If someone had told 20-year-old Cindy Thompson that one day, she would hold a doctorate degree and have a successful 26-year nursing career on her resume, she would have laughed in their face.
“Never in my dreams did I think I’d be here,” says Cindy, a June 2020 Doctor of Nursing Practice Educational Leadership graduate. “I had four children by the time I was 20 years old and did not graduate high school. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I was following a bad path, and eventually I thought, ‘What job do I need to get to get my life back on track?’”
Joining the Navy Reserves
Cindy joined the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1993. She was the second woman in the state of Rhode Island to get combat certified. “The military completely turned my life around,” she says. “I learned about dealing with all different kinds of people and how to operate in uncomfortable situations. It was a great foundation for nursing.”
After eight years in the reserves, Cindy earned the GED and applied to an Associate Degree of Nursing program at a community college in Massachusetts. Cindy started out working in a nursing home, received advanced training through the military and joined an intensive care unit at Miriam Hospital beginning in 2002. “My ICU career started in a teaching hospital in Rhode Island and from there, I moved to Charlton Memorial Hospital in Massachusetts.”
Continuing her career in Florida
In 2003, Cindy decided she should further her education. She enrolled in an online RN to BSN program at Jacksonville University, but a move to Florida in 2004 put a pause on her educational pursuits as she got her family settled and got a new job. Cindy joined Holmes Regional Medical Center, a Health First facility, as a nurse in the critical care intensive care unit. She has been there since 2004. A few years later in 2010, she graduated from the RN to BSN program.
Open heart nursing
In 2010, Holmes combined the cardiovascular and coronary intensive care units, so Cindy became an open-heart nurse. “I love it,” she says. “I love the team relationship with the patient, the anesthesiologist and the nursing team. We each know our role but we move together to stabilize patients and help them get better. It is rewarding work.”
Inspired to teach
After a few years as an open-heart nurse, Cindy started thinking about teaching. “I decided to get an MSN in Nursing Education,” she says, adding that she also became critical care certified. “I was teaching patients about open-heart recovery and teaching nurses about how to recover patients correctly. I loved helping both sides grasp the entire picture and put the pieces together.” Cindy enrolled in the online MSN at Norwich University and graduated in 2015. Thereafter, Cindy started teaching as an adjunct in the clinical setting at Eastern Florida State College.
Time for a doctorate
In 2017, Cindy was convinced by a colleague to enter the Doctor of Nursing Practice Educational Leadership program at American Sentinel University. “I never thought I would go back to school after the MSN, but the look of this practice-focused doctorate was really appealing,” she says. “I kept working in the hospital until fall 2019, when I had to go to per diem so I could focus on completing the DNP. I still work at the bedside because I believe it is so important to do so when you’re teaching nurses and future nurses.”
A capstone project close to her heart
Cindy’s capstone is focused on educating new nurses through multiple simulations to improve their recognition of a declining patient. “Years ago, a graduate from my program had a patient in her care die during her eight-week hospital orientation and it has stuck with me since,” she says. “My goal is to ensure all students are equipped to recognize the signs and symptoms of a patient that is in fast decline so that they know that they need to intervene.” Cindy will present her research at the International Meeting for Simulation in Healthcare annual meeting in 2021.
Now that Cindy has graduated with the DNP Educational Leadership, she hopes to apply best practices to her teaching at Eastern Florida State College. “American Sentinel is an excellent program and I’m so happy that I have the knowledge and skills to implement future research projects, best practices and research where I work,” she says. “We have to educate nursing students to be ready for a new normal, post COVID-19. The future is wide open and I think I’m now better equipped to contribute to the conversation about how we do that.”
Inspired by Cindy’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.
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