This is part three of a nine-part series profiling American Sentinel University’s leadership team. Check back each Monday to learn more about the strong leadership that guides American Sentinel and gather their tips for success in healthcare and in education.
“One of the great things about pursuing advanced education in nursing is that there is so much you can do to serve others in the nursing profession,” Dr. Tona Leiker said. There were times, however, when her career took various paths, but with a common theme: providing excellence in care by living the standards of the profession.
“My career started in physical rehab, working with intra-professional teams,” said Dr. Leiker. This interprofessional teamwork continued as she provided nursing care to persons suffering from drug and/or alcohol addiction. Dr. Leiker has served in nursing practice at the bedside and in the school health setting; academia as faculty and in program administration; and in nursing administration.
As her nursing career evolved, from practitioner, to teacher, to clinical nurse specialist, to clinical director, back to practice, and then back to academia after being a registered nurse for approximately 25 years; Dr. Leiker had an epiphany. “My career has been like a beautiful spiral staircase. Every step I’ve taken has prepared me for the next one, moving me forward to this moment. In retrospect, I couldn’t have chosen a better pathway for the work I am doing now,” Dr. Leiker explained.
Dr. Leiker is responsible for development of the nursing curricula at the BSN, MSN, and DNP levels at American Sentinel University. That’s a big responsibility by any measure. It makes sense that the ideal candidate to do this work would have equal amounts of experience working in the field and teaching in the classroom. It also stands to reason that the ideal candidate would be educated and experienced in multiple facets of nursing. “My inter-professional learning and clinical practice taught me to value the opinions of all practicing nurses,” Dr. Leiker said.
The benefits of a dual track
Tona Leiker received her BSN from Wichita State University where she also received her Master of Nursing to become a Psychiatric-Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist with a dual focus on nursing education. She then taught Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing at two colleges prior to working as an addiction nurse specialist in an acute tertiary medical center. While there, she went on to develop a comprehensive Chemical Dependency Center and was eventually promoted to Director of Behavioral Health Services.
When one of Dr. Leiker’s children became seriously ill, she decided to step down as director and place her focus on family and children’s issues. Her diverse career experience and love for education were a perfect fit to become a middle and high school nurse. “It didn’t take long for me to figure out how much my mental health training and addiction expertise would help me working with adolescents as a school nurse. And, my experience in administration helped me manage budget, resources, and staff for eight public schools.”
Another twist comes
After nine years as a school nurse, her life-long love of learning and personal desire for continued career growth prompted her to return to formal education again. This time to pursue a Ph.D. in nursing. Her academic focus was on health professions education and studying the culture of high-performing organizations. After another decade in academia, Dr. Leiker briefly returned to pre-licensure nursing education before joining the nursing faculty at American Sentinel University.
Next stop: American Sentinel University
Dr. Leiker has been with American Sentinel since 2013. “It was a great choice for me, and allowed me to influence graduate nursing students and the education process.”
When asked if she intends to earn additional degrees, Dr. Leiker replied, “I believe I am finished with formal nursing degrees, however, the more you study and learn, the more you realize what you don’t know. Therefore, I am truly committed to life-long learning and intellectual development.”
“As a psychiatric-mental health nurse, you learn to listen and empathize. I can certainly relate to the challenges American Sentinel students face with balancing work, school, and raising families. My best advice is to communicate clearly and honestly with your professors, family, and employers. Most nursing leaders experience difficult situations while pursuing advanced degrees. Being proactive results in opportunities to work together to find positive solutions to whatever happens in your life.”
Just for fun
Dr. Leiker, married her high school sweetheart after graduating from college and she loves nothing more than being with her family. She and her husband recently moved from Andover, KS to Shawnee to be closer to their grown children’s families, including four grandchildren. “My extended family is very important to me. This is something my parents instilled in me,” Dr. Leiker said. Aside from knitting afghans for the grandchildren, Dr. Leiker and her husband enjoy car shows, and she loves a new found post-doctoral hobby: photographing complexity and patterns found in nature.
Read the other Meet the Leaders articles to learn more about American Sentinel leadership.