Sarah Wheeler, who is studying a nursing degree online, at sea on a Navy vessel

How I studied a nursing degree online – from the high seas

The world is her oyster for Charles Sturt University nursing student and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Medical Sailor Sarah Wheeler, as she prepares for her next venture outside the Australian Defence Force (ADF) – studying an undergraduate nursing degree online.

After eight years’ service with the RAN, Sarah decided the time was right for her to take her training as a medical sailor and make her experience count by specialising in a field close to her heart – paediatrics.

Working full-time in the Navy meant that Sarah needed flexible study she could fit into her busy schedule. With Charles Sturt University, a veteran-friendly university with a dedicated program for Defence personnel called Experience Matters, Sarah could access the right kind of support and found study was achievable.

Sarah said she has balanced service life, study and other lifestyle commitments quite well and is looking forward to completing her bachelor of nursing degree online this session, when all her hard work will pay off.

With the help of the uni, Sarah is ready to start her future career in the civilian healthcare industry, where her experience matters.

Sarah Wheeler, who is studying a nursing degree online, in her Navy uniform

Sarah Wheeler
Medical Sailor, Royal Australian Navy
Bachelor of Nursing student

What made you decide to study with Charles Sturt University?

I spoke to a few colleagues who either started or completed their study through Charles Sturt or other universities, and I was told that Charles Sturt University were very supportive of Defence personnel. They also offered the nursing degree I wanted to complete via online education.

What course are you studying and where do you want to take your career?

I’m currently studying my Bachelor of Nursing1 and I would like to specialise in paediatrics. Although my role in the Navy is in healthcare, it’s very primary health focused rather than providing ward nursing care to patients. My current role is predominantly paperwork based rather than clinical. I would like to get back into the clinical environment. I’ve also only been working with generally young, fit, healthy adults. I feel that pursuing a career in paediatrics will be a new challenge for me.

What are some of the benefits of studying a nursing degree online with a regional university?

The ability to study online. I’ve had the opportunity for work placements in smaller hospitals as well as larger ones, which has allowed me to compare the functionality and teamwork between the different types of hospitals. They also offer the opportunity for remote location placements.

What are some of the skills, knowledge and attributes gained through the ADF that are transferable to the civilian workforce?

Training and development of others, oral and written communication skills, problem-solving, interpersonal relationships, teamwork, leadership, time management, the ability to uphold the Navy values which can be transferred to any workplace that has a set of values such as the NSW Health core values.

How has your previous experience and training acquired through the ADF prepared you for studying a nursing degree online?

The ability to adapt to change, including any last-minute changes, and time management skills to manage study and workloads. The ability to work in stressful high tempo areas has allowed me to be able to cope with my work, study and personal commitments. Due to constantly travelling and moving around for my work, I was happy to accept any location I was allocated for my work placement, even if it meant that I was having to travel long distances and pay for accommodation.

How do you balance service life, study and your other commitments?

Generally, I have been able to balance service life, study and other commitments quite well. However, this year I had to give up my sporting commitment as I am away a lot for work. And then had 10 weeks of work placement. Last year I maintained all three commitments so by the end of the year I was feeling quite burnt out, which is why I made the decision to not play sport this year.

What does a typical day look like for you and how does studying a nursing degree online fit into this?

My day usually starts at 0550 when I leave for work. I get to work around 0630 and generally start work early. My work hours are from 0730 until 1615 Monday to Thursday and finish at 1300 on a Friday. I usually get home between 1700 and 1730. I aim to do about an hour of study each night; however, sometimes I do some study during my lunch break at work and more hours at home when I have an assessment due or an exam coming up.

How will a degree impact your career? Are you looking to progress in your current field or take your career in a new direction?

My nursing degree will allow me to transition into the civilian workforce. I could transfer to a nursing officer in the ADF; however, because I want to work with children I have made the decision to transition out of the Navy.

What are the benefits of studying a degree during your service with the ADF? Is there any flexibility around study, exams and any work placements?

The pay I receive has enabled me to pay my fees upfront. That means I won’t have a HECS debt on completion of my degree. I’ve also still received my pay while I have been away on clinical placement or at intensive school, which has made it financially easier to complete those components of my degree. The ADF also offer their own assistance schemes, such as the Defence Assistance Study Scheme (DASS) which provides assistance through study leave and some financial support.

With regards to flexibility, it depends on the workplace you are in. I have had some really supportive workplaces and some not-so-supportive workplaces. As a result, it has taken me a little longer than normal to complete my nursing degree online as I had to change my progression around as well as having a session off.

Can you share any support services that have made the transition to study easier?

When I first started my nursing degree, I got access to Study Link courses. I completed one to help prepare me for studying again and writing essays. Plus, Charles Sturt University offers many support services around mental health as well as by providing the civilian-recognised qualifications required to get someone a job.

What are some highlights from your experience studying a nursing degree online with Charles Sturt University?

Finishing my nursing degree online this session and getting my qualification!

I’ve also met some pretty awesome people and have made some lifelong friends throughout my studies.

Having the opportunity to experience different local health districts and different areas of nursing. These included community health, mental health, hospital in the home, theatre, general medical and paediatrics are also highlights. The opportunity to experience these areas has helped me decide the type of nurse I want to be.

What is your best advice for other serving Defence members considering studying a degree with us?

You need to be motivated and committed to study. Not only to be able to meet the study requirements but also to face any obstacles or challenges you may face from the ADF. Try and start your degree at a time where you know you won’t be deployed in the near future. That gives you the opportunity to get used to studying again before having to do it in remote locations. Don’t give up! Sometimes it will be hard to maintain service commitments and study commitments. But keep at it – you will feel amazing when you finish and tell people all you have accomplished. Remain positive. You can do this and you will get there!

Your Experience Matters

Are you a former or currently serving member of the Australian Defence Force? If you’re looking to enhance your current career or you want to make your next move count outside of Defence, get in touch with our friendly team to find out how your Experience Matters.

1Cricos: 0101019, 010599C