California Clinical Nurse Specialist Works Toward DNP Executive Leadership

California Clinical Nurse Specialist Works Toward DNP Executive Leadership

When Kristi Gabel was a teen, a family friend with whom she shared a birthday month took her out to dinner every year. “We talked about all kinds of things, including her job as a surgical nurse,” says Kristi, who grew up in Bakersfield, California. “I started thinking about nursing then and really never veered from the idea.” 

Kristi earned the Bachelor of Science in Nursing from California State University Bakersfield in 1990 and started her career as a labor and delivery nurse. She returned to school a few years later for a Master of Science in Nursing (Maternal Child Health, Clinical Nurse Specialist) from the University of California Los Angeles and continued working in labor and delivery in several different hospitals around L.A.

A change of scenery

In the late 1990s, Kristi decided she was ready for a big change and moved to Alaska, where her parents were living. The year 2000 brought her back to California by way of Sacramento, where she joined the UC Davis Medical Center’s Women’s Birthing Center. 

Soon, Kristi got the job she’d been trying to land since graduate school. She became a perinatal clinical nurse specialist for Methodist Hospital of Sacramento. “Our system had five hospitals in the area, and then in 2005, I transferred to Mercy San Juan Medical Hospital,” says Kristi. 

Sutter Medical Center

In 2006, Kristi joined Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento. She was the program manager for two grant-funded programs—one for diabetes and pregnancy and another for perinatal outreach. “I absolutely loved that job,” she says. “I was the liaison between the state and the facilities that the hospital had throughout the area.” 

When the state defunded the programs, Kristi returned to a perinatal clinical nurse specialist job in 2012 at Sutter Roseville Medical Center—the role she still holds. She oversees nurses’ work with patients in labor and delivery, post-partum and pediatrics. “My role is to make sure patients are getting the correct care,” she says. “We are the hospital’s change agents. I share my expertise with the nursing staff I support.” 

Eyeing the doctorate

For years, Kristi has considered getting a doctorate. “Life happened and I never got to it, but a few years ago a friend told me that she was doing a Doctor of Nursing Practice program and that she wanted me to join her,” she says. 

Kristi followed up on her friend’s research and liked what she learned. “I like the practice-focused nature of the program,” she says. While having a doctorate will certainly help Kristi further her career, her goals are largely personal. “I might like to teach one day and I do hope this will help me in my career, but this is very much a personal goal I have.” Kristi started the Doctor of Nursing Executive Leadership at American Sentinel in December 2020. 

A relevant capstone project

A favorite aspect of the DNP Executive Leadership experience thus far, Kristi says, is the capstone project. “I’m very excited about sharing my project with our whole system at Sutter,” she says. Kristi is studying how using glucose gel for newborns with hypoglycemia is affecting whether they must move to the neonatal intensive care unit. “I’m hoping I can prove to other hospitals in the system that what we’ve been doing to try to keep babies together with their moms is making a difference,” she says. 

Big professional gains

Although Kristi’s future plans are uncertain, she believes that when she finishes the DNP by the end of 2020, there’s no question it will enhance her career. 

“I know I’m getting big professional gains, and I’ll be relieved and excited when I can finally say I’m the first nurse doctor in my extended family,” she says. “I’m learning so much about how to do research, and that’s where I see my career going. I love doing the clinical nurse specialist work but I’d love to find ways to help my facility positively affect patient outcomes. I learned how to do that sort of impactful work as a student at American Sentinel. It’s probably been the biggest benefit of the program.” 

Inspired by Kristi’s story? A DNP with a specialization in executive leadership prepares master’s-educated nurses for leadership roles in the healthcare system. When you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes.  

Have you dreamed of earning your BSNMSN or DNP? With American Sentinel, you can make that dream a reality.  

Read the other student success stories for more inspiration.

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