A Journey of Perseverance

Riley Hilliard’s BSN@Home Journey

By Alex André

Riley Hilliard ’20 always knew she wanted to directly make a difference in people’s lives, and an opportunity to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in high school showed her the path to her future. “I knew I wanted [to be a nurse], and I knew I wanted [a nursing degree] from a good school, and UW–Madison is the best nursing school in Wisconsin,” says Hillard, who comes from a long line of Badger alumni. Her father, Jeff Hilliard, received his bachelor of science in electrical engineering in 1985; her uncle, Michael Hilliard, received his bachelor of science in zoology in 1994; and her sister, fellow Badger nurse McKaylah Hilliard, received her bachelor of science in nursing in 2016. With such strong family ties to the university, becoming a Badger nurse was particularly important to Hilliard.

After high school, Hilliard enrolled at UW–Madison, designated her intended major as pre-nursing, and everything seemed to be on track. However, during the program, she started to run into trouble. Unknown to Hilliard at the time, she had a rare genetic disorder, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects connective tissue and hinders collagen production. “My joints, my blood flow, it’s all affected,” says Hilliard. “I, personally, deteriorated a couple of discs in my spine, and they’re almost completely made of collagen. Not having that diagnosis, I struggled with various symptoms and wasn’t able to keep up in school.”

Hilliard was forced to take a step back and spend some time learning about her condition and how to manage it. But she is not one to give up. Equipped with a treatment plan and a new understanding of her condition, she enrolled in the Madison College nursing program, earned her associate degree in nursing, and working as a registered nurse. At the back of her mind, however, she knew she still wanted a bachelor of science in nursing from UW–Madison.

BSN@Home: an Online Degree

When Hilliard learned about the UW–Madison BSN@Home program, it sounded like the right fit. Offered entirely online, the BSN@Home program is adaptable to the student’s schedule and needs. “The flexibility and the support from the nursing advisors and the team of the school is very prominent in the BSN@Home program. You definitely don’t feel like you’re lost in the numbers.”

Despite the many trials and tribulations created by COVID-19, Hilliard finally achieved her goal and graduated as a Badger nurse in December 2020. She is currently working for Agrace in Dane County, and is interested in pursuing an advanced degree in forensic nursing. Hilliard’s advice to future Badger nurses: do not get discouraged. “It’s not an easy fight, you definitely have to keep working and [reaching for] those goals. If the goals seem too big, break them down into smaller pieces. Ask for help when you need it. There are others, if you’re struggling, who want to help and want to be support[ive].”

Learn more about the BSN@Home