Q&A: Amber Kolesar, MSN, RN, CNE, CCRN-K, Director of Second Degree BSN Program

Amber Kolesar, MSN, RN, CNE, CCRN-K, who is a School of Nursing instructor (undergraduate courses) and the director of our Second Degree BSN program, has her dream job. “I went to Duquesne for my BSN and my MSN, and I truly could not imagine a better place to work…I am so lucky to do what I do here,” she says.

The School of Nursing connected with Professor Kolesar to learn more about the Second Degree program, study abroad opportunities, and what you can expect in her classes.

Who or what inspired you to enter the nursing profession? 

I wanted to be challenged and to be able to care for people—nursing absolutely does that. I was excited by the many different avenues that a nurse could go down.

Why did you choose to become a nurse educator?

I found myself serving as a preceptor very early on in my nursing career, and I found out that I absolutely loved it. While I was going to school for my MSN (at Duquesne!), I worked as an adjunct clinical faculty, and it further solidified my love for nursing education. I enjoy all levels of nurse education, but have a special love for pre-licensure students.

How does your professional experience shape the way you teach?

My experience as a critical care nurse working with very sick patients, the amazing interdisciplinary teams, and the pride that I have in being a nurse shapes the way I teach. I really feel that it is a blessing to do what we do as nurses. Acuity is higher than ever, and the health care system needs nurses that have excellent critical thinking skills. I hope to encourage critical thinking and clinical judgment throughout my course.

I incorporate my professional experience into many aspects of my courses. I tell stories constantly—of patient scenarios especially—that will help the student to link the content to a more concrete experience. I also incorporate the importance of acting as a professional in the respect that I give and expect from my students in the classroom.

Describe your teaching style.

I would say that I am a challenging instructor, but I am always cheering my students on. I work hard for them, and I expect that same work back. I tell silly jokes and talk about my three little girls in class to help students remember certain things. Critical thinking is a difficult thing to “teach” in the classroom, so I often use scenarios and try to get my students to think. I always say that your patient isn’t going to hold up a sign telling you what is wrong!

Do you have a favorite part of teaching?

I love seeing the “lightbulb go off” for students in the classroom or when they come back after clinical and tell the class that they were able to see a patient with the exact same thing that we talked about in class. It really is amazing to watch a student have a moment of understanding. I also get emails when students pass NCLEX or get their dream job. I love teaching nursing.

Tell us about the hands-on learning opportunities available to Duquesne Second Degree nursing students.

Clinical is an excellent way to learn hands on! Clinical truly is an extension of the classroom and staying engaged on the clinical unit is an excellent way to solidify the didactic materials. Lab is also another extension of clinical—we use our simulation lab and expert faculty to add to the effectiveness of teaching.

When do Second Degree students begin clinical training? What does this look like for them?

Second Degree students start their clinicals pretty much immediately. We start students in the lab in Fundamentals and Health Assessment, and then progress to the hospital units to allow for hands-on practice. It is definitely a busy schedule, but everything ends up coming together and the material really supports their learning in that first semester.

It can certainly be challenging to learn how to bathe, asses, and interview patients, and our faculty does a really nice job of supporting the students in their journey.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking of returning to school to earn their nursing degree?

Do it!! You can do so much with a nursing degree—from delivering babies to providing peace to patients and families at the end of life and everywhere in between. Second degree programs like ours are really great because, even though it is intense, 12 or 16 months later, the student is graduating. Nursing is a rewarding and exciting position. Go for it!

What makes Duquesne’s Second Degree BSN program stand apart from similar programs?

I would have to say the faculty. Duquesne faculty members really care about our students, and we want them to do well. 

In addition to teaching, how else are you active in health care?

I have worked with colleagues to take nursing students on service learning trips to Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Those trips were life-changing to me as a BSN student, and it really is a privilege to guide students on those experiences. I provide education about nursing as a profession, as well as first aid, and I am active in the Pittsburgh area in working to reduce food insecurity.

Are there any particular moments in your career as an educator that really stand out as defining moments?

Taking students to Nicaragua and Costa Rica has provided me with some of my defining moments. Watching a student nurse grow in their awareness of a world that may be extremely different from their own, or learning a new skill or appreciating similarities of culture and family, and the impact that they have as nurses is unbelievably poignant.

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