriculum is rigorous and has deepened my understanding of the nursing practice. I must admit that I nearly gave up last semester. My Genetics and Genomics in Healthcare course proved to be my biggest challenge to date. I failed my first exam, and my confidence was faltering. I reached out to my professor, Dr. Jennifer Drew, and scheduled the first of several Zoom meetings that semester. I began the conference feeling defeated and ready to withdraw from the course. Dr. Drew took the time to evaluate my coursework and current study strategies and figure out a plan to move forward. She told me not to be so hard on myself and reminded me that I am a full-time RN, nursing student, and mom and that she knew I was working hard in class. Her kindness and encouraging words helped me to breathe and refocus my intentions. I ended the semester with a B and now have a mild obsession with Genetics and Genomics thanks to her knowledge and enthusiasm for teaching the subject.”

“I am beyond grateful for Dr. Drew and the other UF Online faculty who have supported me. I have never once felt a disconnect from them as an online student.”

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What Williamson looks forward to most when she completes the program is walking the stage to receive her diploma from the University of Florida. When she finishes the BSN program, she plans to continue to accomplish her goals by furthering her education as a double Gator in the BSN-DNP program on the family nurse practitioner track.

“To me, being a Gator Nurse means everything. I hope that my gratitude and passion are reflected in every interaction I have with my professors and classmates. After all, I have waited over 40 years to become a Gator! While researching the UF College of Nursing last year, I came across the statement “Gator Nurses: Care, Lead, Inspire”. This is truly what the nursing profession and being a Gator nurse is all about!”

When it comes to accomplishing her dreams, there is one additional person she is grateful for in her pursuits.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my advisor, Dominic Purcell. She has been an absolutely amazing source of knowledge, support, and guidance. She even made time for me while I was visiting my son a few months ago. I stopped by to meet her in person and thank her for everything. She had a UF Online swag bag ready for me and sat down to answer my questions and help me map out my plan for graduation. I can’t say enough about the time and effort she gives the UF Online students.”

Story orginally published and written by the UF College of Nursing. Read the original publication here.