When Sandi Plank was a college student unsure of what she wanted to major in, her older brother encouraged her to consider nursing. Coming from a family of nurses and educators, Sandi resisted initially, but once she made the decision to get the BSN, she knew it was the right one—a decision she stands by today.
After college, Sandi worked in pediatrics for three years. She started at Goshen Health System (now Indiana University Health Goshen) in labor and delivery, and eventually made her way to the operating room. “When I got to the OR, nobody was doing nursing education, and the director asked someone from the staff to take it on,” she says “I volunteered because I knew the system and knew how it worked, but didn’t know the OR well.” Sandi relied on the experts to help with training initiatives, an approach that increased staff buy-in for any change.
A permanent move into staff education
Sandi was offered the position of peri-op educator in 2002. To build her skills, she started an MSN Nursing Education program at Bethel College in 2005, and when she finished, was offered the manager of colleague education role at Goshen. Embracing the motto of empowering others around her, she had great success—and taught other areas within Goshen how to develop education programs.
A new network, a new opportunity
During graduate school, Sandi befriended a manager at Lakeland Health, a not-for-profit, community-owned health system serving southwest Michigan. When she graduated with her MSN, her friend took a new position with the organization and Sandi was hired to replace her.
Sandi left Goshen Health after 20 years of service to become the manager of Lakeland University, the organization’s corporate training department.
“You don’t see corporate universities a lot in healthcare,” she says. “The idea was to put everything that has to do with patient education and employee development and training under the university umbrella.” Within a year, Sandi was promoted to director. In 2015, she received the greatest opportunity of her career—she was promoted to chief learning officer/director of Lakeland University.
Pursuing the DNP
It was during her MSN program that Sandi decided she would eventually pursue a doctorate degree. “The same friend who brought me to Lakeland and I always talked about doing a doctorate together,” she says. “Over the years, I kept saying, ‘I’m not sure the Ph.D. is right for me,’ or ‘It’s too expensive,’ but when that friend started the DNP at American Sentinel University, I looked into it too and realized it was perfect for me.” Sandi especially loved American Sentinel’s DNP residency arrangement, wherein she would be able to come together with her peers face-to-face twice during the course of the program.
Sandi started the Doctor of Nursing Practice Executive Leadership in fall 2015 and will graduate in 2018. She hopes that earning the DNP will bolster her career and enable her to get involved on with national and international professional associations. “I’m not sure exactly what that looks like, but a life goal of mine is to help better the profession. That may eventually include a senior leadership position.” At Lakeland, she wants to help her organization be the best it can be. “I want Lakeland to be at the forefront of patient and nursing education, associate and leadership development, and physician leadership development. We strive to help our staff and patients retain what they learn, and we embrace technological and other innovations to do that.”
Achieving her dream
As a chief learning officer, Sandi certainly has a busy work schedule, but says that her “incredible team” keeps her on track and helps make it possible for her to keep all of the balls in the air while attending school. In fact, she plans to do her capstone project on nurse leader resiliency and how incorporating nurse resiliency training programs into hospitals benefits organizations long term. “This is certainly very applicable to my job and my workplace, and I appreciate that I’m able to incorporate a project like this into my DNP program. It’s one of several reasons I like the program.”
Inspired by Sandi’s story? A DNP with a specialization in executive leadership prepares master’s-educated nurses for leadership roles in the healthcare system. When you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes.
Read the other student success stories for more inspiration.