My Specialty

Nursing Educator: Interview with Mary Wickman, RN, PHD

By Working Nurse
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WORKING NURSE: What is your nursing specialty and where do you work?

nursing educatorMARY WICKMAN, RN, PHD: Currently I work at California State University, Fullerton, as the director of pre-licensure programs. In this position I teach as well as administer two new programs — entry-level baccalaureate and entry-level master’s — for people who are not nurses. My specialty is maternal-child nursing and nursing education. I have worked in all areas of obstetrical nursing: labor and delivery, postpartum or mother-baby unit, and newborn nursery. I went to UCLA and received a clinical specialization in obstetrical nursing and then went into teaching.

Tell us about your career path and why you chose to teach.
I graduated from Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles with a BSN and my first position was in the newborn nursery. After I gained initial experience as a new RN, I joined the Navy to see the world and was stationed 50 miles from my hometown!

In the Navy I did a little of everything and had the opportunity to develop leadership skills in my role as a Navy officer. I stayed in the Navy for three years of active duty service but continued in the Reserves until I retired this year as a captain (O-6) with 21 years of military service.

I have been in nursing education 18 years and began teaching maternal-child and medical-surgical nursing as both a lecturer and theory faculty member at a local community college. An opportunity opened to be the director of a nursing program seven years ago, and with this opportunity I developed expertise in the administration of nursing programs as an assistant director, director, chair and, most recently, director of pre-licensure programs at Cal State Fullerton.

What special training did your specialty require?
I have a master’s and doctoral degree in nursing. I have specialty training in obstetrical nursing and maternal-child nursing.

What is a typical day?
A typical day consists of teaching classes, meeting with students who are interested in becoming a nurse, meeting with faculty and students in the program, committee meetings and lots of problem solving. When I first started my current position my days were spent on program development curriculum, applying for program approval from the Board of Registered Nursing, working with different departments to develop the process for student application and admission to the program, and hiring new faculty to teach in the pre-licensure program.

What are your favorite aspects of the job?
I love the variety in my job and the people I work with every day — students, faculty and administrators. I like planning and developing new programs. This has been an especially fun part of my current position. With the nursing shortage, funds have been available to nursing programs to expand and to admit/retain more students. This is an exciting time to be in nursing education because of the ability to develop special programs for nursing students to help them be successful.

Least favorite?
While I like responding to and helping students through email, my least favorite thing is when I get behind in email.

What are some aspects of your specialty that make it unique compared to other specialties?
Nursing education is different than being a staff nurse because your primary focus is on the student versus providing direct patient care. As a teacher you are able to train and inspire the next generation of nurses, and that is very exciting. You can make a difference by helping the student grow in their professional career as a nurse.

In your opinion, what personality type is best suited toward this specialty?
A nursing instructor needs to love nursing and to share that enthusiasm with the students who are being taught. You need to be an encourager, counselor and a motivator. Attention to detail is important so that you catch mistakes before they happen.

What attracted you to nursing in the first place?
I love nursing because of the variety it provides. You never need to get bored because there is always another area of nursing to go into if you are willing to take the risk to learn something new. I also love nursing education because of the variety it provides in developing curriculum, developing new courses and programs, and each student you teach is different.

What advice would you give to a nurse looking to enter your field of nursing?
My advice is to continue your schooling so that you can prepare yourself educationally to teach. If you teach at a community college, you need a master’s degree in nursing. If you teach at a university, you need a doctoral degree. If you like learning, you will like teaching, because as you teach you also learn yourself.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing (
National League for Nursing (NLN) (
"The Nursing Faculty Shortage" by Robert Wood Johnson (, search article title)
Nurse Educator (

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