Maine local Mark O’Brien admits that his higher education journey has not taken the path of least resistance.

“It’s convoluted,” he said. “I was applying to CRNA [Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist] school, which was a master’s-level program. I did not get in on the first round. I talked to the program director and asked for recommendations for getting in the following round.

“She mentioned it would be good to get my Bachelor of Science in Nursing. I got a Bachelor of Arts degree prior to going to my first nursing school, but I needed a Bachelor of Science because it became a doctoral-level program.”

O’Brien didn’t have to look far to solve the issue. He completed the online Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at the University of Maine Fort Kent (UMFK) in March 2022.

“UMFK had a structured program,” he said. “A lot of schools are transitioning more to online, but it seemed like it was already well underway with that format and had a lot of the kinks worked out.

“That made me excited about it. UMFK also has a tremendous reputation for its nursing program throughout the state. Having the security of such a reputable program remotely was a big part of why I chose it.”

O’Brien is a part-time critical care registered nurse at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. The flexibility of the online program made it manageable for him to earn a degree around his schedule.

“The online format was tremendous,” he said. “It worked out perfectly for me. I liked their format and frequency of classes available.

“With every other program I talked to, it didn’t seem possible to knock out my BSN within a year. UMFK had a program that made it work because of the frequency of classes offered, the flexibility and the academic advisers.”

Seeing the Future

O’Brien is from Portland, Maine, where he grew up watching his dad work as a radiologist. He also decided to work in healthcare.

“[Charles] went to med school late in his life, so he started at 30 years old,” he said. “I was a kid, so I watched him go through all that and saw the process. Being part of a healthcare family, I was exposed to it early.

“I was developing X-rays when I was 10 years old and going to work with him and hanging out. I saw different perspectives on the healthcare system. I’ve always had a proclivity to it … Here I am.”

O’Brien went across the country to the University of Denver, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in psychology, chemistry and public policy and a concentration in cognitive neuroscience in June 2006. Ten years later, he earned an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) in Maine.

O’Brien enrolled at UMFK in March 2021. Health Care Policy, taught by Dr. Tanya Sleeper, was O’Brien’s favorite course in the online RN to BSN program curriculum.

“She was great and really smart, too,” he said. “Having a background with some education in that area, I liked how she presented everything and set it up. She did a good job covering all the important information.

“My advisers at UMFK were also great about working with me, getting everything lined up and making sure that my courses were being taken at the right time. They sorted out my schedule for me, which was huge.”

Future Days

During the 12 months that O’Brien was in the online RN to BSN program, he was transitioning into a leadership position at work, making the information he learned especially applicable.

“It was a lot more relevant than I initially gave it credit for,” he said. “I already had a lot of my science requirements taken care of, so I took a lot of non-science classes to get my degree. I wasn’t sure how relatable, relevant or necessary some of that information would be.

“I ended up using a lot of the information I learned in those classes in real-life — simple communication skills, different organizational structures in a hospital and staff structure in the building.

“It was interesting to see exactly what my hospital does and the efficiencies I could take advantage of. It was more insightful than I expected.”

With a bachelor’s degree under his belt, O’Brien has been accepted and will start CRNA school at the University of New England in August 2022. He and his wife, Bree, have a daughter, Riley (2), and another child on the way, so he is glad that the latest phase of his higher education journey guided him to UMFK.

“My family and friends were a little confused because I already had a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “I am in a weird situation. I couldn’t apply to the doctorate-level program without a BSN.

“It was a convoluted yet necessary step for me, but it worked out great. The degree has already opened some opportunities. It was also affordable. It was a win-win situation.”

Learn more about UMFK’s online RN to BSN program.