As a top instructor, Hullinger helps budding nurses to future careers
DWU assistant professor recently recognized for work in education
With COVID-19 spreading across the world in 2020, nurses are in higher demand than ever before.
And Megan Hullinger is doing what she can to make sure the next generation of nurses is ready to head to the front lines to provide medical care to not only COVID-19 patients, but anyone who is in need of skilled, professional care.
The assistant professor of nursing at Dakota Wesleyan University was recently recognized for that work when she was the recipient of the 2020 South Dakota Nurses Association Nurse Educator Award. The award acknowledges a registered nurse who serves as a faculty member at one of the South Dakota nursing programs. The recipient is recognized by peers to be exemplary in the areas of teaching effectiveness and facilitating learning for students in nursing.
The 30-year-old did not set out on her path to win awards or recognition, but she said she was honored to receive the award when it was announced in October. The Kennebec native said she had aspirations of working as a nurse since her early school days.
“It’s kind of a cliché, but I always had a dream of being a nurse. My grandmother was director of nursing at the nursing home in White Lake. I knew in elementary school that that was what I wanted to do,” Hullinger told the Mitchell Republic recently.
She graduated from South Dakota State University in 2012, graduating from the school’s Rapid City site in 2012. She then took a position at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell and later decided to pursue her master's degree online at Grand Canyon University. It was during this time that she began to pursue the educational side of the nursing profession, something that was sparked by her time working at Avera Queen of Peace.
“I will say that (nursing education) was never on my mind, it just kind of came in steps. When I was a floor nurse at Avera Queen of Peace, I found myself in situations where I was teaching not just patients, but student nurses,” Hullinger said. “I wanted to show them how to be the best nurse they can be.”
She began her work as a professor at DWU in 2015 and has been a guiding light for nursing students at the university ever since.
Teaching the skills of nursing is a little different than strictly practicing those skills, Hullinger said. As a self-professed nerd, she has an appetite for absorbing information and sharing it with her students, and it’s something that is on her mind even when she’s not in the classroom.
“As a floor nurse, when you leave, your job is done. But when you’re an educator, you leave and your job begins,” Hullinger said. “I feel like I’m a bit of a nerd because I like to improve my knowledge, learning for my personal gain. You have to do a lot of research. But I just want to provide the greatest education they can get, and you have to be an expert. There is a lot of time outside your 40 hours.”
She builds that knowledge in order to share it clearly with her students, many of whom are not that much younger than she is. She sees her relative youth as an advantage, allowing her to connect with undergraduate students.
“I think it’s fun to be around students who are of a younger age. It does keep you connected to that generation, but it also makes you a part of their growth,” Hullinger said. “It keeps you young and keeps you connected to that generation. I feel like I have that connection, because they’re so young and have so much ahead of them.”
The nursing field is challenging, she said, and part of her job is to acclimate students to the amount of work and discipline a modern nurse must undertake to perform their job to the best of their abilities.
“It’s a shock how much studying goes into these professions. It takes a lot of discipline and self-control to stay on that track. I’m mentoring them to make sure they’re on the right track for studying, how much time it really does take to become knowledgeable on the topics we teach,” Hullinger said.
There are currently 36 students in the program at DWU, and she continues to enjoy sharing her knowledge with them and practicing her skills. She knows there is plenty of work to do in teaching the latest batch of medical professionals. But she also has an eye on continuing her own education down the road.
But until then, she will do what she can to make sure the students have a professor who knows her stuff and loves to share it. That close relationship with a professor who excels at helping mold knowledgeable, skilled nurses is all a part of what students can experience at DWU, she said.
While COVID-19 has changed the way they work and learn, she reminds the students that the work they're doing during the pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apply their talents for the greater good.
“We’re seeing it on the front lines in Mitchell," she said. "As educators we have to relate that they are part of something special. (We’re working with) some of the trials and medications that nobody in 100 years will experience."