Valerie Danko-Pasnau has no trouble recalling the first time she was motivated to further her education.
“I was an LPN and I received a letter from the director of nursing at our hospital about getting Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certification,” recalls Valerie, who had been an LPN in an emergency room for eight years. “I showed up for the training and was told it was only for RNs.”
Months later, Valerie started an RN program at St. Vincent’s College of Nursing in Bridgeport, Connecticut, vowing to never again let a lack of education hold back her career. She spent the next six years exploring many new areas: the intensive care unit, recruiting, and nursing education—all while continuing to work in long-term care on weekends. In 1998, Valerie and her family moved from Connecticut to Arizona, and she discovered long-term acute care. She joined Phoenix Memorial Hospital.
Moving into nursing education
In 2003, Valerie joined Mesa General Hospital as the director of acute care services but was soon asked to take over nursing education and recruitment. “I interviewed nurses and once they were hired, they worked through me for staff development too,” says Valerie, who earned the BSN from Grand Canyon University in 2004. Eventually, Valerie joined Kindred Healthcare as its area director of education.
In 2011, however, Valerie’s youngest daughter and husband decided to move back to Connecticut—and convinced Valerie to join them in anticipation of the birth of their first child. She joined Vibra Healthcare as vice president of clinical development and operations and enrolled in an online MSN, executive leadership program. She graduated in 2013.
On for a doctorate
During the MSN program, Valerie initially planned to get an MBA as well, but began hearing from colleagues about the Doctor of Nursing Practice. “I was enamored by the idea of becoming a doctor of nursing, and the DNP really seemed to fit my career more than an MBA would,” she says. Valerie began researching programs and discovered American Sentinel University—a perfect fit. Since her MSN had an executive leadership focus, she decided to pursue the DNP Educational Leadership. She started the program in 2014.
Valerie’s role today focuses on developing curriculum for nursing professional development. “My DNP classes have been affirmation of things I’d already been doing in my job,” she says. “But the program also exposed me to lots of new material. I’m learning so much from my peers and in every single class.” In addition to helping her in her job, Valerie says that she hopes the DNP bolsters her resume so she can speak at nursing conferences, and one day, become an adjunct professor.
A tragedy along the way
One year into the DNP Educational Leadership, Valerie’s son—who was living in Boulder, Colorado—drowned in a tubing accident. The tragedy understandably threw her entire life off course and she had to step away from school for six months. “The university really hung in there with me and I’m very grateful for that,” she says. “After a while I realized that I didn’t want to give up. My son was so proud of me, and I knew I had to pick myself back up and do this. For him.” Valerie is now in the home stretch of the DNP and will graduate in June 2017.
A mentor to others
Throughout her career, Valerie says that the most rewarding times have come from helping other nurses beginning their careers. “I’ve had many tell me I’ve inspired them to go back to school and I want to use this DNP and my experiences to continue doing that,” she says. “The DNP gives me the ability to take complex matters and translate them for nurses at the bedside. I’m nearing the end of my career, so I don’t know if I’m going to change the world of nursing at this point but there’s a good chance I’ll encounter a nurse who will. They need that translator, and that’s me.”
Inspired by Valerie’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.