#ABetterU: Meet Drexel University Online Graduate Melissa Laidacker
When Melissa Laidacker hit the submit button on her final exam, she began to cry. With one final click, she completed a journey filled with hard work, tribulation, new beginnings, grief, joy, teamwork, friendship, and ultimately, success.
Any student’s higher education journey is woven into the happenings of their lives. For online students returning to school while balancing a job and a family, this is particularly true.
Now a graduate of the online MSN in Women’s Health/Gender Related Nurse Practitioner program, Laidacker’s story started as a registered nurse working in the labor and delivery unit of Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg, Pa. A role teaching several incoming nurses ignited an interest in pursuing a teaching degree, and before long, she was seriously considering Drexel University.
“Because of my job, I received a discount with Drexel. I reviewed the curriculum and had received good feedback from some friends in the online program,” she said of her initial impressions.
The beginning of Laidacker’s path to her MSN is marked by unfortunate tragedy. While trying to start a family, she and her husband had lost two children during pregnancy. When she decided to enroll in Drexel’s online nursing education program, it served as a welcome distraction from her grief.
‘It was a way of coping through our losses,” she said.
Halfway through the nursing education track, Laidacker decided to divert from her initial path and switched into the Women’s Health/Gender Related Nurse Practitioner program. Around that same time, Laidacker and her husband were greeted with a life-changing event of a more pleasant nature as they welcomed their adopted son Brady into the family.
Life as a nurse, student and mother proved to be challenging but doable with some advanced planning and the flexibility afforded by an online program.
“It wasn’t the type of program where I felt that I could not be a mom. I had to find a nice balance. I could work night shifts, raise my son and do my course assignments and papers in between. If I didn’t get to my course work until 2 o'clock in the morning, at least I didn’t have to worry about making my way to Philadelphia,” she said. “You do need to be organized and have that internal discipline.”
Laidacker found herself pleasantly surprised at the amount of interaction she had with her peers in the program.
“I can’t say enough about my classmates; they are all just amazing women,” she said.
Although Laidacker could complete much of her curriculum online, the advanced nature of the program required students to come to campus for four residency weeks throughout their last year.
While on-campus, the MSN students spent a great deal of time in Drexel’s multidisciplinary patient simulation lab. In addition to learning tangible skills, such as how to place an IUD and how to suture, they also devoted time to building bedside manner while interacting with ‘patients.’
“Actual actors and actresses came in to play patients and we would get videotaped and rated on our skills. The actors would give critiques on our bedside manner,” Laidacker explained.
These in-person gatherings fostered a unique bond between Laidacker and her peers. Even after graduation, they still communicate via a Facebook group, sharing job prospects and interview information with one another.
Underneath all of the support, she burned a healthy dose of internal inspiration to get through impossibly long days.
“I got this far and I’m so close,” she said. “What kept me going were the support and the goal of where I wanted to be.”
The dedication paid off big-time. Upon graduation, Laidacker was honored with the “Outstanding Graduate Award.”
“That was amazing to stand on that stage to hear from my preceptors, professors, instructors. That made me feel so good because completing the program is one thing but to have those people say such nice things meant a lot.”
This month, Laidacker started a new job at WellSpan OB-GYN’s Queen Street office, where she’s excited to see her earned knowledge manifest itself.
The journey continues.