Ashlee Cornell’s career in healthcare has been framed and inspired by a devotion to family. She began an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program just as her youngest child started kindergarten, and became a registered nurse in 2009. She went back for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) 12 years later, after both of her kids were grown.
Cornell was proud when her sons Peter and Andrew chose nursing as a career. When they began looking into BSN programs, so did she. “I said, ‘well, I’ll just join in,'” she remembered.
Cornell’s ADN and patient care experience served her needs, but she had always planned to continue her education. She had even been accepted to a few bachelor’s programs over the years, but the timing or the fit was never right. That changed in 2021 when she discovered the Southern Utah University online RN to BSN program.
“It was a family decision on Southern Utah,” she said. “We were looking at all the different options, and it just fit.” Although she was new to learning online, it meant she could earn her degree without disrupting her routine. Peter and Andrew committed to helping her get started. Her husband, Bob, was also on board. “They’ve been my biggest cheerleaders and my biggest support,” she said.
Cornell completed the program in April 2023 and is now a proud SUU BSN graduate. “I feel like online learning is definitely the future,” she said. “It’s allowed me to be able to work. It’s allowed me to be able to balance. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Caring for Mothers and Children
Cornell was raised in the small farming town of Rexburg, Idaho, where her family moved after her father’s graduation from law school. He helped run the family potato business. She also had an RN in the house growing up. “My mother’s a nurse,” she said. “My husband’s mother’s a nurse. So, we have lots of nursing in the family.”
After she and Bob got married and started their own family, they moved around the country for a few years following his career. Once the couple settled down in Oklahoma, she enrolled in Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa. After graduating with her ADN she began commuting to Oklahoma City for a job as a pediatric medical-surgical RN at University of Oklahoma Medical Center.
Cornell quickly gained experience as well as confidence in her skills. When an opening for a labor and delivery nurse came up in Stillwater, her drive to learn and succeed earned her the job despite never working in that specialty before. Cornell also gained experience in postpartum care and expanded her expertise with each new position at other other institutions, including Summerlin Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Returning to school for her bachelor’s degree after a long career in healthcare was challenging, but what she learned at SUU gave her a fresh perspective on her work as an RN.
“My mind has been opened to a much higher level of nursing,” she said. “I can honestly say every class I have taken has had purpose and meaning. Every assignment that I have done, every paper I’ve written, every discussion post, it all ties in.”
BSN Success, One Class at a Time
Cornell admits that her transition to learning online was a little bumpy. “I’m kind of old school,” she laughed, remembering the scantron sheets used for testing when she was last on campus. “You’re always a little scared when you start something new.”
She was patient with herself, however, and soon got comfortable with online courses. Adopting a “low and slow” route to the BSN, as she calls it, was the secret to her success.
“Just taking one class at a time allowed me to be able to be available to my family, be available at work, do things I enjoyed and enjoy the process,” she recalled, “instead of trying to rush through it and just get assignments done.” SUU’s online resources also helped Cornell get acclimated to her new learning environment. “The university itself has so many different tools that can be helpful,” she noted, such as the digital library resources and tech support tutorials she used.
SUU faculty were available to support Cornell as well. Communicating with them online was easy, and having all learning modules available at the start of each course also helped her manage her time. “The professors have been so top notch to work with, very understanding, very responsive,” she said. “It’s just been wonderful.”
Interacting with classmates in the online discussion board forums was another highlight. She enjoyed learning from peers in emergency medicine, home health, public school settings and more. “They bring to the table different ideas and different ways all this information is applied, and that’s been fascinating to me,” she said.
Coming Home, Looking Forward
Cornell and her husband recently moved back to Rexburg, Idaho, where she and Peter, now 23, both work at Madison Memorial Hospital. He graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with his BSN in 2021. Andrew, now 20, has been accepted to same BSN program for this fall. Bob looks forward to one day having all three of their diplomas framed and on the mantle at home.
Earning a bachelor’s in nursing has already had a significant impact on her work. Adding to her evidence-based practice knowledge improved her awareness of quality and safety issues. Learning more about hospital administration has also broadened her understanding of healthcare organizations and the communities they serve.
“I really am learning to critically think on a higher level than just nurse-patient care,” she shared. “I feel like I’m a better nurse because I’m taking everything in, how all the pieces fit together, why everyone’s role is important.”
Cornell is now serving as a charge nurse on occasion and considering her future. She’s in no hurry to leave the bedside, however, because she still loves working with her labor and delivery patients the most. “I’m able to help calm them, help educate them on the process and hopefully help alleviate fear, and just really share in an incredible moment with that family,” she said.
Adding a BSN skillset to her nursing practice has made Cornell appreciate her career journey and all it’s given her. “Honestly,” she said, “I am living my best life in patient care right now.”
Learn more about Southern Utah University’s online RN to BSN program.