When Tammy Stefek returned to school 25 years into her nursing career, she didn’t imagine she would one day return to the very same school she attended as a student, to become a teacher.
Tammy had 14 years of experience in the neonatal intensive care unit at Long Beach Memorial Miller Children’s Hospital in California and nearly a dozen years of experience in community health nursing, occupational health, infection prevention, and nurse management at hospitals in Kansas when she decided to get the BSN. “It wasn’t a mandate at that point, but it felt like the right thing to do to progress in any roles within my organization,” says Tammy, who was the nursing manager/staff development coordinator at a small critical access hospital in Kansas at the time. She graduated from Tabor College in 2007, and immediately enrolled in the MSN program at Walden University. Upon completion, she was promoted to the director of nursing position.
Time for a change
In 2010, Tammy earned the MSN in nursing education online to keep her future options open. Something inside of her told her it was time for a change. “One of my favorite instructors from Tabor College called me and said, ‘We know you have your master’s now…would you be interested in an adjunct position here?’” she recalls. Soon, Tammy was invited to apply to become a full-time faculty member in the nursing program and got the job in 2011. “It just all kind of fell into place and felt right. I was ready for something new and it all worked out.”
Nudged toward a DNP
Tammy is one of two full-time nursing faculty members at Tabor College, and was encouraged to get a terminal degree. “A former instructor and preceptor for my master’s work, Tona Leiker, was in a leadership role at American Sentinel University, so I inquired about the DNP Educational Leadership program and felt like it was a fit with my future goals,” she says. In 2014, Tammy started at American Sentinel.
“I could tell almost immediately that it was going to be very beneficial for me,” she says. “Each class boosted my knowledge and pushed me to think differently. I now have a clearer understanding of higher education and the role that I play as a nurse. I feel that this process has made me a stronger leader and has given me the resources to better prepare our nurses for the future.”
A relevant capstone
For Tammy’s capstone, she was interested in addressing student and faculty retention in academic organizations. She built on the doctoral work of Dr. Leiker to determine what attributes lead to the culture in nursing schools that had been awarded National League for Nursing Centers of Excellence designation.
“I built on what Dr Leiker had started in her dissertation in order to understand what students and faculty look for in academic organizations,” she says. Tammy graduated from American Sentinel in December 2016, but has continued working with Dr. Leiker at a steady pace on the research process. “Dr. Leiker and I have been working on several surveys for nursing faculty, which will ultimately lead to the development of assessment tools that will allow academic organizations to determine the culture within their systems.”
The duo is honored to present their work at the National League for Nursing 2017 Education Summit in San Diego in September. “It’s really exciting that my work didn’t just stop when I graduated,” Tammy says. “I feel like this project will continue for several years.” The title of Tammy’s capstone is, “Articulating the Culture of the Original National League for Nursing Centers of Excellence Programs in the United States.”
Celebrating her accomplishment
Now that Tammy has graduated, she’s feeling reflective about the DNP experience. “This program was very demanding of my time, of course, but it was a great experience. It didn’t come without its challenges” she says. “As adult learners, we are met with challenges each day. Losing my father halfway through the program was my most difficult challenge, but knowing what I needed to do combined with the university’s willingness to work with me got me through a very rough time.”
Tammy also became well-versed in the big-picture of nursing education and academic organizations. “I learned and continue to learn the research process in multiple ways,” she says. “I’m excited to see where this DNP will lead me and have absolutely no regrets for taking this journey.”
Inspired by Tammy’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.