When Jennifer Wilson was a biology major, little did she know she would end up with a BSN from the University of Maryland, work in Texas as a clinical professor, run an honors program, and eventually earn a DNP. After discovering her passion for pediatric oncology nursing early in her career, Jennifer found a way to fold her interest in biology and research into her career at the National Institute of Health, working as a clinical research nurse in the pediatric branch of the National Cancer Institute. That led her back to school for an MSN in Oncology at George Mason University in 1992.
A move into education
After completing her master’s, Jennifer and her husband moved to North Carolina, where she became an oncology educator at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. After a move to Texas, she returned to her love of research and pediatric oncology as a clinical research nurse in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Medical, Dallas. “I loved working there, but I wanted to be able to spend more time with my kids and thought I’d enjoy teaching.”
Luck was on her side, and Jennifer got an adjunct faculty position at Texas Woman’s University in 2005. “I fell in love with teaching and the students,” she says. She transitioned to teaching full-time 2008. Within a few years, she was also put in charge of the university’s honors program for nursing students across three campuses. She overhauled the program and created strategic high-impact experiences that integrated high-quality research, leadership, scholarship, and service. Within two years of becoming the honors coordinator, she had 30 students publishing or presenting their honors work at national conferences.
Becoming a leader
Although Jennifer was building her leadership aptitudes, she also felt she was missing key skills. “I had developed a successful honors program that was not sustainable should something ever happen to me,” she says. After researching doctoral programs, she decided that American Sentinel University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice Educational Leadership curriculum would help fill her knowledge gaps. She enrolled in 2015 and included her students on the ride. “I loved sharing this knowledge with a captive audience of honors students who wanted to know what I was learning.”
Jennifer’s first DNP course involved interviewing an administrator to understand organizational structure at TWU. She went for the top and reached out to her university’s provost. “That meeting changed everything for me, as I started to understand my university’s structure and challenges,” she says. Jennifer was soon accepted to the Sigma Theta Tau International Experienced Nursing Faculty Leadership Academy (ENFLA) to help her operationalize the knowledge she was gaining from school. “It was crazy to do both at the same time, but I survived, thanks to my mentors, Carol Huston and Ellen Buckner.”
Strengthening TWU’s honors program
As she made her way through school and ENFLA, Jennifer developed a team and created a sustainability plan that includes an innovative honors curriculum and model for the honors program that had grown from seven students to more than 50 during her tenure. Her model impressed the university so much that its initiatives were subsequently adopted by the entire university honors program—across three campuses. She is now sharing this novel model as she consults other honors leaders throughout the country.
Jennifer graduated with the DNP Educational Leadership in June 2017. “I’m very proud,” she says. “The DNP and Leadership Academy built a foundation that helped me approach complex problems more strategically. Today, it’s fun to recognize that every part of the DNP curriculum was relevant.”
Inspired by Jennifer’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.