For much of her career, Virginian Shirley Gibson has been passionately involved in moving the nursing profession forward.
In 1967, she started out as a staff nurse and worked her way up through the years to leadership positions in various medical centers, community acute care hospitals and inpatient/outpatient health care organizations. Since 2005, Shirley has held various executive roles at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System. And when she isn’t leading patient care at her hospital, she’s busy with various voluntary leadership roles—with the Virginia Nurses Association, for which she served as president, the Virginia Nurses Foundation, the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority, the Governor’s Health Reform Advisory Council and the Virginia Action Coalition, to name a few.
Achieving a Goal
It made sense, then, when Shirley decided the time was right to pursue a terminal degree. She is highly educated already—with a diploma in nursing, B.S. in health care management and M.S. in health administration—but a doctorate degree was at the top of her list of life goals. When a colleague told Shirley in 2010 about American Sentinel University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice Executive Leadership, she was ready to sign-up.
“This program was perfect for what I wanted and where I am in my career,” says Shirley, who had previously started a health services Ph.D. program. “I want to ensure that I have the credentials that speak to the magnet organization in which I work.”
Making Her Mark—and Raising Her Voice
Shirley gets excited about advocacy for nurses and patients—and has long been dedicated to making a difference in the nursing vocation.
In October 2010, the Institute of Medicine released its groundbreaking report calling for nurses to play a bigger role in tomorrow’s health care delivery landscape, titled “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.” Immediately, Shirley knew that she wanted Virginia to be a frontrunner for carrying out the recommendations of the campaign.
As then-president of the Virginia Nurses Association, she spearheaded the creation of the Virginia Action Coalition, which was accepted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in February 2011, making them one of the first in the country. As an action coalition, they capture best practices, determine research needs, track lessons and identify replicable models.
“This really is my legacy work,” she says.
Sharing the Work of Virginia Nurses
In May 2013 during the Week of the Nurse, Shirley was invited to write a column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She shared the Virginia Action Coalition’s work to educate more nurses and develop effective nursing leaders.
“Nurses in Virginia are finding our voices, working with new partners and affecting real change that will mean better health outcomes for Virginians,” she wrote.
Coincidentally, Shirley’s efforts through the coalition inform much of the work she is doing in her DNP.
“Not only are the coalition efforts crossing over to my doctoral studies, I am making a difference for the Virginia nursing workforce at the same time,” she says.
Although she will be 67-years-old when she graduates in 2013—Shirley feels the knowledge she is gaining through the DNP will benefit her in a multitude of ways.
“The DNP [program] has outstanding faculty who have really challenged our ways of thinking and helped us view the complex health care world we are in today in a whole new light,” she says. “This program is helping me be a better leader in my organization and in my state.”
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