The teen Nancy Billington always knew deep down that nursing was her calling, but she ended up earning a B.S. in Education at Eastern Montana College in 1983.
“I was an aid in our town hospital and even worked at a pharmacy in college,” says Nancy, who is a sixth-generation Montanan. “But when I got to college, it never occurred to me to go into healthcare. I became a teacher instead.” It didn’t take Nancy long to realize she missed her calling, and she returned to college after one year of teaching. By then, she was raising her son and living in Ogden, Utah. She enrolled in the ADN program at Weber State University, and graduated in 1991.
Nancy became an operating room nurse at Humana North, working different specialties and with orthopedics groups. She moved to Provo, Utah, and began working at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, a role she held for four years. When the family moved to Tennessee in 1995, she joined Williamson Medical Center as an oncology nurse.
Lots of clinical variety
The variety in her career has been a highlight for Nancy. “Nursing isn’t just one thing, which is what I love about it,” she says. “You can try many things and learn so many different skills. It comes down to becoming better as a nurse.”
Nancy returned to Montana in 1998 to help care for her aging parents and continued her oncology nursing career at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula. She also worked part time in home healthcare and Mineral Community Hospital in her rural community. From 2001 to 2011, she was the clinical manager/educator at Community Medical Center in Missoula.
Urged by mentors
The CEO of Mineral Community Hospital had become Nancy’s mentor and encouraged her to return to return to school. “He told me, ‘you really need to become a leader,’ she says. In addition, the director of surgery encouraged her as well, telling her that an she should earn a BSN and MSN. Nancy agreed and enrolled in the BSN bridge program that would also earn her an MSN with an emphasis in Leadership from Grand Canyon University. She completed the BSN in 2012 and the MSN in 2014.
In the meantime, Nancy also received a promotion in 2011 to director of surgical services and endoscopy at Community Medical. Her career was exactly where she wanted it to be, and Nancy also focused on turning her family homestead into a conservation easement, getting her children through high school and off to college and moving her parents into a nursing home.
Beginning to think about what was next
In 2014, Nancy became restless for a new adventure. She found a job posting for Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. “I don’t know what came over me, but I applied and got a call the next day,” she says. A site visit and interview later, and Nancy was sold. When the offer came, she jumped at it, becoming the administrative director of patient care perioperative services and endoscopy. She and her husband moved to Colorado.
A career and workplace she loves
Nancy has had many exciting opportunities at Valley View. She introduced laser programs to the hospital, was involved in the construction of a patient assessment testing clinic and an additional operating room and sterile processing area. “This has been a huge growing experience,” she says. “I took everything I’ve learned in my career and brought it here.”
Next goal: a doctorate
In 2017, Nancy decided it was time to achieve her next big goal: earning a doctorate. “I wanted to better at my profession and the people around me,” she says. As she pondered the idea of a doctorate, she also became familiar with American Sentinel University through its Health Care Stars Award, a statewide healthcare professional awards recognition program sponsored by American Sentinel University and the Colorado Hospital Association (CHA). Valley View’s Kate Hugo—one of Nancy’s nurses—was a recipient of the full-tuition scholarship.
“Several of us went to the banquet in Denver when Kate received the scholarship, and I remember being so impressed by American Sentinel,” says Nancy, adding that another employee, Nikki Arnold, received the scholarship and award a year later. “I started looking into the doctorate programs for myself.”
The perfect fit
Nancy enrolled in the Doctor of Nursing Professional Leadership in 2018. She hopes to finish in early 2021. “The program fits me to a ‘T,’” she says. “The classes have been excellent and I’m learning how you identify and fix problems while mentoring those around me.” When COVID-19 hit, Nancy says life at the hospital became hectic and scary. “I wouldn’t still be in the DNP program if the wonderful people at American Sentinel weren’t so encouraging and supportive. It meant the world to me that they cared during the craziest time in my career.”
When Nancy graduates next year, she says her goal is to become better at what she does, both at Valley View and at Colorado Mountain College, where she is an adjunct clinical instructor in the nursing program. “I hope to encourage and inspire others to get the education they need. “I love learning, but really, my strong belief is that knowledge is critical for making decisions that have a huge impact on people’s lives. You need knowledge to make those kinds of decisions. So, why not learn everything you can?”
Inspired by Nancy’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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