Weber State University’s first doctoral program, the Doctor of Nursing Practice, began in fall 2019. This spring, 12 students make up the first cohort to graduate with this high-level degree.
According to the program’s website, the DNP degree “prepares nurses to be expert leaders who focus on the application of evidence to inform nursing practice through the creation and implementation of innovative strategies that improve health systems and influence health consumer outcomes.”
The DNP offers two educational pathways: The leadership program prepares nurses for executive roles, and the family nurse practitioner program trains nurses as leaders in clinical practice. This degree allows the graduates independence to work and inspire change wherever they go in the healthcare field.
The journey has not been easy for these students. Many mentioned how difficult it was to juggle school, work and family responsibilities all at the same time. On top of everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic had its own impact.
Since the DNP program was offered online, a switch to virtual caused by the pandemic wasn’t necessarily a challenge, and the program continued. However, many of these students said that the pandemic did affect their projects for the degree when they had to find ways to continue virtually instead of in-person and had to constantly adapt with changes and uncertainty.
For example, Holly Wright had to adjust her project from in-person to online educational courses for providers at Seager Memorial Clinic in Ogden. The temporary closure of the clinic also limited Wright’s ability to review charts and practice change, but she made it through.
Mindy Robert had long-before planned for a community-based adaptive yoga program for people affected by neurological conditions and said that it was hard to revise the program to ensure it was still worthwhile while keeping everyone safe.
However, Robert said the pandemic had a positive impact on her project as well. Having to conduct the program online anyways, she was able to team-up with a non-profit organization in Michigan, Yoga Moves MS, and its instructor Mindy Eisenberg.
“I had attended Mindy’s adaptive yoga teacher training in October 2019 and never thought she would end up being able to teach the online yoga classes to participants in Utah,” Robert said. “She is an experienced adaptive instructor and yoga therapist with many years of experience working with multiple sclerosis patients, so I was thrilled she could help me implement the program.”
As the first in a new program, there were, of course, some kinks in the system to work out through experience and trial and error, but the students said it mostly went smoothly and that the faculty was very good at responding to feedback and working things out to improve the courses and help students succeed.
“We knew coming in as the first group there would be some challenges, but honestly, the faculty have all been receptive to feedback and listen to suggestions to make assignment instructions more clear or to change the sequence or due dates of assignments to spread out the workload better,” Kristyn Steedley said. “I have felt nothing but sincere concern and desire from the faculty to help us succeed.”
On top of the personal achievement and satisfaction of learning, leading projects and completing the DNP degree, many of the students said the best part of the program was the relationships developed with each other in the cohort and the support they offered to each other. Many also expressed gratitude for the professors who supported them and helped them succeed.
“I am so grateful for the professors of the DNP program,” Wright said. “They have put their heart and soul into this program, and it is evident that they want us to succeed. It has been such a pleasure to work with them.”
As this first graduating cohort of Doctor of Nursing Practice students prepares for the end of this chapter of their lives, they look forward to their futures and dreams.
Wright will continue working as a nurse practitioner at Ogden Clinic, but hopes to one day help make changes in a local homeless clinic and start a non-profit organization for the treatment of underserved residents in downtown Ogden.
On top of continuing to teach in the Annie Taylor Dee School of Nursing, Angela Page plans to use her newly attained knowledge and skills to improve healthcare access for vulnerable populations of Utah pre-K through 12th-grade students.
Heather Clark also plans to continue teaching in the nursing associate, bachelor’s and master’s programs.
Robert hopes to have her manuscript about the online adaptive yoga program published, and also hopes to see more adaptive exercise and yoga classes become more widely available in the community.
Marie Blancher plans to continue in her current position at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, but is also considering pursuing a future career in nursing education.
Steedley plans to continue working in her current job and expand her leadership responsibilities. She said she also looks forward to taking a break from formal education and enjoying some more family time.
Roxie Butterfield said she does not yet have specific plans, but so far looks forward to a break from homework.
“I really do not know what I will do when I do not have homework on the weekends,” Butterfield said.