On career day at her middle school, Stefani Magnowski first learned about nursing. “A nurse came in with a stethoscope and a 1,000-page book, and I remember thinking, ‘wow, how amazing would it be to read a book that big and use a piece of equipment like that to save a life?’” says Stefani, who grew up in rural Wisconsin. The dream never faded, and in high school, she became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and worked as a float pool CNA at the local hospital in Waukesha, Wisconsin. After graduating, she went to Carroll University for a BSN—still working as a CNA—and graduated in 2012.
United States Air Force and an MSN
After college, Stefani commissioned as an officer in the Wisconsin Air National Guard. Prior to her commissioning, she was enlisted in the Force Support Squadron covering food services, mortuary, search and recovery, fitness and recreation services. Once Stefani was a Registered Nurse, she joined Waukesha Memorial Hospital as a nurse in the intensive care unit, while continuing to do ambulatory nursing in the National Guard.
A move with her husband to Texas in 2013 provided the right time to go back school for an MSN while working as a charge emergency department nurse at Methodist Metropolitan Hospital in San Antonio. Stefani also worked at Lackland Air Force base as the charge nurse of their acute care clinic for Air Force boot camp recruits.
In her online MSN program, Stefani decided on a nursing education specialization. “I’ve wanted to be a nurse for a long time, but I also always thought I’d teach one day,” says Stefani. After graduating, she moved back to Wisconsin and joined the nursing education and research department at a Veterans Administration Medical Center, which was partnered with Marquette University. There, she developed the senior-level baccalaureate Quality and Safety in Nursing course and did quality improvement work with frontline nursing staff on the VA medical units.
Back at the bedside
In 2016, Stefani jumped at the chance to take a management position—knowing that she would continue to teach as opportunities arose. She joined Rogers Behavioral Health as a clinical services manager of the child and adolescent inpatient unit. “I love patient care and was very intrigued by the chance to work with the child and adolescent population in this way,” she says. She became a manager of quality at Rogers in 2017, a role in which she translates evidence-based research into practice.
A DNP to meet her long-term goals
In 2017, Stefani decided she wasn’t finished with furthering her education. She had recently completed a graduate certificate in nursing leadership and administration, but was eyeing a terminal degree. “There are so many things we as nurses can do to improve patient care,” she says. “Having the DNP, I felt, would give me so many skills that would improve outcomes.”
While researching Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, a colleague referred Stefani to American Sentinel University. “I liked that it was a practice-focused program, and although I want to continue teaching, I also liked the Executive Leadership track,” she says. Stefani started the DNP Executive Leadership in June 2017 and is on track to graduate in spring 2019. “My goal is to become a CNO one day. I feel that I can influence patient outcomes in a leadership position by empowering staff, advocating for patients and impacting patient outcomes positively.” In May 2018, Stefani returned to the classroom to teach mental health clinicals for Marquette.
An eye-opening experience
The DNP experience has been highly positive for Stefani, who says she’s “looking at things more broadly now.” “I can step back and see how issues impact not just the patients, but the continuum of care,” she says. “It’s been eye opening.”
To reach her goal of a DNP, she’s had to create and stick to a rigid weekly schedule. She has lots of support from her husband, her parents and her employer, which provides tuition reimbursement. The effort, she knows, will be worth it. “I have big goals for my career,” Stefani says. “I tell other nurses I work with that if I can do this, they can too. It will put me in a good position to impact patient outcomes on a systems level.”
Inspired by Stephani’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.