I can’t believe it’s been 1 year since I applied to the MEPN program at UCSF. As the first quarter of the program is coming to an end for me and the application window is closing for many hopeful students out there, I thought this would be a great time to reflect on the application process. Of course, what I am about to say is purely anecdotal and based on my experience, what I’ve learned about my fellow cohort, not some special insider information from the school or faculty.
Last year, I was in my mid-30s, applying to various nursing programs because I needed a change. I served 4 years in the US Army as an Infantry Paratrooper and was deployed to Iraq twice. After that, I moved to Los Angeles and studied philosophy and social theory at UCLA. I did well and was intending to go to graduate school for philosophy. Some soul-searching and conversations with Ph.D. students convinced me that the time and money required to get the degree I wanted was not worth it given the terrible job market for philosophers.
Instead of grad school, I worked as an art history researcher at UCLA and started my own photography business. I met many amazing people and learned a lot in the following years, but when I moved to Portland, OR, in late 2014 the demand for my photography skills shifted away from paying private clients to corporations looking for a social media “Influencer” or cheap marketing material. I had a great relationship with companies like The North Face and Hipcamp, but over time I found that I was seeking more meaningful work.
As someone passionate about philosophy and social theory, I have a strong set of values and care deeply about living a good life. While training for the Western States 100-mile Endurance run a few years ago, I sustained a painful injury and spent a night in the emergency room. Interacting with the hospital staff that night made me realize that nursing is a career that embodies my core values and it would allow me to use my skills to help those in need. I believe in the value and dignity of every human being. I believe that good health and health care are essential to a happy life and a flourishing society. I believe in integrity, compassion, and the pursuit of knowledge. As someone who has been given so much, I have a duty to give back to the less fortunate and underserved. I realized that nurses have a unique opportunity to live these values every day while providing compassionate and evidence-based care to their patients. To care for my whole self and to maximize my impact in the world, I need to align my beliefs and my activities. Becoming a nurse will help me grow as a person while allowing me to apply my knowledge and skills to improving the lives of others. With this newfound motivation, I enrolled full time in classes at Portland Community College to complete all of my prerequisites so that I could get into nursing school and start down this new path.
Because my undergraduate degree was in philosophy, I had to take ALL of the prerequisites before applying to any nursing schools. I embarked on an intense 12-month journey where I took 53 credits while continuing to work full time so that I could start applying in August 2017.
Here are the prerequisites I took at Portland Community College:
- Biology 112: Cell Biology for Health Occupations
- Psychology 201A: Intro to Psychology
- Biology 231: Human Anatomy and Physiology I
- Math 243: Statistics
- Psychology 215: Human Development
- Biology 232: Human Anatomy and Physiology II
- Biology 234: Microbiology
- Food and Nutrition 225: Nutrition
- Biology 233: Human Anatomy and Physiology III
- Biology 241: Pathophysiology
- Communication 214: Interpersonal Communication
- Health 250: Personal Health
- Medical Profession 111: Medical Terminology
Total Credits: 53
Nursing Prerequisite GPA: 4.0
On top of this, I already had a B.A. in Philosophy and a minor in Social Theory from UCLA, with a GPA of 3.76.
So, that covers my reason for wanting to go to nursing school, as well as my prerequisites and GPA. But, at the time, I was looking to relocate from Portland to the San Francisco Bay Area because my partner just got a job in Napa. And, because I already had a bachelors degree, I was looking for an entry level MSN. My end goal was to get my MSN and become a Nurse Practitioner, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there, given that nursing schools are so competitive and I was wanting to start school as soon as possible. With these goals in mind, I focused in on three programs: the San Francisco State University Accelerated Entry-Level MSN program, the University of San Francisco MSN Direct Entry program, and the UCSF Masters Entry Program in Nursing in the Family Nurse Practitioner track (I was accepted into all three!!!).
