For Nancy Wilkins, taking care of others has always come naturally.
“When I was growing up, I liked to mow the neighbor’s yard and help out a woman who lived on my street,” says Nancy, who grew up in a small fishing town on the coast of North Carolina. After high school, she worked as a caretaker for an elderly man in her community who had suffered from a stroke. After he passed away, his wife was the one to encourage Nancy to go to nursing school.
Dedicated to education, no matter what
In the mid-1980s, Nancy enrolled at Coastal Carolina Community College. Her goal was to get into the nursing program but with a long waitlist, she decided she should pursue other options as well and applied to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington’s BSN program. After graduating with an Associate of Arts, she immediately started at UNC–Wilmington.
Times were tough, and Nancy could have easily given up. “I lived in my car during that time and I panhandled for tuition money sometimes,” she recalls. When her boyfriend was killed in a car accident, Nancy became a single mother. Her daughter was just four years old when Nancy graduated from UNC-W. She was determined to make a better life for the two of them.
On the team at Durham Regional Hospital
Nancy’s future became bright when she was hired after finishing the BSN at Durham Regional Hospital in 1990. She worked there for 16 years in a variety of settings, including medical surgical, geriatrics, pediatrics, obstetrics and women’s health, postpartum, the ICU, the CCU and the emergency room. For many years, she also worked part time at another hospital in the children’s psychiatric unit.
Her goal was always to keep growing her skills. “Early in my career, I met this woman who I considered to be one of the best nurses I’ve ever worked with,” says Nancy. “I remember asking her how she became so skilled at what she does and she told me, ‘Challenge yourself. Once you’re comfortable, it’s time to challenge yourself with something that is uncomfortable.’”
MSN Nursing Education
That advice is what eventually pushed Nancy into an MSN program at Liberty University. Along the way, she had started teaching as an adjunct in Piedmont Community College’s ADN program. “I’ve been teaching practically since I started in nursing, and I’ve always loved it,” she says. When she started the MSN program, Nancy decided it was time to be intentional about her next steps. She chose nursing education as her MSN focus (graduating in 2017), laying the groundwork for the future.
Person Memorial Hospital
Today, Nancy is the house supervisor at Person Memorial Hospital, where she has worked in the ICU as well. She also rejoined Duke Regional (formerly Durham Regional) as their part-time house supervisor. On top of her clinical positions, she continues to teach as an adjunct at Piedmont Community College.
A big step: Doctor of Nursing Practice Educational Leadership at American Sentinel
In 2018, Nancy decided to continue her educational journey. She found American Sentinel, and everything felt right. “From that first phone call, I have felt encouraged by everyone I’ve ever encountered through American Sentinel,” she says. “I love the program and would highly recommend it to anybody. The practice experiences and interactions with other students are so great. I made a friend in the program who lives in Florida and we work together when things have been difficult. It’s made a big difference in how great the experience has been for me.”
An eye on retirement
One day, Nancy’s goal is to move to a house that she built in the mountains of Virginia and teach online. “I would love to write a grant for Piedmont Community College to give back to that program that’s given me so much throughout my master’s and doctorate programs,” she says.
Right now, she is navigating life working in a hospital during the coronavirus pandemic. “I’m in somewhat of a leadership role and my job is to keep people calm,” she says. At Piedmont, she’s getting her students involved in screening visitors and staff at Person Memorial. “While they can’t do clinicals, this is an opportunity to make a difference and get hands-on experience during such a critical time.”
From living in a tent to finishing a doctorate
When she graduates in October 2020, Nancy says it will all feel a little surreal. “I’m pursuing my dreams,” she says. “I want to help other people in my life, because I’ve needed help sometimes. I think the doctorate will give me clout to hold a leadership role in whatever community I live in. Really, I just want to leave the world a little better than I found it.”
Inspired by Nancy’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.
Read the other student success stories for more inspiration.