Many things have stayed the same throughout Michelle Norris’s life: her hometown in Bladen County, North Carolina, where she has lived since she was born. Her spouse, whom she met in high school and married not long thereafter. And her desire to become a nurse.
“I had an elderly grandfather with some health problems who used to call me his little nurse, and I think it stuck from the time I was young,” says Michelle. In high school, she planned on studying nursing in college and after graduating in 1993, went to her local community college to get the Associate Degree of Nursing. Michelle joined Columbus Regional Healthcare System, a community hospital, as a staff medical-surgical nurse in 1996.
Michelle eventually earned the BSN in 2006 at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and became the assistant director for medical-surgical nursing services at Columbus Regional Healthcare System. She returned to school in 2007 to get the MSN in nursing leadership, which she finished in 2010.
Working her way up
Armed with the MSN, Michelle was eyeing the director of medical-surgical nursing services position when she learned of a faculty opening at Bladen Community College. “My children were in middle and elementary school at the time, and the idea of a change of pace really appealed to me,” she says. Having done some precepting at the hospital, she already knew that education was appealing. Michelle applied and was hired in 2011 as a faculty member in the ADN program.
Like coming home
Bladen County is where Michelle was born and raised, so returning there to teach felt a lot like “going home.” “My whole professional career prior to that had been in the neighboring county for 15 years, so this felt like returning to the place where I am from to give back to my community,” she says.
Teaching came naturally to Michelle too, and she was immediately appreciative of the chance to work with the community college student population. “These students are amazing, often work full time and have many other obligations,” she says. “Our motto is to take students where they are and help them go as far as they can. The fact that I get to do that on a daily basis is an honor.”
In late 2017, Michelle was approached to take over as nursing department chair at Bladen Community College. She began thinking about her professional options for the future. “I knew that if I ever were to move into a program director position it would help me, or if I wanted options to teach in a post-licensure program one day, a doctorate would be required,” she says. “In my career, I’ve always tried to get degrees before I actually needed them, so I’m set up to do something in the future when the opportunity presents itself.”
Michelle started researching doctoral programs specifically designed for professionals interested in nursing education and found American Sentinel University. “There are lots of Doctor of Nursing Practice programs out there, but not many that are focused on educational leadership,” she says. “I liked the competitive classes, the online setup and the fact that I could finish the program debt free.” Michelle started the DNP Educational Leadership toward the end of 2017.
Promoted again in 2020
Michelle says the American Sentinel experience was positive from the start. “From the ease of getting started right away to the wonderful advisors, everything was as easy as a doctoral program could be,” she says. For her capstone, Michelle studied the impact of a student success workshop on perceived academic self-efficacy in first-year ADN students. “We applied a lot of my findings to our program at Bladen Community College so we can have positive impacts on student success.”
After finishing the program in June 2020, Michelle became the director of her college’s nursing program. “Having my DNP Educational Leadership completed certainly made a difference,” she says. “I’m really satisfied with where I am now, and I’m excited that the DNP will help me make a positive impact on our community college system in the future and the graduates we put out into the workforce.”
Inspired by Michelle’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.
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