Texas Children’s DNP graduates share their journey, reflections on graduation

Brandy Wells and two nurse practitioners from Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers – Pat Wills-Bagnato and Lindsay Johnson-Bishop – recently graduated with their Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), which is the highest level of clinical training for nursing practice.

While every new graduate looks forward to walking across stage to receive their coveted diploma while hearing the crowd erupt into cheers, this year’s commencement ceremony was different, but nonetheless, a memorable and exciting moment for these nurses marking the culmination of hard work and sacrifice.

“I attended my commencement graduation virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions,” said Johnson-Bishop, who received her DNP from Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “I was at Texas Children’s during the zoom ceremony, and watched it with some of my fellow Bone Marrow Transplant providers following our shift. It was an incredible moment to be able to celebrate this accomplishment while surrounded by my team.”

Wills-Bagnato and Wells obtained their DNP degrees from the University of Texas Science Center’s Cizik School of Nursing. It was during Hurricane Harvey that the two nurses enrolled in the DNP program, and three years later, they graduated in the midst of another challenging time, the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“While this journey was exciting, intense and a lot of work, my classmates and I supported each other along the way,” said Wills-Bagnato, director of Advanced Practice Providers in the Cancer and Hematology Centers. “Each semester started out like climbing a huge mountain. Half way through the semester, I could see the top of the mountain. Then the last half of the semester, I felt like I was on the downhill slope. Before I knew it, our classes were over, and we all finished the program together.”

The DNP Program is a clinical doctoral program that provides advanced education in several key areas that impact patient care and outcomes including evidence-based practice, safety and quality improvement, project management, team collaborations and systems leadership. Since Texas Children’s already provided a strong foundation in these areas, the program built on the great work our nurses do every day.

“The program enhanced my leadership skills significantly as I gained insight into the business and political aspect of health care,” said Wells, assistant director of Advanced Practice Providers in the neonatal intensive care unit.” I completed preceptorships and fellowships with executive leaders which positioned me to be better equipped to speak widely on key aspects impacting health care. Each experience prepared me to become a well-rounded leader in my current role at Texas Children’s.”

Early on in her nursing career, Johnson-Bishop says she was fortunate enough to be surrounded by countless educators and nursing leaders who instilled in her the principle of being a lifelong learner, which prompted her to pursue her DNP in order to provide the most effective, evidence-based care to her patients.

“After becoming a nurse practitioner, it became more apparent that continuing my education and earning my doctorate would equip me with the skills to seek new knowledge through research and to implement practice change for the betterment of patient care,” Johnson-Bishop said. “Texas Children’s fosters these same principles, and I am grateful to practice alongside the best and brightest minds in my field.”

As a Magnet-designated organization committed to nursing excellence, cultivating a highly educated team of nurses has always been a huge priority. Many of our nurses have benefited from the hospital’s tuition reimbursement program to ease the financial burden of going back to school to pursue higher education.

Chief Nursing Officer Mary Jo Andre, who began her career at Texas Children’s as a staff nurse in the Emergency Center 35 years ago and who obtained her DNP degree last year, says no matter where a nurse is in his or her career, it is never too late to return to school to expand one’s knowledge and skills.

“At Texas Children’s, it is important that we continue to invest in higher education for our nurses at all levels because evidence shows that advanced education leads to better patient outcomes,” Andre said. “We are the ones who will lead health care transformation in the future. With more nurses obtaining their DNPs and other certifications, we can enhance patient care, provide more evidence-based practice, and become like we’ve always said we wanted to be – the number one destination for nurses everywhere.”

Wills-Bagnato, Johnson-Bishop and Wells join 10 other graduates from Texas Children’s who received their DNP degrees last year: Mary Jo Andre, Chief Nursing Officer; Jackie Ward, Associate Chief Nursing Officer; Tarra Kerr, Director of Nursing, Emergency Center; Kimberly Clark, Patient Care Manager – Cancer Center; Sara Dean, Nurse Practitioner – Pavilion for Women; Joy Harrison, Assistant Director – Texas Children’s Pediatrics, Shannon Holland, Director of Nursing – Critical Care; Vanessa Kastner, Nurse Practitioner – Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Jennifer Sanders, Assistant Vice President, Nursing.

Q&A: Nurses reflect on DNP journey

Click the names below to learn more about our nurses’ DNP journey, the lessons they learned along the way and how the support from Texas Children’s made it possible for them to reach this milestone.

Lindsay Johnson-Bishop
Pat Wills-Bagnato
Brandy Wells