“The campus is beautiful, the people are amazing, and everyone’s always willing to help. It started with the monks, and they're still helping."
While working as a psychiatric nurse at Madigan Army Medical Center, Marie McCullers saw information about Saint Martin’s RN-to-BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) program. “I always received messages and info from Saint Martin’s, and so when I found out about the RN-to-BSN program, I thought, ‘Yes, I’m going back.’ It was an easy choice.”
Marie McCullers had already attended Saint Martin’s once: she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology back in 2013.
Raised by her aunt in Brooklyn, New York, McCullers moved to Washington in 2005 with her husband, who served in the Marine Corps and the Army, they lived in Lacey, and she frequently passed by the Saint Martin’s campus. When she decided to pursue her bachelor’s degree in psychology, she knew she wanted to come to Saint Martin’s. “The campus is beautiful, the people are amazing, and everyone’s always willing to help,” she says. Raised a Catholic, she appreciates the welcoming Benedictine environment at Saint Martin’s. “It’s ingrained. It's about helping. It started with the monks, and they're still helping. They're a staple in our community. They're a foundation.”
McCullers explained that at the time when she was pursuing her first bachelor’s degree, she decided on psychology because it felt like a challenging topic—dealing with the complexities of the human mind. Although she took most of her Saint Martin’s psychology courses online, she appreciated the fact that whenever she had a question or issue, her professors were happy to help her.
After she graduated in 2013, McCullers made the choice to become a nurse. She was inspired by her aunt, who studied nursing when McCullers was young. “I remember her waking up a four in the morning to take a train to go to nursing school,” she says. “I remember how hard she worked. A lot of the women in my family are nurses or work in the healthcare field, so it felt like a natural thing for me to do.” She enrolled at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood and became a registered nurse (RN).
She started working as a psychiatric nurse at Madigan Army Medical Center, located on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. In her role there, McCullers deals with the active duty population. “We have soldiers that come to our residential treatment facility from the Air Force, the Navy, the Army and the Marine Corps,” she says. “Those soldiers either have substance abuse disorders or other issues, and so I help facilitate their rehabilitation to get them back to their mission, which is being a soldier.”
McCullers wasn’t familiar with the RN-to-BSN program or faculty, but she found the same supportive environment that she’d encountered before. “With this hybrid program I'm in class once a week, and Dr. Hamilton and Dr. Woo are amazing,” she says. “The curriculum, it's about expanding the role of an RN with research, figuring out our scope of practice as a registered nurse. I know how to access a peer-reviewed article, I know how to access a nursing journal. I can find information independently, and it's evidence-based so I know that it's worked. That's how that's helped me as nurse.”
McCullers was attending the program while working full-time. “It's been challenging at times, because of handling multiple tasks at once, working full-time, taking care of four children, and being a mother, a wife, and a provider,” she says. “But it's been very rewarding at the same time, because I'm modeling for my kids. I'm an example to teach them that you should never give up, to teach them that you can do whatever you want to do in life.”
“My classmates also influence me. They are from different backgrounds, have different experiences, different fields of nursing, so they teach me things every day. Just on a more intimate level, I've gained friends in the program. We share personal stories. Challenging things have happened in their lives, and we get to share that. We get to bond.”
Besides the Benedictine character of the University, McCullers said that the diversity of the Saint Martin’s student body is important to her. “I see people who look like me,” she says. “I think that's really important, because from my experience and hearing other people speak of different universities, they say, ‘I feel isolated.’ I don't feel isolated at Saint Martin's.”
“Saint Martin’s feels like home for me,” she says.
McCullers graduated from the RN-to-BSN program in August 2019 and has plans to apply to the doctor of nursing practice program at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. She would like to pursue her studies in the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner track and earn her doctorate, and her advice for her fellow nurses (and Saint Martin’s students) further emphasizes her passion for learning. “Work hard, and even if you feel like you can't do it or you can't make it, reevaluate that,” she says. “Sit back and think of the person that you are now and try to imagine who you'll be 15 years from now. It's all going to be worthwhile. I think about self-actualization. I think about the long term, what it's going to do for me educationally, personally. You can't put a price on that.”