April VanBuecken grew up thinking she would become a social worker but went into nursing instead. She earned a BSN in 1994 at the Medical University of South Carolina and started her career there as well—in the medical intensive care unit.
“The ICU environment was really great,” says April, who grew up in a small town in Georgia. In the mid-1990s, she moved back to Georgia from South Carolina and started a family. She worked for a plastic, ENT and ambulatory surgery center and earned a dual master’s degree at Armstrong State University—Master of Science degrees in Nursing Administration and Health Services Administration.
Seeking the best
When April graduated, she intentionally applied to one of the prominent medical centers in her area, Baptist Medical Center, in Jacksonville, Florida. She worked as a department manager in the progressive surgical unit. Life took her to the Seattle area, where she continued her nursing management career in an orthopedics and sports medicine clinic and a gynecology and oncological department. In 2007, April joined Blue Cross Blue Shield as the manager in the medical claims review area—a role she held for seven years.
A chance encounter that altered her path
In 2016, April and her husband returned to Virginia and she started working as a change acceleration specialist for Winchester Medical Center. “We moved to very rural area and one day, a man knocked on our door and asked if we wanted him to mow our lawn,” she recalls. “I talked with him and learned that his wife was in nursing school and struggling a little in her classes. I offered to tutor her.”
The chance encounter and experience thereafter made April realize that perhaps teaching was a calling she hadn’t considered before. After a move to Northern Virginia, she was hired at Shenandoah University as an adjunct instructor. “I discovered how much I truly loved teaching, and I approached the dean there and said I would love to work here full time, and they said they’d love to have me…if I had a doctorate.” That conversation got her wheels turning. In 2016, April joined Lord Fairfax Community College as an adjunct and became a full-time faculty member in 2017.
Time for a Doctorate
While she loved her work and students at the community college, April knew that a doctorate was in her future. Her research for the right program led her to American Sentinel University and the Doctor of Nursing Practice Educational Leadership program. “There are few programs like this one in the country and so it appealed to me right away,” she says. “With an extensive background in leadership and a desire to teach, it really fit.” She started her course work in fall 2018.
A persistent pursuit of her dream job
April had her eye on one school in particular for her next full-time job: Shenandoah University, where she had worked briefly as an adjunct instructor. “Every semester, I would approach them about a full-time position and let them know how far into my DNP program I was,” she says. Finally, in fall 2019, her persistence paid off. April is now a lecturer in the nursing program, teaching ethics, leadership, genomics and preceptorship. When she completes the DNP Educational Leadership in August 2020, she will become an assistant professor.
Doing what she loves
For April, earning a DNP has enabled her to transition into something she loves. “My move into teaching wasn’t because I was tired of management,” she says. “It was that I was excited to touch the lives of nurses early in their careers. If you can engage nurses then and make an impact, they’ll be better nurses who are more satisfied throughout their careers. That is my goal.”
American Sentinel, April adds, has given her the educational foundation to augment her leadership experience. “I have a job I love and having the DNP underway helped me get it,” she says. “Now, I am excited to promote best practices in nursing through my teaching.”
Inspired by April’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.