At age 14, Constance Schmidt never dreamed she’d one day hold a doctorate degree—let alone a bachelor’s degree. “I was a high school dropout who was pregnant at 14,” says Constance, who went on to complete the GED and work for the family car dealership. When she met her now-husband at age 18—whom she calls her rock and “God’s intervention”—she had two more children, continuing to work in the automobile industry, but her experience giving birth changed everything. “When I had my third child, the labor and delivery nurse who cared for me made such a difference for me in a time of vulnerability. I have always taken care of animals and people, but that interaction made me realize that nursing might be for me.”
Off to nursing school
Constance earned an associate degree at Aims Community College in Greeley, Colorado, and a BSN at the University of Northern Colorado. She started her career at Banner Health, first as a charge nurse on the general surgery team and then as a clinical resource coordinator in the surgical unit. She continued to gain experience in bariatric services for a clinic and at Rose Medical in Denver and eventually followed a former boss to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, the largest hospital in Wyoming. There, she started out in bariatrics and oncology for five years and took a position in 2001 as the administrator of ambulatory services.
Many opened doors
At Cheyenne Regional, opportunities were plentiful. “I was able to take on great challenges there,” says Constance, who started a master’s in healthcare administration at Bellevue University. “I’m an operations person, and I have my eye on leadership,” she says of the choice to choose a management program over an MSN. Constance graduated in 2008.
Next stop: a doctorate
In 2012, Constance had a career-changing opportunity to step in as interim chief nursing officer and vice president of clinical services at Cheyenne Regional, a role that quickly became permanent. She reported to the chief executive officer and was accountable for more than 1,000 employees.
When her mentor, the vice president of quality, talked to Constance about her experience in American Sentinel University’s MSN and nudged her toward the Doctor of Nursing Practice Executive Leadership, she was immediately interested. “I knew that with my plans to pursue executive leadership, I needed a doctorate to stay competitive,” she says. “I want to become a COO and a CEO one day.” Constance started the program in 2012.
Beneficial and applicable
Constance was initially attracted to the DNP for its curriculum and schedule but quickly discovered that the program was applicable to her daily job. “The DNP ties to so much of what’s happening in healthcare today,” she says. “I used my capstone project to assess the efficacy of a shared governance program at our hospital after we’d rebuilt it and to understand nurses’ perception.” In 2015, she graduated from the DNP Executive Leadership with a goal of pursuing a leadership position in a healthcare system.
A new challenge
Constance started a nationwide search for her next opportunity—her children now grown and living back in Colorado and her husband willing to go anywhere. When a CNO opportunity with Centura Health St. Mary Corwin in Pueblo, it seemed like a fit. “The CEO needed a partner and when I told him some of the things I had accomplished at Cheyenne Regional, it seemed like our styles were a good match,” she says. “Really, the stars aligned. And having the DNP combined with four years of executive experience under my belt certainly helped.” Constance started the job in May 2016.
Working to drive change
As she did at Cheyenne, Constance is eager to make improvements in her new role. Already she has lowered the RN vacancy rate and helped improve the efficiency and performance of the patient care services division.
As she continues her career climb, Constance is confident that her investment in a DNP has been worthwhile. “I’m so glad I did it,” she says. “I tell people that time doesn’t stop and wait for you to make things happen. Why not do something to better yourself?”
Inspired by Constance’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.
Read the other student success stories for more inspiration.