Ten years into her nursing career, Cindy Estes recognized that the healthcare landscape around her was changing. An associate degree-prepared nurse with experience at a state psychiatric hospital and a children’s hospital, Cindy was motivated to further her education as she moved away from the hospital and into administration with a prison health company. In 2005, she earned a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration, followed by a master’s in the same field of study.
“Eventually, I missed hospital-based nursing,” says Cindy, who has lived in Virginia since her early days as a nurse. She applied to Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center and joined the hospital as its clinical manager in 2006. Because her bachelor’s degree was not in nursing, Cindy went back to school once again to earn the BSN and MSN online. In 2010, Cindy moved to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, taking the helm as director of patient care services.
Next goal: Doctor of Nursing Practice
“After I completed the MSN, I was certain I was absolutely done with school,” Cindy admits. “But as I grew in my role at Sentara, I realized there are still many things I want to learn. I decided not to shut that door quite yet.” With a wide range of clinical experiences—from oversight of medical oncology to inpatient rehabilitation, from intensive care to medical/surgical—Cindy sought a doctorate that would augment her background. “The idea of a doctorate was driven by a desire to learn. I love where I work and there are tremendous growth opportunities, so the reason I wanted a doctorate wasn’t to change jobs. It was to increase my knowledge, support my staff the best way possible and be a better professional.”
Referred to American Sentinel University
Cindy was referred to American Sentinel by several colleagues who were pursuing BSN and MSN degrees. She liked the structure and curriculum of the DNP Executive Leadership, and decided to take the leap in October 2014. “It was definitely one of the best, most challenging things I’ve done in my life,” she says. “I realized when I started that I wasn’t prepared to think differently. This program is built for working students, and challenges you to push yourself and consider many different perspectives.”
For her capstone research, Cindy authored, “The Impact of a Standardized Rounding Tool on the Hospitalized Patient Experience Score of Nurse Communication.” “Everything we do today is centered around the patient experience, so my goal was to understand the HCAHPS survey score and how the patient experience drives quality,” she says. “I went on to implement the electronic rounding tool in our hospital that was already being used by our system. So, doing this was a win-win professionally.” In February 2017, Cindy completed the DNP Executive Leadership.
Continuing her quest for learning
With the DNP Executive Leadership under her belt, Cindy is now on to her next adventure. “I’m working to extend my capstone so I can publish it when I’m done, and I’m also looking into mentoring master’s and doctoral students who are Sentara employees,” she says.
Earning the DNP was a worthwhile endeavor that has fueled her love of learning. “I work at a teaching hospital where I operationalize and do the exact job that the DNP curriculum focused on,” she says. “This experience helped me understand how to appraise the literature and cement knowledge I understood previously but didn’t know as deeply as I should have. Most importantly, learning the executive principles through the Executive Leadership track has provided significant professional growth and changed me in my role as a nurse executive. Those were some of the biggest takeaways for me, and it was definitely a great experience.”
Inspired by Cindy’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.