Donna Montgomery has grown to believe wholeheartedly that learning is a lifelong journey.
“I earned my associate degree in nursing in 1981, and after a few years in medical/surgical and critical care, I felt there was so much more for me to learn to provide the best care for my patients,” says Donna, who grew up in New Mexico. She earned a BSN at the College of the Southwest, moved to El Paso, Texas, and got into oncology nursing at Providence Memorial Hospital.
Discovering her passion
In the community hospital setting, Donna became passionate about oncology, working as a nurse manager and product line manager. “I recognized then that I didn’t understand the business side of healthcare,” she says. She enrolled in an MBA program at Our Lady of Lake University, graduating in 1997—amid the early times of technology changing nursing and healthcare. Her goal: to find ways to streamline and improve processes wherever she worked.
Donna landed at St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System in Houston as the project manager of clinical and web applications in December 1997, where she stayed for 10 years. When the organization built a new community hospital in The Woodlands, she served as manager of quality, patient safety, and accreditation until 2008. She was recruited for a one-year post at Houston Northwest Medical to help the organization prepare for its Joint Commission survey.
Baylor Scott & White Health
Over the years, Donna had developed a strong professional network—and she was recruited by a colleague to Baylor Scott & White Health Care in 2009. “They had implemented a new electronic health system and needed help overcoming some of the challenges associated with that,” she says. Donna joined Baylor Scott & White Health, the largest not-for-profit healthcare system in Texas and one of the largest in the U.S., as its system director for nursing informatics. That’s when she decided it was time to improve herself through education once again.
Finding American Sentinel University
With the healthcare landscape changing and becoming more complex, Donna sought a program that would help her keep pace. “I wanted to enhance my leadership skills, but I also needed a program that would allow me to balance school with my demanding position.” Two fellow informatics leaders were graduating from the Doctor of Nursing Leadership Executive Leadership program at American Sentinel University. “I looked into it myself, and it was just what I was looking for. I liked the way the program focused on executive leadership and that I could learn through practicum experiences and hands-on projects.” Donna started the Doctor of Nursing Practice Executive Leadership in 2013. Today, she is Baylor Scott & White’s vice president of nursing informatics and clinical excellence.
Changing outcomes at her health system
Going into the DNP, Donna’s goal was to help her organization solve complex problems. “We merged three years ago and we’re continuing to standardize how we use technology and information to affect our patients in positive ways, and so the evidence-based practice I learned throughout my DNP has made a big difference in my efforts to bring efficiency to our health system,” she says.
Her capstone on the effectiveness of electronic alerts on urinary catheters was one of many examples of how Donna put her Doctor of Nursing Practice work to use. “In the DNP, you have this amazing opportunity to apply principles from a theoretical framework to a real place where they’ll be used by nurses and clinicians,” adds Donna. “I was able to study, write about, and articulate what I learned. Every single Monday, I went into work with something in mind I wanted to try or do differently. It was energizing and useful.”
Open to opportunities
Donna graduated with the DNP Executive Leadership in May 2016. She now feels she has the credentials to take advantage of whatever opportunities come her way. Outside of Baylor Scott & White, she accepted an online adjunct faculty position in January 2017 teaching informatics classes at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. She is working on a business plan for an informatics consulting business she plans to launch down the road. And she serves on two boards, including the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the American Nurses Informatics Association (as president) and the Healthcare and Information Management Systems Society (as vice president of advocacy).
“Being in school helped me in so many ways, but it has given me a big-picture perspective of healthcare,” Donna says. “The DNP supplemented my career knowledge and has allowed me to develop a skill set that I needed to lead in today’s very complex work environment. That was what I wanted out of the program. It has already proven to be one of the best educational decisions I’ve made in my career.”
Inspired by Donna’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.