Vanessa Kastner

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?

My colleague, Dr. Sandy Jose, a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) at Texas Children’s, encouraged me to go back to school to pursue my lifelong goal of teaching NNP School. My hope is that with enough NNPs going back to school to obtain their DNPs, we can re-open the NNP program at UT Health Sciences Center right across the street. My director, Brandy Wells, has already enrolled in the DNP program and will graduate in the spring. The encouragement from Sandy, Brandy and the NICU Level 4 nurses prompted me to pursue this academic goal of mine, and I am so glad that I did.

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

This degree will allow me to be a role model for other NPs to go back to school to obtain the highest degree in our profession. It will also help me open doors to become a speaker at conferences, and speak about the great institution I work for and the love I have for caring for the sickest babies in Texas.

How would you describe your DNP journey?

This journey was difficult for me at first. Over 10 years had passed since I had been in school and just getting back into writing papers was hard for me. I felt very overwhelmed at first. I have always been able to accomplish anything I set my mind too, and knew I would have to ease into this program slower than some of my fellow students, and I have no shame in admitting that. I worked at my own pace to get through this program, and it worked well for me.

I am very lucky I had a director that supported my schooling, and allowed me to use some professional development time to get all the clinical hours in that I needed while working full time throughout the program. I am also very lucky to have a great work family that adjusted their schedules in order to support me in this program. I want to give a special thanks to Ruth McConnell, a PNP in the pulmonary clinic and all the pulmonologists in the pulmonary clinic. Ruth was my first preceptor in this program and set a very high bar for the other preceptors I had to follow. They made me feel welcome in a world I had little to no experience in and the lessons I learned in that clinic and the special needs clinic were invaluable.

How challenging has it been juggling work, family and school? How do you make it work?

Balancing work, school and home life was very difficult. I have three children at home and I would help them with their school work and after school activities before diving into my studies. I did my homework and wrote papers well into the night or I started very early in the morning before anyone awoke. I am lucky to have a supportive husband who attended to our kids so mom could, “Do her homework.”

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

I did not realize so many of the nurse executives had enrolled in the program until the first day of class when I sat next to our CNO Mary Jo Andre. I was in the clinical tract for nurse practitioners, so although we had the core classes together, they had to take a lot of the executive classes I did not have to take. It was always nice to see everyone in the core classes and everyone knew us as “The Texas Children’s Group,” even though some of us were in different tracts. I got to know the nurse executives on a personal basis, and I will always be thankful for that opportunity.

What is your advice for your colleagues considering going back to school?

My advice for anyone is to just get started. If you get overwhelmed, don’t quit. Talk with your school advisors and directors at work to see what advice they have to help support you.