Donna Keith | Community Health Nursing Consultant and Immunizations Program Director, Sarasota County Health Department

Donna Keith | Community Health Nursing Consultant and Immunizations Program Director, Sarasota County Health Department

Year of the Nurse Scholarship Recipient

Donna Keith was a young mother when she decided she might like nursing as a career. “Out of high school, I married and we started a family right away,” says Donna, who is originally from Vermont. When her children were 5, 3 and one, Donna earned an Associate Degree of Nursing and started her career as a psychiatric nurse. 

Stepping away…but not for long

A back injury made Donna reconsider her career choice and in 1985, she returned to school—this time for a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts. “I hurt my back and needed to step away from bedside nursing for a while, and got a liberal arts degree that was very nontraditional and independent in terms of projects and studying,” she says. Donna started a career selling residential real estate—but eventually, she missed nursing. She returned to the healthcare area in 1992 as as a case manager and counselor at a residential drug and alcohol treatment center. A few years later, Donna began working in behavioral health centers as a staff nurse.

A move and a master’s degree in public health

When Donna moved from Vermont to Florida in the late 1990s, she continued her career in behavioral health. After getting a job at Manatee County Health Department, she returned to school for a Master in Public Health (MPH), graduating in 2008. 

“What I love about public health nursing is that we do things to help the disadvantaged…the people who don’t always get help elsewhere,” she says. In 2011, Donna joined Sarasota Health Department as the immunizations program director—a role she has held since. Along the way, Donna found herself yearning for more education. She earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at University of South Florida in 2014. “What I really wanted to do was a Master of Science in Nursing but because the admissions people at University of South Florida didn’t know how to evaluate my baccalaureate credits, I went with an MBA.”

Tragedy inspired a much-needed distraction

When Donna’s husband passed away from cancer in 2016, she needed something to take her mind off of everything she was going through. “I needed a good distraction,” she says. “In 2018, I said, ‘I’m going back to school for a BSN.’ The pursuit, she adds, was something she considered ‘unfinished business.’ “I had to do it—for me. I’ve been a nurse for many years but there was something in me that wanted to prove that I have at least a BSN level of nursing experience. I wanted more than an associate degree and I was insistent on doing it.” Donna chose the online RN to BSN program at American Sentinel University and completed the program in spring 2020. 

Year of the Nurse Scholarship 

In April 2020, Donna received the Year of the Nurse Scholarship—a great culmination to her educational pursuit. 

“I was thrilled about that because it is truly a tremendous help as I fund my education,” she says. Earning a BSN, she says, is a personal endeavor she has wanted to do for 20 years. “At 68 years old, this is recognition that I do good work. I’m proud of that.” 

Preparing for her next life adventure

To Donna, there is no such thing as “too old” to do something. “When I hear someone say they are too old to do something, I always think that is ridiculous,” she says. “You are never too old to learn or do something new.”

Now with a BSN on her resume, Donna is thinking about what might come next in her life and career. “I will work for as long as I feel good because I love what I do,” she says. “When I retire from public health, I think I would love to do case management or maybe even some risk management work, which my MBA and MPH would also qualify me for. Whatever I do, I want to make a difference.” 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 as the “Year of the Nurse and Midwife” and American Sentinel is celebrating by offering a Year of the Nurse Scholarship. Five scholarships are awarded per quarter in 2020. Congratulations to this quarter’s recipients. Learn more and apply here

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