From High School Dropout to Hospital Vice President

If you’d told Jerry Spicer when he was 15 years old that one day, he would hold not only a high school diploma, but associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees and he would be working toward a Doctor of Nursing Practice, he would have laughed out loud. The Illinois native and high school dropout stumbled into a nursing assistant position when he was considering radiology technology school, and it felt right from the start. After completing his BSN in 1990, Jerry landed in the Emergency Department at Decatur Memorial Hospital.

American Sentinel student Jerry Spicer’s DNP capstone project deals with a timely health care topic: the Affordable Care Act, which is greatly impacting Kaiser Permanente and other organizations.

Launching a Robust Career
After several years working in emergency services and a move to Corpus Christi, Texas, Jerry was recruited into a role as director of program development for Columbia Doctors Regional Medical Center; now the Corpus Christi Medical Center. “That’s when I started thinking about further education,” says Jerry. “I wanted to be able to speak the language of business and converse with the CEOs and CFOs in the organizations where I worked.” Jerry chose Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, to earn a Master of Public Administration with an emphasis in health care.

Jerry’s new credentials opened up a variety of opportunities. He was recruited to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo., in 1999 as the director of emergency services and quickly worked his way up to administrative director of patient services in 2000 and VP of patient care services and then chief nursing officer in 2003. His time in Colorado also included a three-year post as president of the Colorado Organization of Nurse Leaders.

A New Job, A New Degree
After 12 years at St. Mary’s Hospital, a colleague Jerry had met through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellows program—he was inducted as a 2008 Fellow—referred him to an open position as the vice president of regional patient care services at Kaiser Permanente, Southern California. He received the job in 2011 and packed up to move to Los Angeles. The timing was right, Jerry says, for a terminal degree. [incl-event tag=”open”]

“A year or so before I got the position at Kaiser, American Sentinel had come to my hospital to share more about their DNP program,” Jerry says. “I’d been thinking about a doctorate program for a while, and the DNP Executive Leadership was exactly the right fit for me. The residencies, the program itself and the reasonable pricing were all perfect.” Just a few months after starting the most exciting position of his career—which soon included Hawaii under his umbrella—Jerry also began the DNP program at American Sentinel.

An Impactful Capstone Project
Jerry’s DNP capstone project deals with a timely health care topic: the Affordable Care Act, which is greatly impacting Kaiser Permanente and other organizations. “That Act was necessary, but hospitals are dealing with the challenge of delivering high-quality and safe patient care in an environment of rising costs and declining reimbursement,” Jerry says. “You need the most competent team leading your hospital.” Jerry is examining the essential competencies for nurse executives  by administering a survey of Kaiser executives and aspiring nurse leaders within his regions. “I really wanted my doctoral work to benefit my organization. Fortunately, I have a supportive organization that understands the importance of this journey.”

In June 2014, Jerry will complete his final DNP course, do his oral defense and attend Commencement ceremonies in Denver. Although his career path has unfolded better than he could have imagined, Jerry admits it wasn’t totally planned out. “Luckily, I realized early on in my nursing career that if I really wanted to be great at what I do, I should further my education,” he says. For his culminating educational experience, Jerry adds, American Sentinel has been ideal. “I’ve been very pleased with the education I’ve received. I’m putting a lot in and I’m definitely getting a lot out.”

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