At a young age, Anna Maldonado decided to follow in her mom’s footsteps to become a nurse. “I worked in an elder care home during high school and discovered that I really liked caring for people,” says Anna, who was born in New York but moved to Puerto Rico as a young child. She earned the BSN at Interamerican University of Puerto Rico in 1985 and began her career as a staff nurse in the emergency and intensive care units of Hospital San Pablo.
A family tragedy changed her course
When her younger brother, a medical student in Mexico, passed away unexpectedly, Anna’s perspective on life completely changed. “One of the many things that experience taught me is that life is precious and that your dreams can be taken from you,” she says.
Thereafter, Anna moved to the west side of the island where most of her family lives. For five years, she worked as a visiting home health and hospice nurse and an infusion nurse at a pharmaceutical company for another two. In 1998, Anna returned to the hospital setting. She accepted a nurse manager position in the medical surgical unit of Hospital Bella Vista in Mayaguez in 2000.
Furthering her education
Raised by parents who strongly believed in the importance of education, Anna returned to college the same year to earn the MSN (education and adult/elderly specializations) followed by the Family Nurse Practitioner, both at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus in San Juan (graduating in 2003 and 2009, respectively). In 2006, she left Hospital Bella Vista to work in an emergency department clinic. As much as she enjoyed patient care, through the years Anna had also discovered a passion for teaching.
“I know what it’s like to be a nurse and I felt I could add value teaching new nurses how to do their jobs well, how to remain compassionate for the ill while also keeping in mind the many regulatory and other issues,” she says. “I wanted to become the type of nursing professor that teaches nurses the correct and best way.”
In 2009, Anna was encouraged by a colleague to apply for an instructor position at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez (UPRM) campus. To her delight, she landed the job. It was only a matter of time before the university encouraged her to pursue a doctoral degree. Anna discovered American Sentinel University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice Educational Leadership program and says she knew instantly “it was the right one.”
A strong support system
Anna had plenty of fear when she started her DNP in 2015, but says that American Sentinel’s supportive staff and professors helped her build confidence as she moved through her classes. “I love that they guide you every step of the way and are there for you no matter what, Anna says. “Everyone, from the deans, to the student success advisors, to your fellow cohort members, wants you to be successful.” Recently, she referred two colleagues to the DNP program—and even accompanied them on a trip to Denver to attend the residency.
Another important source of strength and support is Anna’s family. One of six children, Anna’s parents have always encouraged her and her siblings to pursue education. “My mom always said that education was essential, so she told us all to never give up,” she says. “It is a family philosophy: work hard, and get an education. My family is very proud of me.” Most of Anna’s siblings also hold master’s degrees.
Dreaming big for the future
When Anna graduates with the DNP in October 2017, she hopes to become a full-time faculty member—currently, she is on contract for UPRM. “I want to apply the knowledge I’ve gained throughout my career and in the DNP program,” she says.
The greatest benefit of her DNP, she says, is big picture knowledge. “I’m getting so much information about how the whole healthcare system works—the policies, the accreditation, the regulations,” says Anna, who became president of the Colegio de Profesionales de la Enfermeria de Puerto Rico’s section of Advanced Practice Nursing in 2015. “All of this has helped me build the skills to make a difference in my profession and in healthcare here in Puerto Rico.”
Inspired by Anna’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.
Read the other student success stories for more inspiration.