For Kim Sharkey, BSN, RN, MBA, NE-A, BC, education has always been the key to career advancement, allowing her to move up the ladder from floor nurse to her current position as vice president of medicine and chief nursing officer at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta.
But Kim’s decision to pursue the pinnacle nursing degree, a DNP, was influenced by Saint Joseph’s initiative to maintain its Magnet status. Kim knew that all of her nurse managers had to be educated at least to the BSN level by 2013. This made succession planning especially important, as managers retired and bedside nurses were considered for promotions.
“So I began this quest several years ago to limit our hire of new nurses to those who were graduating with a BSN,” she said. “And since I was putting pressure on staff nurses to further their education, I felt the need to do the same myself.”
Kim was also motivated by the recent Institute of Medicine report, titled The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. “One of its goals is to increase the number of doctoral-prepared nurses,” she explained. “The IOM report pushed me to the next level; it really inspired me.”
Striking a balance
Once she set her sights on a DNP Executive Leadership, Kim didn’t hesitate at all to jump right in. “Many people in my family have doctoral degrees, so I knew the rigors and was ready for it,” she said. American Sentinel made qualifying for the program quite amenable: it offers a bridge program that allows nurse executives with non-nursing master’s degrees to enter into the DNP program without having to earn an MSN first.
You would think a busy executive would find it challenging to juggle a demanding career and family obligations with schoolwork. But this wasn’t the case for Kim. She knew that a traditional university environment wouldn’t have worked well for her, so she chose online learning, which proved to be perfect for her lifestyle.
“Being a CNO is very stressful,” she said. “But I actually found that when I got home from work, I’d focus on my courses from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. and it took my mind in a different direction. It was a stress reliever rather than a stress creator.”
Putting knowledge to work
Kim’s courses at American Sentinel have already allowed her to make valuable contributions to Saint Joseph’s Hospital, and she’s enjoying the content of her classes. “The program is realistic, and I can immediately apply it to practice. It’s made a difference in how I lead the organization,” she said.
Specifically, Kim’s course work has inspired her to make changes to a Clinical Advancement Program that had become rather stagnant at Saint Joseph’s. The program was designed to recognize various levels of clinical expertise among RNs and to reward them both professionally and financially for changing practice at the bedside. “Typically, nurses could only advance by leaving the bedside and going into education or management. But we need our most skilled nurses at the bedside. This program was meant to support that ideal,” Kim explained.
Over time, however, the clinical levels program had become less meaningful and was no longer inspiring the kind of excellence it was meant to. Yet, this issue was barely on Kim’s radar screen until she took a class in health services research. “I wouldn’t have thought of working on this issue if I hadn’t been in a class that inspired me to look at it in more depth,” she admitted.
Now, she’s revamped the entire program so that it’s once more generating enthusiasm among the right types of people. This work will form the basis of her Capstone Project, an intensive, active learning project that’s required in most American Sentinel advanced degree programs.
Integrating her coursework with her current position of executive leadership has been very satisfying to Kim. “One of the best things about working on the DNP is that every project has been applicable to my workplace.”
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