By Indiana State University
Mar 18, 2021
Alexis Hilbelink is a registered nurse working full-time and raising four young children in Utah.
Her busy life did not lend itself to a traditional, in–person, Master’s program, but that did not keep her from furthering her education through Indiana State University’s family nurse practitioner online program.
Hilbelink chose Indiana State due to the online program’s flexibility, after several other Utah graduates of State’s FNP program shared their positive experiences with her.
“I always want to further my career, so when I found out about this online program through a friend of mine in Utah who completed it, I was like, ‘Sweet, I could do that,’” said Hilbelink, who enrolled in the FNP program in 2016. “I didn’t want just any program. I wanted to know someone who had went through it because that gave me a sense for how good the program would be.”
State’s program is part-time and has supportive and seasoned faculty, many of whom completed the program themselves previously, said Jessica Durbin, an assistant professor in State’s School of Nursing.
“I believe our commitment to our students permeates everything we do, and current and former students willingly pass that feeling along to their peers who are looking for a program,” Durbin said. “Our program facilitates attainment of a higher educational degree and career advancement for nurses who may be unable to fit into a traditional graduate program, whether it be because they don’t live near a school with a graduate program, the programs are full-time programs, which did not allow for some scheduled responsibilities, they live in a state without a program altogether, or any barrier that may keep the student from attending live class.”
When Hilbelink’s husband began experiencing personal issues, she took time off from the program in 2017 before restarting her education about 18 months later.
“That flexibility is one reason I did this program. I have four kids and work full time, but God said I need to provide for my family but I needed to be flexible, too,” she said.
In the fall of 2019, Hilbelink’s husband suffered an overdose. Two days later, she experienced a major GI bleed but still managed to finish the semester strong due to faculty support.
Then, during the spring 2020 semester, COVID-19 hit.
“That was an obstacle with four kids and homeschool, but I finished summer semester,” Hilbelink said. “Then in August of last year, before the semester started, my husband was killed. I had so much going on and people didn’t know if I could complete the program, but I had everything ready to go and was ahead on clinical hours. The first half of the semester I paced myself with help from my preceptors, classmates and faculty. I went through a lot over the semester and still persevered, and I passed the national boards the day after Christmas. My instructors were so amazing. I was an A student and when all of this happened, they worked with me, were gracious and helped me get through and do well.”
That’s what the program is all about, Durbin said.
“We accept students across all lengths of the career spectrum. From those who are coming right out of a BSN program and want to continue their trajectory, all the way through to those who have been nurses for 20 years,” she said. “We make the attainment of the Master’s degree in nursing with either the FNP or Education designation possible for nurses from all areas of the healthcare field, and with any level of experience.”
As a student, Hilbelink developed an exam prep site to prepare students for the national certification exam. The development including establishing questions, researching rationales, and having discourse with her peers so that they could all learn from one another.
“This was time-consuming, not to mention she was completing the last two semesters of the program as well, which are intense,” said Durbin, who taught Hilbelink as a student.
As a result of her dedication, Hilbelink received the Sycamore Outstanding Graduate Nursing Award in fall 2020.
Hilbelink demonstrated that she was a good, hardworking student throughout her education and surrounded herself with a solid support system of classmates and instructors. They helped her when her husband, Matt, tragically passed away during the fall 2020 semester.
“Through this tragedy, she not only persevered for her children, she maintained her academic excellence and even continued to facilitate the NP exam prep site throughout the last two semesters of the program,” Durbin said. “The faculty who have been privileged to have her as a student were not surprised by this, but we were in awe.”
Since that time, as Hilbelink finished the nursing program, she filmed multiple specials for PBS to discuss the loss of her husband in hopes that her story might help inspire others and lead to change.
“Alexis is an exceptional nurse, nursing student, peer and person, and overcome several personal crises in her tenure as our student,” Durbin said. “She has demonstrated a commitment to succeed that most of us would not have had the strength to complete under her circumstances.”