The applications all required some sort of clinical or healthcare related experience. When I was in the Army, I was trained as a Combat Lifesaver, which is sort of like a first responder/EMT within a platoon. We were trained to be combat first responders, give IVs, and perform other lifesaving procedures, but were not Army medics. I acted in this role for my infantry platoon during two combat deployments to Iraq and had to use my skills in countless real-world scenarios. I also was a part of a group of soldiers who helped train new Iraqi Police Officers in first aid skills. After the military, I got certified as an emergency first responder and in wilderness first aid. I also volunteered for two years as an editor for a nursing newsletter at a local hospital. To be honest, though, I was most nervous about this portion of my application. It is really easy to get discouraged when comparing your experience to others online and in nursing discussion boards. There are a lot of very qualified people applying for these schools.
This brings me to what is probably the most important part of the application, the personal statement. Each of the schools I applied to had slightly different requirements, so I will focus on what I did for UCSF. First of all, do your research! You will need to do some deep soul searching and come to an honest assessment of who you are, your strengths, your weaknesses, why you want to go to nursing school, and why THIS specific program. If you don’t have a solid answer for each of these, you won’t get in. Think of yourself as a salesperson, selling yourself to the school. In order to be successful, you have to convince everyone who reads your personal statement that you will be a valuable asset to that school. What does a nursing school want or need? Look up their programs, areas of research, core values, etc. and find out how you fit.
The UCSF School of Nursing is one of the best in the country and they are proud of this. The National Institute of Health gives more money to UCSF for research than any other public university. The school of nursing is progressive and embraces current evidence-based practices, diversity, social justice, and healthcare access for all. They also emphasize teamwork and open communication. Take the time to research the school and find how you would fit in and contribute to its success. Also, explain how you will take what you learn from this school and give back to a community of your choice.
My MEPN cohort is amazing! Each one of us is so different but we all share inspirational stories, talent, and passion. It is my belief that the those reading our applications were looking for several specific traits in individuals. They want students who have diverse strengths. They want students who demonstrate that they have what it takes to successfully make it through this intense accelerated program. They want students who will give back to the community. And they want students who can work within a diverse team. Other things like GPA are just hurdles to get your application considered. If you have solid letters of recommendation and a personal statement demonstrating your strengths, and if those strengths match the UCSF School of Nursing’s values and goals, then you stand a good chance of getting an interview.
As you start this program, the school treats everyone as if we are starting from zero in our nursing education. The curriculum assumes that we know nothing. Whether you have worked in a hospital setting for years not a day in your life (like me), we all end up in the same place. This leads me to believe that the personal statement should focus more on creating a moving narrative that highlights your personal strengths and diverse experiences, rather than listing your clinical experience, which you should do in your resume.
I am a US Army Veteran and was recently asked by another veteran applying to this program whether or not she should highlight her military experience in the application and interview. I will provide a little of my response because I think it works as an example of why you should stand behind your strengths even if they may not be immediately related to nursing.
“ It seems that one of the unspoken goals of the admissions committee is to build a cohort of strong and diverse students. We all have strengths in many different areas but are united by our passion for healthcare, social justice, and a desire to make a difference in our communities. There were several questions in the interview about my teamwork and leadership experience, and I relied on my military experience heavily for answering these questions and the feedback from the interviewing faculty was positive.
Finally, I met with my MEPN advisor for the first time last night and we were discussing my military service and my experience with VA Healthcare. She seemed genuinely interested and said, “you will be such a great resource for all of us here.” So, yes, talk up your service! That is one thing that will really make you stand out from all of the other applicants… and this program wants people that stand out and have unique strengths.”
Bringing different strengths and perspectives to the program is great! Teamwork and collaboration are stressed from day 1 of orientation. My MEPN advisor pointed out something in our discussion that really stood out to me when she said, “you will be such a great resource.” We are all a team here, and the strength of our cohort comes from working together and learning from all of our past experiences. Don’t get tripped up by GPA, GRE score, volunteer experience, etc. Meet the requirements to submit your application and then focus on you! Find what makes you unique, whatever it is, recognize it as a strength and show how you can help your cohort because of it.