Western State Hospital Director of Infection Prevention Earns MSN, Enrolls in DNP

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a nurse,” says Karen Pitman, American Sentinel MSN, Infection Prevention and Control 2015 graduate and current Doctor of Nursing Practice Educational Leadership student. “I considered it my calling.

The Texas native who grew up in Washington state graduated with a nursing diploma in 1977 and enjoyed the variety offered by a career in nursing. She spent eight years as an Emergency Room nurse and 12 years as an employee health nurse for a not-for-profit hospital with Magnet recognition in Olympia. She even had the chance to fulfill a lifelong goal to become a school nurse—an aspiration that developed in high school, when Karen got to know her own school nurse. In 2004, Karen discovered infection control.

A valuable skillset

Karen’s infection control career began at a small, community hospital in southeast Washington, where she learned the nuances of a field that “few nurses are experts in. I found it very rewarding and interesting,” she says. “I felt good about serving as a resource to a lot of different people in the hospital.” In 2010, Karen took a position in infection control and employee health for an acute care hospital back in the Olympia area, Capital Medical Center. She also started thinking more seriously about how to enhance her skills with further education.

Discovering American Sentinel

For many years, Karen thought about going back to college, but as a mother of two and a full-time nurse, it was never feasible. “Not long after moving to Capital Medical, I started thinking about it again,” she says. “I knew that educational standards for nurses were changing, and I wanted to make myself more marketable.” With support of her employer, husband, and grown children, she started her search for the right RN to MSN program.

“I had three criteria: affordability, limited practicum requirements, given my many years of experience, and an infection prevention and control track,” Karen says. Those requirements led her to American Sentinel University, and Karen started the MSN, Infection Prevention and Control specialization, in 2012. She graduated in 2015. “The master’s degree has given me the credentials I need to continue successfully in this career.”

Onward for a DNP

Leading up to MSN graduation, Karen surprised herself when she started thinking about continuing for a doctorate. “A friend of mine convinced me that the two of us should get our DNP degrees from American Sentinel,” she says. With thoughts of teaching down the road, she decided to go for it while she was still in the “school mode.” As a mentor to infection control practitioners new to the field, Karen is augmenting that knowledge and laying the groundwork to teach online. “Infection control as a job involves a lot of teaching. I enjoy that, and hope to teach when I retire.

An eye on the prize and a new opportunity

Karen says the DNP has benefitted her already. “There’s so much I don’t know and I’m learning so much,” she says. “What’s especially unique is getting to listen to my peers from all over the country. I’m learning a lot from them too.” Karen will graduate in mid-2018.

Next week, she starts a new adventure with Western State Hospital, one of the largest psychiatric hospitals west of the Mississippi. She will assume the post of director of the hospital’s infection control program, a role for which a master’s degree was required. I’m looking forward to a new challenge,” she says. Her education, Karen adds, made her a solid candidate. “The investment in my education was definitely worth it and the MSN made me eligible for this job. In the next five years, I am excited to start sharing what I’ve learned in my career as a teacher.”

Inspired by Karen’s story? A DNP with a specialization in educational leadership prepares master’s-educated nurses for leadership roles in nursing education programs. When you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes.

Have you dreamed of earning your BSN, MSN or DNP? With American Sentinel, you can make that dream a reality.

Read the other student success stories for more inspiration.

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