Mary Jo Andre

Q&A: My journey towards achieving my Doctor of Nursing Practice

What prompted you to go back to school for your Doctor of Nursing Practice?

Before I decided to get my DNP, I wanted to encourage our nurses to go back to school to get their bachelor of nursing degree. Although our percentage of degreed nurses is high, I think it’s important to invest in higher education for nurses at all levels because evidence shows that it leads to better patient outcomes. Since I was preaching this message, I needed to role model that behavior. Secondly, the DNP is a fairly new program. Before our options were very limited and focused on PhD, which is very research focused. But this program focuses on two passions of mine – quality and patient safety – which made it a perfect fit for me and inspired me even more to enroll in the DNP program.

How will this degree benefit you in your current role at Texas Children’s?

This degree will not only solidify the foundation and knowledge that I already cultivated in quality and patient safety over the years, but it will also have a significant impact on the care we provide our patients and families. This program was built on the work that we as nurses do every day at Texas Children’s. A lot of the projects we completed in this program were part of initiatives that I had in my strategic plan.

This degree also helps to give me and other nursing leaders a stronger voice in health care and help us to be better advocates for our staff, our patients and their families. I think the program strengthens our nursing leadership team across our organization and the nursing profession in general.

How would you describe your DNP journey?

This journey was challenging but also very rewarding. I enrolled in the DNP executive track at UT Health Science Center. Since this program was only twice a semester, the flexibility of programs (some online and others in the classroom) helped me out immensely, and our instructors knew the importance of flexibility in our schedules especially for those of us who are in executive leadership positions. Overall, the journey towards achieving my DNP was an unforgettable experience and being able to accomplish this academic achievement side by side with my colleagues made it extra special for me.

Describe what it was like embarking on this journey with your Texas Children’s peers.

I was so happy to see so many of our nurses at Texas Children’s enroll in the DNP program. I didn’t know who enrolled until the school sent a group acceptance to the whole class. So, we all kind of learned at the same time. It was fun having your colleagues as classmates, but it’s what made the experience possible. This program required a lot of collaboration and communication to keep us all in tune with assignments that were due. We always texted each other before assignments. “Remember tomorrow, this is due. Remember Friday, we have this assignment due.” There was a lot of assignments and projects to complete, and I think it would be hard to accomplish all of the tasks without a support group like ours.

Describe the emotions on graduation day when you received your DNP.

Graduation day was such a happy moment for me, my family and my Texas Children’s Hospital family. It was a culmination of all of our hard work, sacrifice and dedication we made over the last three years to complete this program. I reflected on the strength of our team. We spent a lot of time together, and I was just so proud of our graduates who had completed the program. I am proud of my team but I am also proud of the many nurses who we have impacted that will be joining the DNP program in the next two years.

Texas Children’s offers educational and professional development opportunities for nurses. How did Texas Children’s support you?

I began my nursing career at Texas Children’s 34 years ago as a staff nurse in the Emergency Room. Throughout my tenure here, Texas Children’s has always supported my education and professional growth. While at Texas Children’s, I’ve gone back to school for my master’s degree and now my DNP.

Texas Children’s leadership has always been very supportive of my education allowing flexibility for me to attend my classes. I did not miss a day of school while working towards my DNP. If I needed to come back for a board meeting, I would come and go. Our CEO Mr. Wallace always knew I was across the street and he could reach out to me whenever he needed to.

I am so proud that several of our nurses have already enrolled in the DNP program, which speaks volumes to our organization’s culture and commitment to advanced education. I always tell our nurses, “It’s never too late to go back to school no matter where you are in your career.”