Sara Dean

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

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

I decided to embark on my DNP journey because I felt I could do more as a nurse practitioner but did not feel I had the tools to do so. I had been a nurse practitioner for nine years when I started the program and while I felt solid in my clinical skills, I knew I needed additional leadership, quality improvement and organizational understanding to make a bigger difference in patient care and outcomes. After studying numerous advanced practice programs, I settled on the DNP program at UT-Health because of the comprehensive scope of the program and also because I received my MSN there and knew about the school’s commitment to success.

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

Currently, I am a nurse practitioner at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. The education I have obtained in the DNP program has already benefited me in this role and will continue for the entirety of my professional career. Understanding the concepts behind quality improvement and translational research has allowed me to critically assess and evaluate current programs and protocols and then design, implement and study quality improvement projects to improve patient care and outcomes. I have acquired other skills in the program – including critical appraisal of evidence and translation to clinical practice – which has allowed me to practice at the top of my scope while using evidence-based medicine to ensure current evidence is driving my care. These skills, and many others, will lead me to be innovative in patient care approaches and transitions which will ultimately result in improved patient outcomes.

How would you describe your DNP journey?

The journey has been difficult, accompanied by sacrifice by both me and my family. However, the commitment to the program has been unwavering by all of us because we knew the benefits we would reap by completing the program. I continued to work full time during the program and beginning in the fall of 2016, my schedule would include work, followed by home responsibilities of my children’s homework, school and after school activities, house chores, and bedtime routines. Then my focus would shift to school work for hours before I would end my day. Weekends would include a tight balance between family time and school work. Once I started preceptorship and fellowship hours, my days off from work would be occupied by completing my required hours for each course at a different clinical or fellowship site. I had to be strategic in my balance of home, work and school and also in assignment planning. I would work from one assignment to the next to ensure I was always ahead of the curve and not turning in assignments at the last minute. I learned this was the best way to stay driven and tolerable to my family.

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

Honestly, it was quite intimidating at first being in the same program as Texas Children’s CNO and several other executive nursing leaders, but I quickly realized how lucky I was to be in the program with them. They are amazing leaders and I learned so much from them about organizational development, strategy and decision-making at Texas Children’s from the executive level. As a nurse practitioner I never had the opportunity to understand the organization from the view of top nursing leaders. Exploring this journey with them allowed me to see them as fellow nurses who all share the same goal, to improve patient outcomes while maximizing nurse utilization, scope of practice and staff satisfaction. Graduating with them, and all of our classmates, has been an incredible journey because we all know the sacrifices we made to complete the program. Our individual journeys may have been different but we all strived for the same goal.

Additionally, I could not have completed the program without support from my direct leader (Aimee Jackson, DNP), and the other NPs I work with (Tina Spencer, NP; Anika Barber, DNP; Elizabeth Ortiz, NP; Drew Sikes, NP). Dr. Aimee Jackson has been committed to my success in this program since I started working for her in March 2017 by ensuring I had schedule flexibility and also encouraging and supporting integrating my assignments into improving our clinical/patient outcomes. The NPs I work with also were flexible with my schedule and always willing to rearrange schedules to accommodate school demands. They were all instrumental in my success.

Describe the emotions on graduation day when you officially received your DNP degree?

Graduation day was the culmination of three years of hard work, dedication, support, and belief and all of those emotions were apparent on that day. Relief, pride, satisfaction, love, were just a few of the emotions I felt that day. But I also felt a small amount of sadness as I knew I may never see some of my classmates who live out of town again. This journey brought us all closer and I believe we all felt a small (or large) amount of safety and camaraderie when we would gather together on campus and to not have that opportunity again is somewhat sad. But thankfully, there are a handful of classmates I will have the privilege of seeing in the halls of Texas Children’s on a regular basis and that is something I will always treasure. It will only take a look between us to be brought back to the time we spent together and we will always have a quiet, unspoken understanding of our shared journey.

Texas Children’s offers educational and professional development opportunities to nurses. How did Texas Children’s support you in this journey?

Having an organization like Texas Children’s supporting me as I embarked on and completed this journey not only made me feel like I could tackle this task, but more importantly, made me work harder through the program because I believed in Texas Children’s and I wanted to ensure everything I did and learned would be a positive reflection on the organization. I continue to strive to integrate my education back into my work in order to improve patient outcomes at Texas Children’s.