My Road to the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Master of Science in Health Informatics Program


My name is Dusty Brinson and I am a student in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) program. Dusty BrinsonFor the next several months, I will be sharing with you my experiences as an online graduate student.

Never say Never

I graduated in 1992 with an Associate of Science in Nursing from the University of Southern Indiana School.  One of my classmates who I had developed a close friendship with had just accepted a job in the emergency department, while I had accepted a job on an adult medical surgical unit. During our graduation party, my friend did her best to talk me into also applying for a job in the emergency department, but I recall telling her she that was crazy, and there is no way that I would ever work in the ER or any critical care unit, and I most definitely would never work in pediatrics.  A few months later, while sitting in a mandatory new graduate RN support group meeting, our mentor asked the group to share our one year, five year, and ten year goals.  I distinctively remember rolling my eyes as other new RN graduates in the group shared future goals for obtaining certifications, higher degrees, and climbing up the managerial ladder.  My response was: Really?! Are you kidding me!? Can’t I just make it a goal to do a good job?  It was at this time that I adamantly insisted that I would never want to climb up that management ladder, nor would I ever have the desire to return to school for a higher degree, or ever feel the need to obtain any certifications.  I transferred to the cardiovascular/surgical intensive care just barely a year later; and now 20 years later, I obtained two certifications, have become the a manager of a pediatric emergency department, and I am 13 ½ months and 5 classes away from graduation with a Master’s degree!  The old saying is true; you should never say never, but if you do have to someday eat your own words, they go very well with chocolate.

So how did I get here?

Two days prior to this writing, I was sitting in my boss’s office receiving my annual performance appraisal.  She says to me, “I don’t know what happened with you, but it seems like one day someone just flipped a switch and you were different.”  Well let me tell you what happened.  I was about 17-18 years into my nursing career and was still working as a bedside staff nurse.  I had had some great experiences, worked in many sub-specialty areas, and had even done some travel nursing.  Looking back, I seemed to change jobs or sub-specialties about every 3 to 5 years.  By 2009-2010 I had hit the wall; I was burned out! Not only did I feel like my job and my profession was sucking the life out of me, but I also felt as if I was on the verge of a midlife crisis.  I was rapidly approaching 40 years old, and felt like I was in a state of perpetual anger.  My personal life was nowhere near what I thought it should be at this age, and all of the years of night shifts, swing shifts, long hours, constant overtime, and feeling unappreciated were taking a toll on me.  Thanks to the various social media outlets, during this time I had also reconnected with old high school friends.  Although many of my old friends would tell me how impressed they were with my career, I couldn’t help but wonder when would I be able to trade in my 50 to 60 hour work weeks and night shifts for a minivan and kids that need to get to ballet and soccer practice.

Flipping the Switch

The week of my 40th birthday, I cried for five days straight.  This is when it hit me.  I have, at the very least, 25 years until retirement.  My choices were to remain in the state of perpetual anger or do something about it.  I guess you could say this fell under the whole “change what you can, accept what you can’t” kind of concept.  I did a lot of soul searching and what I discovered is that I had absolutely no regrets in regard to my career choices, and I loved my coworkers and the organization that I  worked for, but I was completely and utterly bored out of my mind.  In spite the perception of an exciting life as an ER nurse, even working in this setting began to feel repetitive and stagnant.  It was time for a change, time for a new focus, and time to stimulate the old brain.

The UIC Decision

I have to thank my friends and ex-coworker Beth for the shove toward grad school.  Beth is much younger than me, and is like the bratty little sister that I am glad I never had, but she was one of my favorite work partners.  During the summer of 2010, Beth and I frequently worked together.  She had just graduated from APN (Advanced Practice Nurse) school and was looking for an APN job.  I was toying with the idea of going back to school, but I was absolutely certain that APN was not the way I wanted to go.  It was during a little downtime at work that Beth came up with the idea that we should check out the online employment websites and find what would be my ideal job.  This would then be the platform I would focus my master’s education on.  Informatics and technology has always interested me, and during our hospital’s EMR implementation, I eagerly volunteered to be a super-user and a facilitator with educating our emergency department staff.  Once the decision was made on an informatics focus, then I turned my attention to finding a school and a program to fit my needs and my life.  I live in the Chicago area, and like most people in my age group, moving to attend school was just not an option, so I focused only on universities in the Chicago area.  When I came across the website for UIC’s Master’s in Health Informatics program, I thought that it had to be too good to be true.  Within a few days of submitting a request for information, I was put in contact with Joan Ziegler, the most wonderful Admissions Counselor I have ever met.  Though numerous emails and telephone calls, Joan held my hand throughout the admissions process.

So now we begin….

I enrolled for my first class in the UIC Master’s of Health Informatics program January 2011.  My career and my life are in transition.  I have had a fair share of panic attacks, frustrations, and time management issues, but I have my eye on that finish line.  It has been a great run so far.   I welcome your comments, suggestions, and questions as I share my thoughts and experiences with you over the next several months.  Some of the best advice comes from cartoons.  One of the favorites among my coworkers is Disney’s Finding Nemo. So until next time, as Dory would say: Just keep Swimming~

About the author


Dusty Brinson

Dusty Brinson is a Masters student at University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Online Health Informatics Program. Dusty is also a registered nurse, working full time as a Manager of Patient Care Operations of the Emergency Care Center at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.


  • Hi Dusty,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I am in my fifth class at UIC for my MS in Health Informatics. This has been an eye-opening experience for me and I can say that I am 100% enjoying it. I am learning a lot and I look forward to being close to my goal as you are to yours. Best of wishes in you “final days” of the program. Take care!!


  • Hello Quinton,

    Thank you for you post. I can honestly say that this truly has been an eye opening experience for me as well, and in many ways it is not what I had expected. It has been better that I expected, and has been an amazing journey. You are not that far behind me in the program; the time really does go by amazingly fast. Good Luck and best wishes to you as well.


  • Interesting reading your post. Some similarities in our background’s. I am also contemplating starting the program but a little scared about the amount of work involved and time commitment. I work full time and am a single parent of 3 kids. I will keep what you talked about in mind. Thank you. Matilda

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