When Lisa Cierpka was growing up, she dreamed of being a veterinarian…until she got her first job working in a hospital. “It planted a seed that grew over the years,” says Lisa, who was born and raised in New Jersey. Although she went to college and declared biology as her major, a conversation with a family friend during her junior year made her switch gears. “I told my parents I wanted to change majors to nursing, and learned that my grandmother had been a nurse. In a lot of ways, it felt meant to be.”
Building a nursing career
Lisa transferred to the nursing school at Seton Hall University and graduated with the BSN in 1988. She gained experience in the surgical intensive care unit, the cardiac/coronary care unit and intensive care unit over the next 15 years before discovering disease management. “The beauty of having a BSN is that I didn’t feel stuck in one position,” Lisa says. “I took my bedside experience and applied it, using my evidence-based practice knowledge. Disease management made me a better clinician. It was constant on-the-job learning.”
A move to Florida, a new path
In 2003, Lisa moved to Florida to be closer to her mother and eventually landed at Quality Health Plans as a director of medical affairs. In 2010, she joined Oak Hill Hospital, an HCA facility, where she spent time as a case manager for the open-heart unit and a clinical documentation specialist.
In 2013, Lisa got the opportunity to become the cardiovascular structural heart disease nurse navigator at Oak Hill, a role in which she educates newly discharged patients on their treatment plans. She also sees patients with aortic valve disease to educate them about the disease process and recommended treatment. “The job can be extremely rewarding,” she says. “I like being able to simplify what can be a scary time for patients to help them understand what to do to help themselves get healthier.”
Time for a new challenge
Though her career has offered her many opportunities to advance and try new things, in 2018, Lisa felt she was ready for a new challenge: a master’s degree. “In my structural heart position, I’m exposed to nurse practitioners often and I was in awe of a few of them,” she says. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s how I could make a difference: as an advanced nurse practitioner.’ I liked the idea of combining my clinical knowledge and case management experience with further education to offer even greater service to patients.”
Lisa learned about American Sentinel University’s newly launched MSN Nurse Practitioner program through HCA’s educational partnership with the university as well as Oak Hill’s chief nursing officer, who is a Doctor of Nursing Practice student currently. “I was excited to get started so after I researched American Sentinel, I enrolled in September 2018. So far, it’s been a great experience.”
Defining her future
After earning the MSN Nurse Practitioner degree in 2020, Lisa hopes to specialize in cardiac medicine. “Our plan at Oak Hill is to offer an aortic valve procedure to our heart patients down the road and I’d love to be the nurse practitioner that assumes that role,” she says.
Being a student again after so many years away from college, Lisa says, isn’t easy—but it is worthwhile. “There’s a fair amount of anxiety to go back to school at my stage in life and career, but American Sentinel has been a great experience,” she says. “I pride myself on staying current on the latest in medicine, especially in the cardiovascular realm. This degree will enable me to have a great impact on patients.”
Inspired by Lisa’s story? An MSN program can be your passport to a specialty nursing field, like family nurse practitioner, adult gerontology nurse practitioner, case management, nursing education, informatics, nursing management and organizational leadership, or infection control. Specialized knowledge forms the foundation of these nursing fields. When you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes.