When she was 20-years old, Sheila Bennett never imagined that one day, she might hold a college degree—let alone a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Sheila did not finish high school, but rather, got married and went to work in a yarn mill at 16. Yet, it was always a goal of hers to become a nurse. “I never wanted to be anything else, but it took a few years to get there,” she says. After befriending a woman at work who was pursuing the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) credential, Sheila took a leap of faith and decided to chase her dream. She became an LPN in 1980 and a Registered Nurse in 1984.
From the Bedside to HR
Early in her nursing career, Sheila found herself progressing in HR and nurse recruiting. She became the vice president of HR for Adventist Health System in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1995, and was named regional director of HR for Adventist Midwest in 2001. Though she loved the area, she always stayed close to the patient, working nights and weekends in medical/surgical. “I’m happiest when I can make a difference in the lives of patients,” Sheila says.
Through luck and hard work, Sheila had the opportunity to become the CNO of Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital in Chicago in 2004. “Before I got the job, I was pigeonholed as an HR executive, but my heart was in patient care,” she says. “Getting the CNO job took some convincing, and I had a huge learning curve.” By this time, Sheila had earned a B.S. in Health Arts and a Master of Health Administration, but wanted more clinical education. When Sheila took over as vice president and CNO of Floyd Medical Center—a not-for-profit, 304-bed acute care hospital in Georgia—in 2007, she started an online BSN program at Jacksonville University and graduated in 2010.
Right Time, Right Place
Despite all of her career success, Sheila felt that there was room to enhance her skill set with further education. In 2013, she started searching for a doctorate that would give her the credentials to stand alongside other leaders in her hospital—as well as leadership and business intelligence knowledge. American Sentinel’s DNP Executive Leadership offered exactly what she sought. “American Sentinel’s program filled in the gaps for me and had the right amount of nursing theory for someone at my level,” she says.
Building the Skills to Succeed
During her two years in the program, Sheila was eager to take advantage of the DNP capstone project as a chance to work on an issue or problem that was meaningful for her organization. She studied the shared governance organizational model in nursing, which engages nurses in decision making that impacts their practice. Sheila surveyed her organization and used her capstone as the basis for implementing shared governance as a means of improving care at the bedside. “I’ve tried to implement some things that will facilitate sustainable change here at Floyd Medical,” she says.
Securing the Future
Sheila graduated in February 2015 and is looking forward to utilizing all she’s learned at American Sentinel to continue making Floyd Medical the best facility possible. “This hospital offers excellent patient care,” she says. “For me, the DNP program has given me strategic leadership and strategic planning skills as well as the ability to identify and understand important nursing research. It’s strengthened my own background and urged me to seek out opportunities to showcase the work of our nursing staff here at Floyd.”
Inspired by Sheila’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.
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 educational and executive leadership.