Tammy Stokes knew she wanted to become a nurse from the time she was a young girl. When her father had bypass heart surgery at the age of 39—when Tammy was just nine years old—she was impressed with the nurses who cared for him. After graduating high school, however, she worked in the music industry in Nashville, Tennessee, not far from where she grew up. “Nursing and music were my loves,” says Tammy.
By her early 20s, Tammy left the music world, married and started a family. When the children became school age, it hit her: why not nursing, and why not now? “I started my Associate Degree of Nursing at Columbia State Community College here in Tennessee, and graduated in 2006,” Tammy says. She joined Maury Regional Medical Center in 2007 as a charge nurse on the medical-surgical unit.
A family addition, an unexpected turn of events
Just as she was starting her career at Maury, Tammy—mother to two tweens by then—learned she was pregnant with her third child. “Six months after my youngest daughter was born, I wasn’t feeling myself and had some tests done only to learn that I had inherited Coronary Artery Disease, the same disease that my father had,” she says.
Life thereafter had its ups and downs. Tammy had triple-bypass heart surgery in January 2010. As soon as she recovered, she knew she wanted to further her education. “I realized before I got sick that I had big goals in my career, but as soon as I was better, I was especially motivated,” she says. “I was resolute about getting my BSN.”
Finding American Sentinel University
Tammy started her research and was referred to American Sentinel University by the chief nursing officer at Maury. “She raved about American Sentinel and online learning in general and when I looked into it, it really felt like a good fit for me,” she says. “Just like Maury is my family, American Sentinel felt like family right away. Everyone there wants you to succeed.”
Tammy graduated with the BSN in 2013 and took a position as a clinical nurse educator. In 2014, her dream position became available: palliative care nurse navigator. Her job was to work with hospice patients and caregivers to ensure the development of patients’ plans of care.
Continuing her education to solidify her future
After taking a short break, Tammy started the MSN Nursing Management and Organizational Leadership—and American Sentinel was the natural choice. “When I think about nursing and the role I play, I realize that I am in the specialty area of nursing that I know I was meant for,” she says. “I’ve had my own very serious health issues. Not every nurse feels comfortable talking with patients about end-of-life decisions. I feel like I am made for this position.”
In 2017, Tammy was promoted to director of palliative care services at Maury Regional. “Being able to work with those who struggle with chronic disease does not feel like a job to me,” she says. “It feels like a calling. I love what I do.” Even as a director, Tammy stays as hands on as she can, seeing patients regularly.”
Blessed and lucky to help others
Tammy graduated with the MSN Nursing Management and Organizational Leadership in 2018. Great things are happening for her, including being awarded Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse of the Year from the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center. She also serves on the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse Examination Development Committee Member.
Life has been a winding path, but Tammy says she’s grateful for where it has led her. “With my health, there has been tragedy and there’s been a lot of work, but mostly it has all been a blessing,” she says. “I’m so grateful to be here helping others and grateful to American Sentinel for helping me fulfill my passion.”
Inspired by Tammy’s story? An MSN program can be your passport to a specialty nursing field, like nursing education, informatics, nursing management and organizational leadership, infection control, or case management. 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.
Read the other student success stories for more inspiration.