Northwest Organization of Nurse Leaders News

July 2022 Leader Highlight

For July, we ask have invited James Reedy, DNP, MBA, MHA, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE to share what it really is like to pursue a doctoral degree. James completed his DNP in 2022 and has presented to both the CNO & Dean Rounding as well as the Members. James shares, candidly, how he launched into nursing and leadership, why the DNP, what it takes to accomplish the DNP and what is next for him. For those considering, currently aspiring or simply curious, give it a read.

James, in summary, how did you get started in nursing and leadership?
As a nurse by accident…not a mistake, I want to first talk about why I chose to pursue my DNP.  My plan, from a very early age, was to be a healer.  I was a lifeguard, an instructor for the Red Cross for everything from CPR for humans…and pets to disaster training, even while still in high school.  I was president of a Boy Scout sponsored Explorer Post 4077 at a local hospital, all with eyes on medical school.  The fates, however, had another path in mind, and due to the untimely death of my younger sister, I was put on course to be an EMT, where an ED staff saw fit to compel me into nursing school.  I still cherish my time at the bedside, as a trauma ICU nurse, in the ED, and later as a traveler until I was recruited into leadership.
Once in leadership, I was encouraged to get a master’s degree.  I started with a master’s in healthcare management, and later added one in business management when a CNO mentor of mine told me I’d never go anywhere in the health system without it.  Both were moving me further and further away from the patients we serve.  I took on the role of a program administrator, and it was clear there was little opportunity to directly leverage my clinical expertise… I lost direct access to interfacing with the people who needed our care and were the simultaneously the reason that the program I was administrating existed in the first place. 
Fortunately, I worked for a wise CEO, who was a nurse herself, who saw that gap in what motivated me and helped me move into my first CNO role.  What a game changer!  I was back with my people, nurses and clinicians, who cared about and could directly affect impact on clinical care.  I was obliged to speak directly with patients and their families and could give voice and power to the experts at their bedside.  It was in this place that I knew I wanted to pursue my doctorate in nursing practice, to strengthen my expertise in a profession that helped me to know myself and carry out my calling to care. Now I’ve capped this work with my DNP from the University of Pittsburg.
What is next for you in relation to leveraging your DNP work?
What’s next for me in my DNP work is really yet to be written.  I’ve learned that I enjoy research and statistics way more than I ever thought I would.  My DNP project on Disaster Preparation of Nurse Leaders is scheduled to be published in the Journal of Nursing Administration in October, and I’m writing up the abstract applications to present it at AONL and ANA in 2023.  Dr. Suzanne Waddill-Goad has asked me to be a contributor in her next book, so that’s exciting.  And I’m in the process of a career transition back into urban healthcare.  I’m also thinking about my next research opportunity and maybe even some teaching opportunities.
As 2022 Doctoral degree recipients, knowing that it took years of professional grade study and work, tell us briefly what the experience was like overall?

Challenging, rewarding, eye-opening, time-sucking…no, I’m going to go with restorative and empowering.  I’ll recap my initial reaction first.  Yes, it was hard, but the program at the University of Pittsburgh, drew largely from and contributed to the work I was doing in real time, and made me better at it.  Leading, listening, planning, strategy, interdisciplinary collaborations were all a part of the course work and could be applied immediately in my role.  Actually, applied not just theoretical.  Did I have to sacrifice doing fun things? Yes. That was the hardest part for my family.  If you are going to commit to getting an advanced degree, make sure your family is on board and that you’re clear with the opportunity costs for them.  Not just nonchalantly at the beginning, but every time you get a syllabus, make the plan with them, let them know when the busiest times will be, and the rest of the time use your evenings to get work done so you can salvage some time for them on the weekends.   

