For nearly two decades, Rita Haxton has worked in executive nursing roles. Prior to joining her current hospital, Rapid City Regional Hospital in Rapid City, S.D., as vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer in 1998, Rita was the associate administrator of nursing at Overland Park Regional Medical Center in Overland Park, Kan. She got her start on a telemetry unit and in critical care, but quickly made her way into management. “I found out very soon in my career that I enjoyed the challenges of management—the strategic planning and problem-solving,” she says. “I’ve always enjoyed raising the expectation level for the nursing profession and helping nurses understand their own potential to change their practice.”
Further Education: Always in the Back of her Head
With an MSN, BSN and plenty of excellent leadership experience, Rita didn’t need further education when she found American Sentinel University—but she wanted it. “I’d always thought I might want to get my doctorate one day,” she says. When American Sentinel’s chair of nursing graduate programs came to visit her hospital’s board of nursing to share more about the Doctor of Nursing Practice Executive Leadership program, Rita was sold.
“I felt American Sentinel’s program would give me an opportunity to challenge myself and expand my knowledge of executive management,” Rita says. “I also really liked the cohort model where I would be grouped with colleagues at my level all over the country.” Rita made her decision and started her DNP in January 2010. “The great thing was that I was able to apply everything I was working on at work to school and to my work environment.”
An Ambitious Capstone Relevant to Her Career and Community
Rita used her DNP capstone project as an opportunity to dive deep into a topic she was already working on. In the three years prior to starting at American Sentinel, her organization had been a major funder of a collaborative of 39 Rapid City community organizations to develop a solution to improve mental health care access within the community. They planned the launch of the Crisis Care Center, a 24/7 facility focused on outpatient mental health treatment, which opened in January 2010. Her capstone is titled, “A case study of the impact of the Crisis Care Center on the community.” She even received a grant from the John T. Vucurevich Foundation to help fund her research.
“Mental health is a major problem that needs to be addressed with primary care providers. My capstone was to examine the impact our center has had on the community,” says Rita, who interviewed more than a dozen people involved in getting the center off the ground and collected and reviewed more than 500 pieces of data. “I brought together my professional work and my DNP, which made the experience that much richer.” Rita will present her capstone and complete her DNP Executive Leadership in October 2013. She walked in the June 2013 commencement ceremony in Denver.
Making an Impact on Her Profession
With her DNP Executive Leadership, Rita says she is now better able to support nurses within her hospital. And while that is satisfying, Rita admits that earning her doctorate was something she did for herself. “I consider myself a lifelong learner,” she says. “I didn’t go back to school because my job required it or because I wanted to change positions—I did it for me. But without a doubt, earning this degree has made me a better leader.”
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