If someone had told Ellen King 20 years ago that she would eventually hold BSN and MSN degrees and would be well on her way to a doctorate, she wouldn’t have believed it.
“It’s amazing where life takes you,” says Ellen, who grew up in Kansas. Although she didn’t enjoy the nursing diploma program she started out of high school, Ellen returned to the endeavor after a break during which she married and had a child. Ellen earned the LPN in 1978 and began her career working in women’s health and newborn care.
An itch for something more
Twenty years into her LPN career—and after moving around the country and settling in Maine—Ellen was ready to do something for herself. “By this time, I had four children I homeschooled, and we lived on a farm that also took some of our time,” she says. Before online learning existed, she earned the ADN through Excelsior College’s distance education program in 1998, which allowed her to move up at her hospital to a staff RN position in the Women and Infant unit. “That made me realize how much I like school and learning and pushed me to stretch my wings.”
Ellen became a travel nurse in 2004, which exposed her to healthcare systems around the country. She also decided to go back to school online, getting a BSN at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in 2007. With her children grown, Ellen and her significant other relocated to Pulaski, Tennessee, where she accepted a job as an obstetrics director at Southern Tennessee Regional Hospital.
An opportunity to teach
For years, Ellen had been thinking about teaching, and in Tennessee she had the chance. She became an adjunct at the local college, Martin Methodist, and was encouraged to earn an MSN. She went to Austin Peay State University, graduating with an MSN in nursing education in 2009. The credential allowed her to move from adjunct clinical instructor to instructor at Martin Methodist, while still working as the house supervisor and OB staff nurse at the hospital.
In 2012, Ellen moved to Beckley, West Virginia, and she became the executive director of Women and Children’s Services at Raleigh General Hospital. In the back of her mind, she thought about pursuing teaching opportunities at the University of Charleston in town down the road. When the director of the university’s brand-new ADN program came to the hospital one day to promote the program, he and Ellen struck up a conversation, and before she knew it, Ellen joined the faculty full time in fall 2014 as an assistant professor in the ADN program.
Time for a doctorate
As soon as she started her career at the University of Charleston, Ellen began contemplating returning to school once again—this time for a terminal degree. “I searched for a nursing doctorate program where I could use my educational master’s degree and continue to grow my career in teaching, which is what I love,” she says. Ellen also needed the program to accommodate her schedule. She discovered a new DNP in Educational Leadership at American Sentinel and joined the inaugural cohort in fall 2015. It hasn’t been easy, but step by step—with the unwavering support of her partner, Tom, Ellen has almost reached the finish line and will graduate in August 2018. “American Sentinel is a great university for people who want to earn a degree but have a life. I appreciate how much support I’ve gotten there along the way.”
A bookmark, not a comma
Although she’s excited to finish the DNP, Ellen says earning the doctorate was not just something she wanted to check off a checklist. “I tell people that this is a bookmark in my life, not a comma,” Ellen says, adding that she sees herself continuing to teach for as long as she can, and would love to help develop an MSN program at her university one day. Her advice to her own students is heartfelt. “My dad never graduated from high school and I’m the only person in my family who went to college. I got my associate degree at 39 years old. It is never too late to pursue a dream.”
Inspired by Ellen’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.
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