As a nurse since 2012, Amber Kool found her way to nursing education quicker than she planned—but the move was something she wanted from the start.
“I started out in pediatrics for a home health company and quickly moved into the NICU after about a year,” says Amber, who is from Arizona, where she still lives today. “It was such a great experience in large part because I felt like I was educating and helping not just patients, but their families.” I really loved the clinical work, but I also loved the teaching aspect of the job.”
It was no surprise, then, when Amber was encouraged to start precepting nursing students and mentoring new NICU nurses. She earned an MSN in Nursing Education in 2016 and applied for an adjunct teaching position at Arizona College of Nursing. After teaching for a summer, Amber was invited to apply for a full-time position for fall 2016. She left the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Cardon Children’s to fully pursue her education career.
From faculty education to curriculum and instruction
Amber chaired the curriculum committee at Arizona College of Nursing and served in that role for several years before making the decision to return to school for a Doctor of Nursing Practice. “I wanted to make sure that I’m never in the position of being unable to do something in my career because I don’t have the qualifications,” she says. “Immediately, I fell in love with nursing education, but it didn’t take long for me to realize I want to pursue a leadership role. And to do that, I knew I needed a doctorate.”
Amber researched colleges and found American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Sciences at Post University. “American Sentinel was one of the only programs I found that was a Doctor of Nursing Practice in Educational Leadership and it really just checked every box on my list,” she says. Amber started her first class in February 2019. By the end of the year, a new opportunity at Arizona College arose: Director of Curriculum and Instruction. She applied and was hired, starting the roll that fall. Amber graduated from American Sentinel’s DNP Education Leadership in June 2021.
A capstone turned into something more
Amber’s DNP capstone project was titled, “Virtual Simulation: Impact on Clinical Judgment.”
“I started my project thinking I would focus on the importance of nurse educators having teaching experience so they can translate their clinical expertise into the classroom, but early on I realized simulation had become a passion for me,” she says. Under the guidance of American Sentinel faculty member Kris Skalsky, who is doing a national study that identifies perceived clinical judgment in nursing students, Amber is studying the effectiveness of virtual simulation in preparing nurses for real-world scenarios.
“As an educator, I’ve seen students use traditional simulation with varying degrees of success, but I’ve found that virtual simulation truly prepares students to be independent decision makers who are able to come up with the ‘why’ of their decisions and think through them carefully,” Amber says. “But it’s more than that. Nurses learn to make mistakes and learn from them without fear. This approach to teaching and learning helps students learn the cognitive skills and become better caregivers.”
Bringing virtual simulation tools to Arizona College
As she became familiar with virtual simulation tools from Sentinel U, a division of American Sentinel that offers digital learning resources to nursing academic education and healthcare professional training programs, Amber wanted to do more than study virtual simulation. She wanted to incorporate Sentinel U tools into Arizona College’s programs.
“Virtual simulation is a tool that educators need to be using,” she says. “In my research, I found that nursing students don’t always learn the high-level cognitive skills they need like prioritization and delegation.” As the director of curriculum and instruction at Arizona College of Nursing, Amber set to work incorporating Sentinel U’s Sentinel City virtual simulation into the pre-licensure program’s community health course. Going forward, Arizona College of Nursing will also incorporate all virtual simulation products into its BSN program.
Published in Arizona Nurse
Amber summarized her capstone project in an article published in Arizona Nurse, a publication of the Arizona Nurses Association. “The positive results suggest that virtual simulation may be useful to support teaching-learning practices related to clinical judgment development,” Amber wrote. Armed with her DNP—she is set to graduate in a few weeks in June 2021—Amber hopes to continue to research how virtual simulation positively impacts clinical judgment. “I’d love to use this knowledge in my future research and I’m already using it at Arizona College,” she says.
Eyeing future leadership
Eventually, Amber hopes to become a dean and knows the DNP Educational Leadership will help her get there. But she’s open to other possibilities, including starting a podcast on higher education and innovation or continuing to work with virtual simulation products.
“I’ve been very pleased with the DNP program and the experience I’ve gained,” she says. “While my end goal is not completely certain, my trajectory is innovation. Whatever I do going forward, that’s what I want to focus on.”
Inspired by Amber’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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