If you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big.
Rachel Wilson envisioned nursing as something much bigger than what she was doing.
Just three years after earning her Master of Science in Nursing – Nurse Executive Leadership Concentration degree online from Northern Kentucky University, Wilson began the Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice online program. She completed the program in August 2019.
“After I got my master’s degree from NKU, I was working in the NICU as a clinical director,” she said. “That was a promotion I was able to gain with my master’s degree.”
Dr. Wilson, a resident of Union, Kentucky, saw room for change in her system-level role at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. On a colleague’s advice, she called NKU to identify the tools she would need to make those changes. She desired not just a terminal degree in nursing but also know-how to change the practice of nursing.
“I wanted to learn about how to change the culture, how to change the practice and how to impact at the system level,” she said. “The stars actually all aligned, which is not my life story usually, but they did this time.”
Two factors made NKU the natural choice for Dr. Wilson’s MSN and DNP work.
“One was the online program and the other was local pride,” she said. “NKU was the first place I looked, and once I looked there, it was the last place.”
Gems and Insights
Dr. Wilson pointed to three classes in the DNP program that broadened her view of nursing and made an impact on her job as a clinical director.
“DNP 808: Health Care Policy was one of my favorites, because it was something I didn’t know a lot about,” she said. “It showed that there’s a level of nursing advocacy outside of the hospital. I’m familiar with things inside the hospital, but that class taught me more about nursing at a national and global level.”
Being in a position of leadership at Cincinnati Children’s made DNP 803: Leadership in Organizations and Systems the most relevant class for Dr. Wilson’s career. She was able to use the strategies she learned in the digital classroom to change the practice at the system level.
“It gave me some gems and some insights on how to improve that and look at how other organizations might do it better,” she said. “I actually pulled out the book from this class, looked at the discussion board and the lecture material on developing a strategic plan to focus in on our mission, our vision and our values.”
Dr. Wilson also attended the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society conference in February 2019 that focused on healthy work environments in order to further her goal of improving the workplace for nurses.
Coursework that initially seemed unrelated to Dr. Wilson’s work also shed light on the global practice of nursing and helped her think outside the box.
“In DNP 801: Epidemiology for Population Health we talked about the Flint water crisis in Michigan. In nursing as a science, you kind of get in your groove and your expertise, but everything that we do as nurses impacts the population,” said Dr. Wilson, whose work at Cincinnati Children’s led her to reflect on the impact of such crises on pediatric populations at large.
CNO in the Making
The backing from her husband, Rob, and her son, Ryan (6), helped Wilson tackle the MSN and DNP programs in quick succession.
“My husband is really supportive,” she said. “He might have had to do a little more work on the weekends than he would have loved to do, because I was locked away in the office sometimes.
“And my son is excited that his mom is a doctor, but I keep trying to explain to him that I’m a scholarly doctor, not the kind of doctors he sees,” she laughed.
Dr. Wilson sees her DNP as the ticket to a career as a chief nursing officer. Meanwhile, she wants to build upon her experience as a system leader, making policy changes that elevate the practice of nursing.
“I want to be well-rounded, and I want to advocate for nursing practice,” she said.
And what is nursing practice exactly? For Dr. Wilson, it extends far beyond the bedside.
“Nursing practice is the place where the art and the science of nursing meet to drive the best outcomes for the patient,” she said. “It’s the art of nursing. It’s the science that we know. It’s how we tie it all together to change the outcome for the patient, the organization, and really, the population.”
Dr. Wilson is confident that obtaining a DNP is possible for anyone with passion and a capacity for hard work.
“Don’t let the work scare you,” she said. “It’s work that you can integrate into your current career, and what you’re going to take away from the program is worth all the time that you’re going to spend writing the papers and listening and reading and doing lectures. It’s going to drive you to be a better nurse, a better leader and a better person.”
Learn more about the NKU Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice online program.