Nichole Cray grew up around the medical field. Her mother was an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and she followed in her footsteps, becoming a volunteer EMT at the age of 16. When she graduated high school, nursing seemed like the “right thing to do.”
“I have always loved helping people and healthcare just fell into place for me,” says Nichole, who was born and raised in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She earned a BSN at Alvernia University in 2011.
A range of professional experience
Nichole’s post-BSN career included time at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State Hershey Rehabilitation Hospital, where she worked with spinal cord injury, brain injury, and pediatric vent patients. She got the chance to work as a supervisor and an educator, mentoring new nurses and assisting with new employee training.
“That’s when I got my first taste of education,” Nichole says. “I loved helping new nurses build their skillsets. It was similar in rehabilitation. Someone might come in facing dire consequences, but I’d get to help them relearn things they used to take for granted like walking or feeding themselves. It was a use of my skills I found that I really liked.”
A new degree, a new adventure
During her undergraduate program, Nichole heard often from professors how important it was to continue her education. By 2013, she was enrolled in an MSN program (education specialization) at Alvernia. She graduated in 2016 and moved to Florida for a new adventure in a warmer climate—her first time living outside of Pennsylvania.
In October 2016, Nichole started at Memorial Hospital of Tampa, part of HCA’s West Florida division. She started out in medical-surgical but had the chance to move into a clinical educator position in spring 2017. “It was such a great experience,” Nichole says. So great, in fact, that when American Sentinel University representatives visited HCA to help her promote the BSN program to Memorial Hospital staff, she became interested in returning to school once again for a Doctor of Nursing Practice. In December 2017, she enrolled in the DNP Education Leadership.
Always a smart investment
Nichole’s mantra throughout her career thus far has been that education is “always a smart investment.” “The primary motivator for going ahead with the DNP is that I know it will open doors for me later on,” she says. “One day I might want to teach at a university or online, and this will pave that path for me.”
Already, her investment has paid off. In October 2018, Nichole accepted a position with Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton. She works with a team of educators at a larger facility and with nurse residency students. “I believe I got this position as a result of my dedication to educating others and advancing my education by pursuing my DNP at American Sentinel,” she says. “I’m very excited about this step and the chance to incorporate my capstone into my work at the hospital.”
In just a few months as a student, Nichole has been impressed by American Sentinel University’s DNP program. “I definitely took the online aspect into consideration and wasn’t sure it would be a good fit for me,” she says. “So far, I’ve really enjoyed everything: the convenience, the supportive staff and professors, the affordability. It didn’t take long for me to feel I made a good decision choosing this university and program.”
Inspired by Nichole’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.