Maria Mackey doesn’t necessarily think nursing was a calling, but more of a practical path that worked out well for her.
“As a child, I saw nursing as a way to support myself, and a great, practical career,” says Maria, who grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and was the first of her siblings—she’s one of six—to complete college. After high school, she enrolled in the BSN program at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales, and graduated in 1996. She started her career in an acute rehabilitation hospital for four years before moving to St. Luke’s University Hospital, a nonprofit, regional, nationally recognized network with seven hospitals and more than 200 sites throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Wound care and hyperbaric oxygen
At St. Luke’s, Maria gained clinical expertise in outpatient wound care and hyperbaric oxygen. She also decided the time was right to return to school for an MSN. On a hunch, she settled on the nursing education specialization, which led her to become a part-time, adjunct clinical instructor in St. Luke’s nursing diploma program as she worked toward completing the MSN. “I decided to just try it out, but ended up really liking teaching,” says Maria. “I enjoyed seeing things through the fresh perspective of new nursing students. It reinvigorated my love of nursing.”
Maria excelled in the program so much, in fact, that in 2007, she became a full-time nursing instructor in the diploma program at St. Luke’s. “I really love what I do,” she says. “Being with students, helping them build knowledge to start their careers is the best job ever.”
Driven to learn
Despite the fact that Maria never envisioned earning an MSN let alone a degree beyond that, she started thinking about earning a doctorate a few years into teaching full time. “The master’s degree was a turning point for me when I started realizing how enjoyable education actually can be when you’re more concerned about learning and the emphasis on tests was far less,” she says. After attending a nursing conference, she first heard about the Doctor of Nursing Practice and how it differed from the traditional research-based Ph.D. program. “That particular college’s program didn’t meet my needs, but when I returned home after the conference, I started searching online for a DNP program that would and found American Sentinel University.”
American Sentinel’s DNP Educational Leadership curriculum was what sealed the deal, and Maria began in October 2014. Her expectations were high—and American Sentinel met them. “The courses were fulfilling and rich with information,” Maria says. “I learned so much from my peers, which was an unexpected benefit. I gained a great understanding of the higher education setting, since I’ve always taught in a hospital-based nursing school. And I made awesome connections during the residencies that are unlike any relationships I built in the MSN.”
Moving into online education
In 2016, Maria began teaching online through Excelsior College, where she had worked periodically as a clinical examiner for the RN program since 2012. “Online learning is really where education is headed,” she says. “I’m enjoying that a lot and as with all of these new things I try, it gives me new perspective.
In October 2016, Maria graduated with the DNP Educational Leadership. As she glimpses her future, it feels wide open. “I could see myself teaching in a four-year university’s nursing program one day or eventually moving into leadership administration,” she says. In July 2017, Maria will present her DNP capstone, ‘Improving Student Nurses’ Attitudes Toward the Elderly,’ at the Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Research Congress in Dublin, Ireland. “This whole DNP experience has opened up so many doors for me and I know it will continue to do so. I’m glad that I invested in myself and my career.”
Inspired by Maria’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.