Sarah Chamberas took distance learning to a whole new level.
The Navy lieutenant commander earned an online Master of Science in Nursing with a Nurse Executive specialization from the University of West Florida while she was stationed in Spain, the United States (California), and her current port of call, Japan.
“We, as nurse corps officers, are expected to lead and be leaders within the Navy medicine community,” she said. “Having some of those tools [from the MSN] has helped me be a better leader. Right now I’m a department head, so it’s helped me be a better boss and understand some human resources concepts. It’s not only a check in the box but also provides concrete tools and strategies.”
Chamberas graduated from the master’s program in 2015. She also earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from UWF in 2006 as part of the second cohort after the program’s inception. She even managed to have time to play soccer for the Argonauts.
When Chamberas was ready to take on a master’s program, she was excited to be able to return to her alma mater.
“It was 2010, so it took me five years doing it a little at a time,” Chamberas said. “They had just started the program, so it seemed like a natural fit. I knew some of the professors from my undergrad. I was comfortable with UWF.”
In the Navy
Chamberas heard a recruiter speak to one of her classes at UWF, then committed to the Navy via the Nurse Candidate Program, one of the scholarship programs offered by the Navy Nurse Corps.
“My mom is a dietitian,” she said. “I’ve also been kind of heavy into the sciences. Nursing seemed like a good way to combine some of the natural skills I had, as well as my drive to affect people’s lives, to care for people.”
Chamberas was a labor and delivery nurse in Rota, Spain, when she embarked on the online MSN program.
“I wanted to keep continuing my professional career progression,” she said. “In the Navy, there are expectations and some career milestones. Getting a master’s degree is one of them, so it seemed like the perfect time to get it.”
As she moved across the globe, Chamberas often had to drastically adjust her schedule — not to mention her sleep patterns â€” for school, which made the asynchronous online format a boon.
“My workload has waxed and waned depending on what position I’ve been in and what was going on,” Chamberas said. “Even with that, I have been 12 hours, six hours or three hours different than Central Standard Time. You can always do the schoolwork based on the online format and how the courses are set up. Whatever type of schedule you have, it’s definitely doable.”
Land of the Rising Sun
Chamberas has been stationed in Sasebo, Japan, for three years with one more year remaining. She is the administrative department head and case manager for the Branch Health Clinic, which is part of U. S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka. Her husband, Thomas, is also in the Navy and is pursuing online a master’s degree from Saint Leo University in Florida.
“I would like to get out to see more of the country,” she said. “The thing about Japan that really makes it special are the people. They are very welcoming, very polite. Interactions with them are always pleasant — the people definitely make the country special.”
Although Chamberas said she has not been able to pick up very much of the Japanese language, she has climbed Mt. Fuji and visited South Korea and Guam since her arrival. She also loves her job.
“One of the things in my role right now that is really satisfying is being able to do nurse visits when we have patients admitted to our host nation partners, even though we don’t provide the actual clinical care, we are able to influence the patient’s experience, influencing or affecting the care,” Chamberas said. “To be able visit our patients in the host nation hospitals, explain what’s going on, bridge the cultural gap and talk to them about the norms they are going to see is really satisfying. You can see the worry leave their face once they understand.”
Chamberas, who is a Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) through the American Organization of Nursing Executives, said two of her favorite courses in the MSN online program were NGR 6880: Ethical Issues in Advanced Nursing Practice and NGR 6700: Nursing Leadership Theory.
“The ethics course was always stimulating because you got to think outside of the box about different challenges we’re going to face in medicine as technology continues to grow,” she said. “It’s interesting because it puts you at the tip of some of the medical advances.”
She also liked the practicality of the nursing leadership course.
“It helped you assess yourself to identify your strengths and weaknesses are,” Chamberas said. “It was easy to relate to those type of classes. It was like, ‘Oh, I’ve had a boss like that’ or, ‘He is definitely a transformational leader.’ Those classes were easy to be engaged in.”
Chamberas was also able to put most of the knowledge she learned in the program into immediate use at her job.
“From the moment you’re commissioned to the Navy, you’re told you’re a naval officer and you need to be a leader,” she said. “We lead and train our corpsmen — the Navy’s version of a battlefield medic. That’s one of the reasons I like those classes. You could translate, almost immediately, some of those concepts into some of the types of situations I was put in as a junior nurse leader.”
Chamberas was able to make the long journey of more than 7,000 miles home for her MSN graduation ceremony.
“I was graduating and we had two family members getting married in a 10-day time span,” she said. “It was definitely fun. If we’re going to spend the leave time to travel and go home, we try to make it worthwhile.
“It was nice to see everybody face to face, both the students and the professors. We gave each other hugs and said, ‘We made it!’ It was also nice to see some of the nurses and the professors I had as an undergrad who are still at UWF.”
Chamberas, who has applied to Naval Postgraduate School for another master’s degree in manpower systems analysis, said she still feels very much a part of the UWF family.
“I’m still friends with some of the friends I made in nursing school and playing soccer there,” she said. “I definitely feel really connected. UWF is home. I always like to see how much it has changed when I go back.”
She is also a great example of how flexible online education is for students all across the globe.
“No matter how daunting it may seem, just start and just do it,” Chamberas said. “A lot of times people are balancing family with work priorities. To add school might seem like it’s not doable, but the program was really flexible. If you just start and have a goal to do a little bit at a time, even if it takes a while, you can finish it.
“There was one point where I was taking three classes at once. I took a year off. Then, I started back one or two classes at a time. Just keep moving forward. I can’t say enough about how supportive the professors were. Even with me being overseas and managing the many short-fused military training and mission requirements, they were totally supportive. They went above and beyond.”
Learn more about the UWF online MSN Nurse Executive program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.