Mother and daughter reflect the changes in nursing and higher education

Nurse Susan Cooke and daughter Tara in the simulation lab at Drexel's nursing school. Susan Cooke is working on a master's in nursing leadership as Tara pursues a bachelor's in nursing.
Nurse Susan Cooke and daughter Tara in the simulation lab at Drexel's nursing school. Susan Cooke is working on a master's in nursing leadership as Tara pursues a bachelor's in nursing. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 10, 2011

Some mothers and daughters hit the mall. Others get manicures together. Still others lace up and bond over a run.

But Susan Cooke and daughter Tara are a little different. The two Mullica Hill women shared a calling, eventually a career, and, right now, they share a college.

Susan Cooke, a nurse for 29 years, is working toward her master's in nursing leadership at Drexel University Online. Pursuing her degree online lets her continue with her job as an intensive-care unit nursing manager with Kennedy Health System in Stratford.

Tara Cooke, a sophomore and graduate of Clearview Regional High School, is taking classes at the university to earn her bachelor's degree in nursing.

Growing up with a woman who loved her job and who thrived on caregiving had a potent effect on her.

"She was a good role model," Tara Cooke said of her mother. "She was so in love with her profession."

Their paths are a bridge from what nursing was like when Susan Cooke started nearly three decades ago, to where it is now.

"One of the biggest things that has changed is technology," said Gloria Donnelly, dean of Drexel's nursing school. "It's a whole different ball game."

Susan Cooke remembers practicing injections on oranges when she was an undergraduate. Now students learn using computerized mannequins - lifelike models that can simulate bodily functions such as breathing and having a pulse.

Nurses' responsibilities have increased in part because of the greater complexity of care and also because they are often called on to deal with sicker patients, Donnelly said.

Because of all that, plus the expected retirement of baby-boomer-age nurses, the demand for nurses, particularly nurses with higher levels of education, is expected to grow, according to Donnelly and other nursing authorities, such as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

The American Nurses Association supports requiring all newly licensed registered professional nurses to attain a bachelor's degree in nursing within 10 years of getting licensed, spokeswoman Mary McNamara said.

"Studies show that the greater number of staff nurses with baccalaureate degrees, the lower the mortality rates among surgical patients, improved patient outcomes, and shorter length of hospital stays," she said in an e-mail.

The Cookes are also a reflection of what higher education has evolved into today.

Susan Cooke is typical of the person studying online - an adult working full or part time, said Ken Hartman, president of Drexel University Online.

Undergraduates such as Tara Cooke still tend to prefer the campus experience, but he predicted the need for students to earn money would lead to more younger students pursuing hybrid education - both online and in traditional classrooms.

Susan Cooke said she had been skeptical about online education but now calls it a godsend. She admits to a bit of a learning curve when it came to the technology, but Drexel offers 24/7 toll-free support and, for her first year, she had the boon of a teenager still living at home.

Her computer once crashed while she was doing an online presentation.

"I reverted to a little child," she said, laughing now. " 'Tara! What am I going to do?' "

Her daughter was fast to the rescue with her computer.

The two women have other differences.

Susan Cooke says she works best under pressure; her daughter will sometimes get on her about not having yet started an assignment.

Both are hard workers, but Tara Cooke can be especially tough on herself. She said she took index cards with study notes to a recent Phillies game because she had an exam the next day.

But they have much in common, including a passion for caregiving.

Susan Cooke remembers a horrific car accident she witnessed when she was about 10 in her hometown of Clayton. She felt helpless, but she was amazed by the emergency workers.

Tara Cooke also gravitated toward the medical field early. She was a young girl when she told her mother she was going to be a doctor.

Susan Cooke said she would joke with her daughter: "You'll have your doctor's office, and I'll be your nurse practitioner."

But around junior year of high school, Tara Cooke's thinking shifted. Becoming a doctor would take a lot of money and many years in school, she said. Plus she started seeing nursing as a better fit for her personality.

"You get to be more interactive," she said. "You get to know the patients."

Susan Cooke, with justified mother's pride, says her daughter has a long record of volunteering at hospitals, for her church, and elsewhere. For the full-tuition scholarship she won from Drexel, Tara Cooke said she wrote an essay about tutoring children in Camden.

As much as Susan Cooke is impressed by the agility of young people today and their technology savvy, she said she worried some would be in too much of a hurry.

"I tell my daughter, 'Make sure you go and talk to the patient as a person,' " she said.

As for her daughter, Susan Cooke's not really worried.

"Tara will be an excellent nurse for the sole reason that she is in it for the right reasons."

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841,, or @ritagiordano on Twitter.

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