Pat Wills-Bagnato

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?
More NP programs are graduating NPs with their doctorate – much like pharmacy and physical therapy. My colleague, Dr. Melody Hellsten, DNP, encouraged me repeatedly to go back to school. She showed me the curriculum at Cizik’s School of Nursing at UT Health for the nurse executive track, and I became intrigued. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and wanted to learn more. I wanted to know more about health care organizational operations, and I felt I needed the advanced education to stay relevant with our new hires. I also had to get to that place in life where I could commit the time to the program.

How will this degree benefit you in your current role at Texas Children’s?
The DNP is a clinical practice degree with an emphasis on quality improvement, project management, team collaboration, evidence-based practice, safety and the national and global health care agenda – in a nutshell. My work and projects are based on these principles, and I hope to better mentor the advanced practice providers in the Cancer and Hematology Centers in their professional development.

How would you describe your DNP journey?
The journey was exciting, intense and a lot of work. Several times I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. Every time I overcame a tough assignment, I felt empowered. Each semester started out like climbing a huge mountain, the top so far away. Halfway through the semester, I could see the top. Then the last half of the semester, I felt like I was on the downhill slope. Before I knew it, the classes were over and my classmates and I were able to complete the program together.

What was it like embarking on this journey?
Our class started with Hurricane Harvey, and ended with the COVID-19 pandemic. My classmates and I went through all that together. They were an amazing support group. Brandy Wells and I were in the same class and we shared many challenges and triumphs.

Describe the emotions when you received your DNP.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a virtual graduation ceremony. My classmates and I held a ZOOM toast to our graduation – which Brandy coordinated.

Texas Children’s offers educational and professional development opportunities for nurses. How did Texas Children’s support you?
I am a Baylor employee but have taken advantage of many leadership classes through the Learning Academy at Texas Children’s through the years. Several nurse leaders here at Texas Children’s have gone through the Cizik School of Nursing DNP program and have been very supportive and encouraging.

Anything else you’d like to add?
The DNP program provided a wonderful opportunity to network with nurse leaders from other organizations and network with classmates, our professors and with the organization’s that hosted preceptorships and fellowships. I would have never been able to see and do the things I did without the program.