Mom Doesn't Let Multiple Sclerosis Get in the Way of Career or Education

By Dawn Papandrea, special to AOL Jobs

When Rebecca Barton, mom of a 2-year-old daughter, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), she knew it would be difficult to continue working as an intensive care unit nurse because of the physical demands of the job. Even with an associate's degree, her options were limited. "I knew that if I was going to have progression in my career, as well as if there was a change in my condition due to the MS, I needed to have something to fall back on."

That's when she decided to work toward becoming a nurse educator, a job she holds today as an assistant professor of clinical nursing in the Nursing Program at the University of Cincinnati Raymond Walters College. During her stint as a mom back at school during the last seven years, she's earned her bachelor's and her master's degrees. You might say she's become hooked on education, as the 35-year-old is currently working on her doctorate in education from Walden University as an online student. "Online education has truly made this possible for me. Going to a traditional class would have been difficult. I enjoy it as it gives me autonomy, but also makes me even more accountable."

Support all around

As any busy mom with lots of responsibilities will attest, adding "student" to one's daily to-do list is no easy task. Barton recalls one particular period of time during her master's degree pursuit at Walden University that was especially tough to power through. "I lost my grandfather suddenly, and then my grandmother got really sick. Besides my mother, they were a huge part of my education and reason for becoming a nurse. I kept going, keeping in mind that they would not have wanted me to stop."

And she hasn't stopped yet, in part thanks to some financial help as the winner of a Project Working Mom scholarship, which provides scholarships to online students who are also parents (rules and awards vary by participating school). "I actually heard about the scholarship from my Walden enrollment advisor, Mike Newell. He was so instrumental in helping me get started on my journey for the doctorate."

Based on Newell's recommendation, Barton applied for the scholarship, in which Walden covers all tuition costs. "I was absolutely floored when I found out [I won]. This is the reason I am able to pursue my doctorate, as it is a large expense."

With two years still to go toward completing her next degree, this mother of 9-year-old Ashley is thankful to be surrounded by a supportive family, all of whom are instrumental in helping her reach her goal and keep stress levels down (MS tends to flair up during times of stress). "Without my husband, Scott, and family I could not do this. They have been my rock. My classmates are also a good support system; I have a few I converse with frequently outside of 'school.'"

Unexpected opportunities

Barton says having MS might seem like it would present many life challenges, but for her, it opened her mind to new opportunities. "I would have never gone into teaching if it had not been for the MS. I feel that I have made an even a bigger difference teaching. I am helping to create the future of nursing."

Because of her schooling and her current profession, education is an important part of her life, but Barton says her family always comes first. "It can be very stressful, since school can't be my top priority. My husband and daughter are the most important," she says. On the other hand, she knows that being a mom in school is imparting a wonderful lesson for her daughter. "I want my her to realize she can be successful in anything she wants to do."

Barton's tips for student mom success
  • Be patient -- results will come.
  • I keep in mind that God is in control and will guide me in the right path.
  • Keep a sense of humor. I tell my students this all of the time; they will burn out quickly in stressful situations without one.
  • Make time for yourself.
  • I do my homework after my daughter goes to bed and have done so for years -- it works well for me.
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