As a former theater instructor, Carrie Schaefer knows how important trust is in the process of learning. “I used to teach acting and directing at the college level,” she says, “and building relationships and trust with one another helped give students the confidence they needed to do their best work on stage.”
Now, as a family nurse practitioner (FNP) who earned her MS in Nursing degree online through Nursing@Georgetown, Carrie applies that same mindset to how she builds trust with the students she mentors and supervises at Central Virginia Health Services (CVHS), a community-based nonprofit organization in Fredericksburg, Virginia. For the past three years at CVHS, she has served as a preceptor for students as part of their required clinical field experience.
“I had pivoted from theater to a career in public health, where I was working primarily in HIV case management and coordinated care,” recalls Carrie, reflecting on how her own Nursing@Georgetown journey began. “One day, an older colleague told me they were going back to school to get their master’s in nursing. I was in my early 40s at the time. ‘Why am I limiting myself because of my age?’ I wondered. Literally, the very next day I applied to Nursing@Georgetown.”
Fast forward a year into the program, and Carrie was placed at CVHS for her clinical field work. “I connected deeply with what CVHS does and who they serve,” she says, “so I applied for an FNP position here once I graduated. I love what I do and can’t imagine working anywhere else—now as a preceptor, I want to give other students a safe place to explore and grow, just like what I had.”
As a director of healthcare placement at 2U, I very much understand Carrie’s passion for her profession—I’ve been helping match Nursing@Georgetown students to quality placement experiences for eight years now. Students are incredibly driven in the program, which encourages them to give back to their communities, fill societal gaps, and maintain diversity in care once they graduate. The program often inspires them to become preceptors for future medical professionals, helping other students facilitate their application of theory into hands-on practice at sites all around the country.
To date, over 2,300 students have graduated from 2U-powered nursing degree programs with a 98% board passage rate. In total, they’ve also clocked over 1.5 million clinical hours and delivered over 12,000 babies. Specifically for Carrie, she has so far mentored nine Nursing@Georgetown students at CVHS with open arms, an open mind, and an open heart. She’s everything we look for in a preceptor, so I recently connected with Carrie to learn more about her inviting and supportive approach.
Real Patients with Real-World Hardships, from Cultural Barriers to Trauma
CVHS is considered a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), with 19 mostly rural sites across Virginia serving diverse populations. Since 2011, 2U has helped Nursing@Georgetown schedule and secure 30 student placements in various CVHS locations, while Carrie’s specific facility continues to earn a consistent five-out-of-five “always exceeds expectations” ranking from faculty members.
“Our facility is a safety net organization,” Carrie explains, “meaning we see everyone, whether they’re insured or not, American citizens or undocumented immigrants, infants or the elderly. We serve patients from a variety of diverse backgrounds; most of them are from Latin American communities and primarily Spanish-speaking, while others are from Middle Eastern and Asian communities. We run the gamut of primary care services and try to get as much done for the patient as we can—biopsies, gynecological procedures, you name it—because so many people in our communities don’t have access to quality healthcare otherwise.”
In line with Nursing@Georgetown’s mission, CVHS’s day-to-day environment offers students a critical perspective that many people fortunate enough to have health insurance may take for granted.
“Some patients need to be educated on simply how to fill a prescription,” Carrie says. “Some have uncontrolled diabetes and have no idea how to change their diet. There’s also trauma: women who’ve walked on foot into the U.S. from El Salvador, been separated from their family, and perhaps experienced sexual violence along the way. I want to teach students in a supportive way how to address these very real situations—because regardless of where they end up, it’ll make them better medical professionals down the line.”
Learning to Face the Unknown
For Carrie, creating that safety net of support means putting trust in her students right from the start.
“I bring students into all of my interactions,” Carrie says. “They start by shadowing me, but pretty quickly they’re getting comfortable doing things like physical exams and pap smears. We document everything. I observe them, ask them to communicate their diagnoses, and we build from there. It’s important they start establishing rapport with patients and figuring out how to talk to them, even when that requires an interpreter. They jump in and get going.”
Because she’s an alum, Carrie has a clear understanding of where Nursing@Georgetown students are in their learning process when they arrive at CVHS. But that’s not the only reason she adds value to their clinical experience.
“These students are accessing a type of clinic they may never experience again,” she says, “but it’s important to know this model exists. Nursing@Georgetown did a great job of teaching me how to process what I’m doing yet also be okay with telling the patient, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll do some research and get back to you.’ Especially in primary care, students must understand they won’t have an answer every time. They need to become comfortable with the unknown, so that eventually they can go into a patient’s room without me, with no fear.”
The Value of Giving Back
Nursing@Georgetown shapes students into medical professionals who are eager to interact with their communities in positive, direct ways. And that’s exactly the impact the program has had on Carrie.
“I’m so fortunate to be in this role because I never come home at the end of the day and think I don’t have enough,” she says. “Working at a safety net clinic opens your eyes to the real world and makes you thankful for everything you have. I want to show students how important it is to give some of that compassion to patients who’ve been ignored or mistreated their whole lives.”
For Carrie, some of these patients include people recently out of jail or older individuals with health insurance for the first time. “They tell me, ‘You’re the first person who’s ever really made eye contact with me and asked me about my health,’” she says. “They’ve never had a checkup, and everything hurts, but I say, ‘I’ve got you—and I can’t wait to mold you into a healthy human being.’ I love helping people feel loved and respected. That’s what being a nurse practitioner is all about.”
Hear from other preceptors who mentor and supervise Nursing@Georgetown students, including a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) who works in Florida and an FNP and Nursing@Georgetown alum who works in Texas. And learn about another Nursing@Georgetown alum turned preceptor who helped a student deliver a baby for the first time.