When A.J. Zenthoefer was growing up, he wanted to find a way to make a difference. With a grandmother who worked in nursing homes and a sister who became an oncology nurse, his decision on what life path to take happened naturally. “I sought out a deeper meaning in life and nursing gave me that,” he says. A.J. earned the Associate Degree in Nursing from Indiana Technical College/University of Southern Indiana and started out in critical care nursing.
Building a career
A.J. worked at several hospitals throughout Tennessee and eventually joined Vanderbilt University Medical Center as a cardiopulmonary critical care nurse and charge nurse in telemetry. In late 2009, A.J. moved into transitional care with a Vanderbilt-affiliate hospital, Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia, Tennessee. Funded by a federal grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Vanderbilt and Maury Regional put significant effort toward improving patient transitions and reducing hospital readmissions for patients with heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other chronic diseases.
A.J. was selected as part of Maury Regional’s transitional care team, which works with physicians, case managers and other staff to help improve the patient experience and help patients take ownership of their own health once they leave the hospital. “Improving transitional care is essential as our population ages and the national healthcare model emphasizes helping patients improve and stay healthy,” he says.
Drawn to management
For many years, A.J. considered going back to school, but it took the realization that having the educational credentials to move up in his career was important for him to pull the trigger. “I have a great background in nursing, but I knew this was the best way to give myself opportunities,” he says. A.J. was referred to American Sentinel University by Maury Regional, which is an educational partner to the university, and he was impressed from the start. “Everyone is so helpful that the whole experience, from admissions to taking classes, feels very personal.” A.J. started his MSN course work in 2012, working toward the nursing management and organizational leadership specialization.
A university to fit his life
Partway through his program, A.J.’s life changed dramatically. He relocated to Kentucky to be near his elderly parents, who he moved into an assisted living facility. At the same time, he got a job as a transitional care case manager at Baptist Health Paducah. As he did at Vanderbilt, A.J. is helping the hospital improve its process of transitioning patients with serious chronic conditions transition from the hospital to home. “It’s really great that I can move to a new state and live my life in the country and still make my college education a priority in my schedule,” he says.
A.J. will officially graduate with his MSN, nursing management and organizational leadership specialization, in December. To celebrate his “life milestone,” he attended commencement in Denver in June. On returning to work, A.J. says it is easy to see that his dedication to his studies has been well worth it—and everything he hoped it would be. “I was very impressed by the high quality of the academics,” he says. “We are in the midst of a historic time in healthcare and what I have learned at American Sentinel is very true to what is actually happening in healthcare today. It really has been of great value to me.”
Inspired by A.J.’s story? An MSN program can be your passport to a specialty nursing field, like nursing management and organizational leadership, informatics, or infection control. Specialized knowledge forms the foundation of these nursing fields. When you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes.
American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees, including an RN to BSN program and advanced degree programs that prepare nurses for a specialty in case management, infection control, and executive leadership.