Whenever Benita Smith runs into people she grew up with around her hometown of San Antonio, they often tell her the same thing. “Friends from childhood always say, ‘You ended up doing what you said you’d do!’” laughs Benita, who knew from the time she was a young girl that she would one day pursue a nursing degree at the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center in San Antonio. “I’ve always wanted to help people. It’s something I gravitated to as a kid and when thinking about a career.”
Benita graduated from UT in 1980 with a BSN and took a job with Baptist Health System, where she held a variety of roles. She started out as a surgical nurse for several years, working with patients receiving laparoscopic, cardiac, orthopedic and general surgeries, then became a circulating nurse in the operating room. Those experiences allowed her to mentor new nurses—something she greatly enjoyed. “My last six years at Baptist Health, I ended up becoming the education director, teaching operating room nurses,” Benita says.
Exploring new horizons
After 14 years at Baptist Health, Benita decided to try out some new things. She worked in home health, as a telephone triage nurse and as an assistant director of surgical services before returning to the operating room in 2001 as a perioperative nurse and educator at Methodist Healthcare System. “Nursing is so great because you can change your career without having to change careers,” Benita says. “It’s been fun to try new things and places.”
In 2011, Benita had the opportunity to teach students at Galen College of Nursing who were completing their clinicals at Methodist Healthcare. She enjoyed it so much she accepted a full-time job offer in 2011. “I love shaping the nurses of tomorrow,” says Benita, who taught advanced medical-surgical nursing at Galen’s San Antonio campus. That same year, Benita earned the MSN at Western Governors University.
Time for further education
When Benita’s husband retired, the couple made plans for their next life chapter: traveling the country in an RV. Benita, however, wasn’t quite ready to retire. So when Galen needed an online instructional specialist who could monitor faculty participation in online courses and develop curriculum—the perfect remote job—she jumped at the opportunity. Benita started the job in 2014.
Around the same time, Benita was thinking about how she could continue working in retirement while enjoying life on the road. “My supervisor Lacey Bass was a Doctor of Nursing Practice Educational Leadership student at American Sentinel at the time, and encouraged me to explore it also,” she says. “I wanted a doctorate, but with our life plan, this online program was just what I needed.” She enrolled in American Sentinel’s DNP Educational Leadership in August 2015. Today, Benita works remotely and pursues her DNP course work online—and in her little free time, helps her husband run an RV park by Big Bend National Park that the couple purchased last year. She splits her time between San Antonio and their RV.
A wise investment
Benita’s American Sentinel experience has far surpassed her expectations. “I’ve been so pleased with every class and every instructor as well as the quality of the course work,” says Benita, adding that she constantly applies what she’s learning to her work. “I know that I’ll come away from this program with more than just three letters behind my name, but having learned a lot.” At Galen, Benita is in good company. As an educational partner of American Sentinel, the college has several other faculty members enrolled in the DNP program as well.
Bolstering her future
When Benita finishes her DNP program, she’s confident that her newfound credentials will enable her to take her career as far as she wants. “I can grow at Galen, which continues to grow and impress hospitals with the quality of our students,” she says. “The DNP opens up a world of future possibilities.”
Inspired by Benita’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.