Texas CNO Pursues DNP Executive Leadership to Bolster Future Plan

When Lisa Tarkington headed off to Lamar State College, her plan was to become a math professor.

“When I was a freshman in college, my grandmother became very ill and unfortunately she didn’t receive the best care,” says Lisa, a Texas native. The experience changed Lisa’s life—and her chosen career path. She changed her major and earned the ADN with plans to return to the same hospital and same intensive care unit where her grandmother was a patient to make a difference.

Working up to management

A few years later, Lisa followed a former manager to the open heart program at a nearby medical center. She spent the next several years working in the critical care/intensive care units of several hospitals and eventually decided it was important to earn her bachelor’s degree.

“When I became the assistant to interventional cardiology at San Antonio Endovascular Institute, I knew I needed a BSN,” says Lisa. She enrolled at Lamar University and graduated in 2003. Within a year, she joined Good Shepherd Medical Center as its clinical director of the cardiac inpatient unit. While there, Lisa earned an MBA in management at LeTourneau University. “Although I considered the MSN, I was in a leadership role. To stand alongside COOs and CEOs, I knew it was important to get a business degree.

Open doors

Through the years, opportunities became available to Lisa, thanks to her extensive network of colleagues from past jobs. She spent time as the director of critical care, cardiac intermediate and telemetry services for BSA Health System and moved to Memorial Hermann Hospital-Texas Medical Center, a 4,000-bed hospital, as the director of patient care of the heart and vascular institute in May 2015. While there, a friend turned her onto the idea of earning a doctorate. 

Discovering American Sentinel University

A Ph.D. had crossed Lisa’s mind before, but as a wife, mother and busy nurse director, she had essentially brushed the idea aside. With her oldest daughter headed to college, however, the timing was right to explore the dream once again. American Sentinel’s Doctor of Nursing Practice Executive Leadership came across her radar and was exactly what she wanted.

I’m practice minded in my work and I’ve stayed very close to the patients, so I wanted a DNP program,” says Lisa, who continues to do patient rounds several hours a week. “When I found American Sentinel, I liked the curriculum and the opportunity to do residencies to meet my peers. Honestly, it was perfect.” Lisa started her MSN bridge coursework in November 2015 and moved into the DNP curriculum in April 2016.

Finding her balance

A few months into her DNP program, Lisa decided to make a change to allow herself more time for school. “My role at Memorial Hermann was a huge responsibility and I was in charge of two cardiac intensive care units, two cardiac intermediate units and a cardiac/telemetry unit,” she says. When a former colleague approached her to become the CNO of a system of ambulatory surgery centers in the Houston area, Lisa was excited to take on a new challenge. “I love what I do. It’s a good fit for where I am right now.” 

Personal and professional aspirations

Lisa says that pursuing the DNP is a “longtime personal aspiration,” but she is also laying the groundwork for her retirement plan one day. “I would love to do interim CNO jobs around the country while we travel in our RV,” she says. “Some people want to retire, but I want to semi-retire. I am someone who loves making an impact on the organization where I work. I like the idea of going to a hospital and leaving it better than when I found it.” Lisa also plans to teach clinicals or as an adjunct down the road. 

Focused on the end goal

With the support of her family and her DNP cohort members, with whom she grew close at the first residency, Lisa is excited to achieve her goal. “Every class has taught me something new, and I’ve learned so much about how different leaders around the country do things,” she says. “At this point, I’m very focused on getting there and finding work/life balance takes effort. But I tell people all the time that this absolutely is achievable.

Inspired by Lisa’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.

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

Read the other student success stories for more inspiration.