Sharon Sikora has always been fascinated by how the human body works—and passionate about helping people. “Choosing nursing for my career was really a natural progression of those two interests,” says Sharon, a Michigan native. She earned the Associate Degree of Nursing and began her career in the cardiac stepdown unit of Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan. She spent 14 years with the hospital, also working in the operating room and the open heart surgery unit. Sharon also decided to further her education but wanted to expand her horizons beyond nursing. So, she earned a bachelor’s degree in allied health at Siena Heights University.
Two life changes
In 1999, Sharon and her then-boyfriend decided to move to the Chicago area, where he was from. At Evanston Hospital, a leader in cancer and cardiac care and now part of the NorthShore University HealthSystem (formerly part of Evanston Northwestern), she worked her way up from staff RN to the open heart and thoracic surgical areas to become a case manager of open heart and thoracic surgeries. Later, she joined a sister facility, Glenbrook Hospital, as manager of the operating and recovery rooms. Once again, Sharon pursued further education: a Master of Management at North Park University, which she earned in 2004. She also holds a certificate as a Registered Nurse First Assistant.
Eventually, Sharon was eager to make a life change. “I grew up in the cold and was very ready for a warmer climate,” she says. The trick was finding jobs for both her and her husband, whom she married in 2005. He is a perfusionist, a role in which he operates heart-lung machines. “Once I graduated from my master’s, we started looking in California. When a recruiter from Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills called, I told them about our situation and both of us searching for jobs.” Fortuitously, one of the hospital’s sister organizations was looking for a perfusionist, while Saddleback hired Sharon as manager of the operating room.
A new chapter
Two years later, Sharon became the executive director of surgical services—and became interested in informatics. “I’m very intrigued by the way that data can help us as nurses predict recovery times and make a difference for patients,” she says. “I want to understand how what we do as nurses makes a difference so that we can be as helpful, efficient and effective as possible.” Sharon started researching programs that would allow her to get both a BSN and an MSN with an informatics specialization—and discovered American Sentinel University. “With hospitals getting Magnet status, I knew that it was becoming more and more important for me to get my BSN and MSN, even though I have a lot of nursing experience.”
Sharon enrolled in the BSN in 2014 and found the program taught her more about healthcare than she even expected. “We’ve gotten into areas like the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation that nurses becoming baccalaureate prepared, the Healthy People 2020 national initiative and various things that impact the healthcare industry,” she says. “I’ve gained and learned a lot.”
To continue to challenge herself, Sharon pursued an opportunity at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Whittier, California. In September 2016, she became the clinical director of the operating room and scheduling. “I’ve always loved the operating room and I’m excited about the new role,” she says. “It’s fun to become a part of a new place. I am learning more as I begin this next adventure.” Sharon will complete her BSN this year and starts her MSN course work immediately thereafter.
Opening doors for the future
Sharon feels confident that her education will strengthen her resume—and boost her future career. “I know having these degrees will open doors for me,” she says. While the pursuit hasn’t been easy, she advises others working toward degrees while working full time to keep moving forward. “I’ve told myself this whole time to take it one step, one paper, one class at a time. It’s hard work, but in the end, I know it’s worth it.”
Inspired by Sharon’s story? An MSN program can be your passport to a specialty nursing field, like nursing education, informatics, nursing management and organizational leadership, or infection control. Specialized knowledge forms the foundation of these nursing fields. When you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes.