“Nursing is in my genes,” says Kara Chavez, 29-year nurse of San Antonio, Texas, whose mother and grandmother were both nurses. After working as CNA as a teen and an LVN for several years, Kara returned to school for the ADN in her home state of Illinois and began her career at OSF HealthCare in Bloomington. There, she worked her way up from critical care charge nurse to assistant director of the intensive care/pediatric intensive care units. “I helped start an open-heart program there—the first one in the area. It was a great 16-year career at OSF.” From 2000-2003, Kara served as OSF’s director of critical care.
Around the country
In 2003, Kara was recruited to Renown Health in Reno, Nevada, because of her significant cardiac care and emergency experience. She started as the special care manager of the step-down unit and eventually became the manager of the 56-bed emergency department. She stayed until 2008, when she packed up and moved to California to join Kaiser Permanente in Redwood City as its emergency department director.
The timing of her promotion was also right for furthering her education. “I decided to get my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing while I was at Kaiser Permanente,” Kara says. She earned both degrees back-to-back online, finishing the MSN in 2012. That same year, she was promoted to critical care service line director at Kaiser’s Walnut Creek facility. She oversaw the ICU, critical monitoring unit and interventional services.
After a couple of interim positions, Kara was ready for her next adventure. She did a little online networking through LinkedIn and came into contact with Southwest General Hospital in San Antonio. One thing led to another, and Kara was hired in fall 2015 as the senior director of the intensive care units, emergency departments, dialysis and the cath lab. When the chief nursing officer was promoted to chief informatics officer, Kara was appointed as the interim CNO. She has served in the position permanently since October 2016.
At that time, she was encouraged to pursue a doctorate. “I wasn’t necessarily looking to earn a doctorate, but it was important for the role I was accepting,” Kara says. As an educational partner of Southwest General, American Sentinel University was on her short list of potential universities. “After doing some research, I felt American Sentinel’s Doctor of Nursing Practice Executive Leadership specialization was a perfect fit. The program itself looked great, but it was also something I felt I could fit into my busy schedule without compromising my life balance.” She started the DNP within a month of becoming CNO.
Making an impact
One year into the program, Kara says that the DNP has allowed her to focus intently on various work initiatives and issues in a different way. “It’s amazing, but it seems like I’ll have a situation occur at work and I’m in the middle of a class on that very topic,” she says. In fact, Kara is using her capstone project to address a current matter at Southwest General. “I’m trying to help our hospital improve its triage process in general, so the DNP capstone is a great opportunity to work on that.”
A lifelong goal
Kara will graduate with her DNP Executive Leadership in 2018. “I am extremely happy I pursued it,” she says. As for her long-term plan, whatever the future holds, Kara knows that the DNP will help her achieve success. “The DNP will help me no matter what. I always knew I would be a nurse, but I don’t think I ever thought I would pursue this much education. I’m now in my dream job and I will soon hold a doctorate. Those two things on their own make me very proud.”
Inspired by Kara’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.