In the 39 years since Linda McKay arrived at Fitchburg State College as an instructor, she and the nursing programs she now manages have come a long way. But one aspect of her career never changes.
“In my role as a professor, I love getting to know students and partnering with them to [help them] achieve their goals,” she said. “Their stories inspire me.”
In 2003, McKay was named manager of the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Now offered in a fully online format, the program can be completed in as few as 12 months.
“The RN to BS in Nursing program has evolved,” she said. “We’re attuned to what’s going on with our accrediting agency [Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education] and the new essentials. We’re looking at how those will fit into our program.
“We’re cutting-edge for having designed a curriculum that meets those new essentials, which we’ll continue to watch. We’re committed to a high-quality program. I can’t stress that enough.”
The RN to BS in Nursing online program now includes NURS 4030: Genomics for Nursing Practice, NURS 4520: Caring for Forensic Populations and NURS 4020: Social Justice and Advocacy, which McKay teaches.
“For the most part, students come into the program because they need to get their baccalaureate degree to advance in their job,” she said. “Once they get through the basic courses and start to study some of these specialty courses, they understand the value of a baccalaureate degree.”
McKay, who became the LPN and RN to BS in Nursing program manager in 2019, believes catering to the needs of the nursing students is essential to the program’s success.
“We provide clinical practice experiences which allow them to explore their own interests within the community and also in research and quality improvement while meeting their clinical obligations,” she said. “The nice part is that they can do the program on their own time, so they don’t have to take time off from work, which is helpful.”
Born to Lead
McKay grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she found her career path at an early age. She followed in the footsteps of two aunts who were nurses.
“I was also interested in teaching,” she said. “My goal was to combine the two things I love the most — nursing and teaching.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Saint Anselm College in 1975, McKay earned a master’s degree in nursing from Russell Sage College six years later.
In between degrees, she worked as a staff nurse at Worcester Hahnemann Hospital and Berkshire Medical Center.
“I love meeting people and helping them recover from their illness, as well as helping them achieve wellness,” she said. “I always wanted to teach nursing. It remains my passion.”
McKay was an instructor at Fitchburg State until 1986, when she became an assistant professor of nursing, an associate professor nine years later, and then a full professor in 2012. She has served on numerous committees at the university during her time there.
“I’ve worked at Fitchburg State for a long time,” she said. “The experience that students get here reflects a total commitment of the institution to them. Everybody is highly committed to giving students an excellent experience and wants to meet their needs.
“One of the things that makes Fitchburg State unique, as opposed to maybe some of the other online experiences, is the personal aspect. For the most part, most of our professors are full time, so they have a huge commitment to the program.”
McKay said that part of that dedication includes being responsive any time online students have a question about the program.
“I was answering emails watching the Oscars at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night,” she said. “I don’t make a habit of that, but I definitely check in. In addition to the correcting and everything else that goes into the course, I know that I have to commit some time every day to check email and respond to those concerns as soon as they arise.”
The Thrill Isn’t Gone
After nearly 40 years, McKay still gets excited about teaching. She especially loves keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of healthcare in her Social Justice and Advocacy course.
“We have discussion boards, critical thinking questions, a paper and, often, a special discussion board where students can bring all their concerns and the questions,” she said. “I also advise the RN to BSN students.
“I recently had a conversation with a student that started out as an advising appointment about her remaining courses. We ended up talking about social justice and what she was perceiving.”
McKay has enjoyed her role in the growth of Fitchburg State’s nursing department chaired by Dr. Deborah Benes.
“I had a student from out of state who said on his introductory discussion board that he chose Fitchburg State because he wanted to get the perspective of people in a different part of the country,” McKay said. “I thought that was so mature and such a good idea.”
She highlights the diverse cohorts in her online classes for the broad range of perspectives and rich experience they provide.
“Some students are immigrants who tell their story of how they came here, what they had to go through to get here and where they are now. It’s inspiring to get to know these students and to listen to their stories.”
Best of all for McKay, she has spent her career doing what she loves most. No matter how long she continues teaching, she’ll never stop learning.
“The message of lifelong learning is something that we are trying to impart in this curriculum,” she said. “You can take all these courses and graduate with your baccalaureate degree, and that’s great. But the learning is constant because the explosion of knowledge is constant.”
Learn more about the Fitchburg State online RN to BS in Nursing program.