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For Norma Hilsmann, nursing was something of a family business. “My mom and both brothers were nurses, but I was a little bit of a rebel and planned to do something else,” says Norma, who grew up in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

That ‘something else’ was becoming a violinist, and Norma started college at the University of British Columbia as a music major. A year into her studies, however, she had a change of heart about turning her passion into a career. Nursing was the first alternative to come to mind, so she switched majors and went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science Nursing degree in 1993.

Discovering Her Life’s Purpose

Norma started her nursing career in psychiatry, palliative care and respiratory medicine. It did not take long for her to feel she had made the right decision to become a nurse. “I developed empathy caring for people in their most vulnerable moments and discovered that I have a purpose in life,” she says. When reading a magazine, she saw an ad for Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. She researched the hospital, applied, and was hired in 1994 as a hematology/oncology nurse.

After a few years of experience, Norma was encouraged to further her education. “Early in my career, I didn’t always feel I’d been well-prepared for the hospital environment and the real world,” she says. “Rather than complain about that, I decided to go back to school and try to make nursing education better.” Norma enrolled in a dual Master of Science Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Texas at Arlington and continued to work full time. She completed her master’s degree in 1999.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Norma married during graduate school, and the couple moved to Utah in 2001 to be closer to her husband’s aging parents after she graduated. There, she completed state requirements to become a Family Nurse Practitioner and started her career at a family medical clinic. She also started teaching at two nearby colleges: Dixie State College of Utah and Mohave Community College just across the Utah-Arizona border.

Although her career was important, Norma had many other important priorities. She had two children while living in Utah, and when her parents became ill, the family moved to British Columbia to help care for them. In 2005, Norma joined the University of Victoria, British Columbia as a Lecturer and Clinical Instructor in its new nurse practitioner program.

An Intentional Decision

In addition to teaching, Norma worked at two area hospitals in critical care and as a shift coordinator. “Doing that kept me current, which has always been my philosophy: it is important to maintain your skills and knowledge,” she says. She took a break from teaching after the birth of her fifth child in 2008 but returned to the classroom in 2012 as a lecturer at her own alma mater, the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Eight years later, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, and Norma’s area was hit hard. “By 2021, I was ready to slow down and teach full time rather than teach and work shifts at two different hospitals,” she says. Her heart told her it was time to return to school for a doctorate—and after searching widely for the right program, she came across the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with an Educational Leadership Specialization at Post University’s American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Sciences. It checked all the boxes. Norma continued teaching full-time but left her hospital positions, so she had time to focus on her doctoral studies. She started classes in June 2021.

A Worthwhile Pursuit

As a Canadian attending an online institution based in the United States, Norma expanded her knowledge about policies and evidence-based practice. Most of all, she grew as a person and professional. “I learned that I can do hard things, and I built connections with other students worldwide who I never would have met had I not chosen Post.” Her group started getting together every Wednesday on Zoom to encourage one another and talk about school, life, and anything in between. They called themselves the Wednesday Warriors.

In August 2023, Norma completed the DNP with an educational leadership specialization. Holding a doctorate allows her to teach graduate nursing students at UBC, and she will start teaching her first graduate class in January 2025. She is also doing research and working on three articles to publish. Mostly, Norma is staying open-minded about the possibilities. “I know there is something I am supposed to do even if I don’t know what it is just yet,” she says. “Having my doctorate opens greater opportunities both in and out of nursing education. I’m proud of pushing myself to earn this degree and excited about what the future holds.”