Student Story

Carla Deisher

Salem, VA


Carla Deisher

"I've told quite a few LPNs in my area about this program and several of my friends who are even out of state. I've told them to check into the U of A's program, especially with the way everyone is caring and responsive. I feel like the professors that I've worked with so far actually care about whether we pass or not. They care about if we're grasping the material. That, to me, speaks volumes."


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Carla Deisher’s recent life has been a series of hard blows. Whether it be educational stumbling blocks, family health crises, or COVID-19 upheavals in at her job, she remains unbroken in body, spirit and determination to flourish.

Deisher, 33, attended an online licensed practical nurse (LPN) to bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) program at a different university only to find, 75 credit hours in, that it wasn’t fully approved in her home state of Virginia. Unwilling to give up, she searched again and found what she needed in the online L.P.N. to B.S.N. Program at the University of Arkansas. Deisher was one of 25 people to receive the W.E. Manning Memorial Scholarship for online U of A students for the 2021-22 academic year.

A mother of two children, ages 12 and 3, and wife of a disabled veteran, Deisher has been an LPN for more than 13 years. She has worked in a variety of specialty fields, caring for quadriplegics and pediatric special needs patients. For the past five years, she has worked for a prominent internal medicine office in Salem, Virginia, while pursuing the bachelor’s portion of her nursing license, she said.

"I’ve wanted to advance my career for a very long time, and I didn’t want to give up my children’s childhood to do that," Deisher said. "That’s one of the reasons I took the more scenic route of learning everything online. I can carry my little tablet around with me everywhere. I can take it to work with me so I can review things while I’m on lunch. Depending on what I’m doing, I can be in the playroom with the kids so they’re distracted down there. I can carry my stuff to the park. I have studied while watching my daughter at cheer practice. I can be a full-time mom while still being able to reach my goal."

In addition to the portability, Deisher enjoys being able to take classes while keeping her full-time job. Enrolling in a local, daytime degree program would force Deisher to give up her full-time clinic job, resulting in a loss of income and insurance for her family, she said.

"Around Salem, we really don’t have any night or weekend classes," she said. "We're pretty restricted in what we have. I could have switched to all weekend nursing work so that I could be in school during the week, but I would never see my kids."

Yet another motivation for Deisher is a desire to be there for her patients and to make a difference in their lives. LPNs are limited by regulations and laws in terms of what they are allowed to do for their patients. Earning a bachelor's degree will show she has the knowledge and skills to do what is needed to support her patients and their families, she said.

Deisher wants to return to pediatrics where she can advocate for special needs patients. Having a BS in nursing will give her up-to-date practice, as well as the research knowledge to give her charges the best care possible, especially in regions where specialized care is not so readily available. Deisher has already put much of what she has learned in the U of A's LPN to BSN program to use in real-time patient care, but she still hopes to go back to working with special needs kids, she said.

"I have the knowledge, especially in research, that it takes to be able to fight for their needs," she said. "That is something that, especially in my area [of Virginia], we don’t have a lot of. We don’t have a lot of specialists that know the ins and outs of research or the ins and outs of up-to-date medical care. That has been my driving force, to make sure I’m able to put my best foot forward to really be an advocate for my patients."

Her end goal is to earn a doctorate in nursing practice, at which point she hopes to teach newer students, to pass a blend of old-school, hands-on training and modern, new-medicine learning practices to the nurses who come after her, she said.

Health issues in Deisher's family are another driving force in her desire to obtain a bachelor's degree. Deisher's 12-year-old daughter has respiratory problems, severe ADHD and anxiety, while her husband, a disabled veteran, struggles not only with the daily activities of life but also the bureaucracy of an unwieldy VA support system, she said.

"I have always been very vocal about their [medical situations] because I try to take up for the disabled vets, as well as special needs kids, so putting some of their information in [the story] isn't going to be a shock," Deisher said. "COVID hit during my daughter’s first year in middle school. We've been trying to figure out the best way to go about getting her the care that she needs. A lot of her doctors' appointments stopped or went virtual. She has severe breathing difficulties, and we missed three pulmonary function tests just because COVID wouldn't allow them to happen. COVID has really put an upset on a lot of things, and for us especially in the medical field, we kind of picked it up and kept it moving as best as we could, but it does feel like it shook the world."

COVID continues to disrupt Deisher's life on a professional level. Deisher and her fellow health-care workers had to fight for the proper equipment needed to protect themselves and their patients even as governmental agencies took away many of their previously available resources. In the first portion of the pandemic, her clinic could no longer offer aerosolized treatments for patients in respiratory distress, such as an asthma attack. Getting people the proper care that they needed, such as mammograms or colonoscopies, came to a grinding halt, she said.

"The whole world turned its focus to COVID, and we had so much difficulty getting anything else done," Deisher recalled. "It made it, especially throughout the first nine months [of the pandemic], a kind of a nightmare to treat patients just because we couldn’t give them our best, so we’ve lost patients along the way."

The educational impact of COVID is there, as well, though not as pronounced as it might have been had Deisher enrolled in an in-person degree program. The pandemic had little influence on her online courses; however, it closed all clinical opportunities in her hometown, forcing her to drive 2 ½ hours in order to complete her summer clinical experiences.

Deisher, who will graduate in December 2022, often shares her U of A experience with other nurses who are considering adding a BS to their resume. She wants her friends and co-workers to feel that they are in a program that cares, she said.

"I've told quite a few LPNs in my area about this program and several of my friends who are even out of state," Deisher said. "I've told them to check into the U of A's program, especially with the way everyone is caring and responsive. I feel like the professors that I've worked with so far actually care about whether we pass or not. They care about if we're grasping the material. That, to me, speaks volumes."

The W.E Manning Memorial Scholarship was a pleasant surprise for Deisher.

"It was actually pretty overwhelming when I got the email, just because I wasn’t sure that I was even going to qualify for any of the scholarships," Deisher said. "I feel incredibly blessed to be one of the people selected for this, and it is really going to help. My husband is a disabled veteran and so for about a year now, he’s been completely out of work while we fight the VA. If you’ve ever worked with the VA at all, they’re kind of a nightmare to work with, and so we’re fighting for the rest of his disability rating so, financially, I’m worried about having to stop the program because I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to afford the tuition involved. It’s helped to take a weight off my shoulders knowing that I have some help there."

"This fall will be my second year with the University of Arkansas, and I wish that I had looked into all of the resources more," she said. "Last year, I didn’t think that I was really going to be a candidate for anything, and this year being blessed enough to have been chosen for a scholarship, I kind of wish I hadn’t waited so long, and that I’d reached out to Financial Aid just to talk about all of the resources that were available."