By restorative, ugh this is hard to admit, I mean that I’d settled into a space of being comfortable with the skills I’d acquired over the years for management and delegation and thought I didn’t have the capacity to learn how to code SQL or learn what statistical tests to apply in any given circumstance.  What I found out though, is that I COULD…even though it was hard, this old dog can learn new tricks!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m no coding expert or statistician, and don’t intend or pretend to be, but I will continue to practice these and other new skills with much less fear and trepidation than I once had.

In summary, how did you manage to fit the demands into your professional and personal life?

I summarized this in the question above, but I’ll recap and add:
  1. Review the syllabus for projects and papers; know and communicate the high volume, heavy workload times with your family so they can adapt with you.
  2. Use your evenings to get work done.  Early on I had a tendency to save it all for the weekend.  Spouses/Partners, especially, do not like this approach.
  3. Audiobooks and apps are your friend, especially if you have a commute.  Yes, you learn differently listening than reading and for important highlights you might need to go back.
  4. Make the content and the projects a part of your work life.  There’s no point doing double duty.  Looking at your real-life problems academically will only add some level of innovation to your work.
  5. The iPad Pro is a life changer.  GoodNotes is the perfect notebook, plus you can download PowerPoints, articles, and other documents and mark them up as you see fit and search them later.  Kindle is great and the Alexa app lets you hear books from a pleasant and human sounding voice…great for when driving, walking, or working out.  Plus, it’s a lot less to carry around than textbooks and a pile of papers.
What was “unexpected”? What surprised you?

How much I would learn in a completely asynchronous and virtual environment was an absolute surprise for me.  My advisor and instructors were very engaging and accessible. I’m out of the program now, so I can say this with rose colored glasses looking in the review mirror, that I was also surprised how fast it went.  Finishing had its own mourning period, that I think is only alleviated by thinking about “what’s next?!?!” and “how can I use this new knowledge and credential to give back or impact the art and science and wonderous profession of nursing?”

What do you consider the critical elements of taking on a challenge/endeavor like this?

Don’t waste your time if all you want are the letters after your name.  You must want to dig into the course work, the lessons, the new and even not so new ideas and think about how they apply to your work and your brand of leadership.  Both clinically and in a formal leadership role. 

In a coaching moment for aspiring or advancing Nurse Leaders who are considering or about to begin a similar journey, what are the one (or two) things you’d advise they be aware of?

Reflect on your career, your expertise, and knowledge and engage with others in your program with ones that are different from your own.  It’s natural and even magnetic to engage with others who are like minded or have similar experiences to validate what you think you know, but there’s little learning there.  I’ve been in formal leadership for more than 15 years and found that the best way to challenge my thoughts and learn new things was to partner with the nurse practitioners and CRNAs and even one career school nurse on papers, projects, and in discussion groups. Additionally, recognize your advisors and instructors are there to help you through good times and bad.  Your success is their success, so lean on them when the going gets tough, and DO NOT QUIT!  Adjust, slow down, adapt, but don’t quit.  It’s is worth it, so see it through.

If you could wind back the clock to pre-DNP, what might you change to prepare or position differently?

If you want it, do it.  I “piddled” with the idea for almost seven years.  I had bosses tell me there’s no ROI on getting a doctorate, even though it’s required for many senior executives.  It wasn’t until I was at AONL in San Diego, where Dr. Zedreck from Pittsburg told me “There’s never a good time.  If this is something you want to do, then apply.  Worst thing that can happen is they say no”.  Interestingly she was the coordinator for the program and along with my future advisor, Dr. Fennimore. A key question that I remember them asking in my admissions interview was “how likely are you to finish this program once you start?” I remembered my answer and that commitment they asked for carried me through the toughest times during the program

James, congratulations again on your achievements, they are exceptional. is there anything else to add?

Special thanks to Dr. Cheryl Harless who encouraged me to go to the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Anna Kiger and Pam Steinke who assisted in my admissions recommendations and essay.  And to Dr. Laura Fennimore, my advisor, my mentor, my friend for seeing me through the program, challenging me, and making me always ask “what’s next?!?!”