Walking to the front of the Brooks Center for Performing Arts Auditorium, and sitting with her committee chair, was a surreal moment for then Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) candidate Jessica Melton. Earlier this month, she and her classmates walked across the stage and were hooded by Kathleen Valentine, Director of the School of Nursing and project chair, on Aug. 8, and then walked across the stage the next day to receive their diplomas.
For Melton, the hooding and graduation ceremonies were a huge relief and honor.
“To walk across the stage for me felt like an honor, and sigh of relief for having made it through the program,” Melton said. “Having Dr. Clements congratulate me as Doctor was very exciting and felt so rewarding.”
Melton was one of five students who graduated from the first cohort of the Clemson University School of Nursing’s DNP program.
The online DNP program, recently accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, is in its third year. The program is focused on evidence-based practice, leadership, healthcare policy and advocacy, inter-professional collaboration, and expert clinical, advanced nursing practice, and also includes a research project. Stephanie Davis, School of Nursing Graduate Program Director, has helped build this program to advance nurses’ education, whether they are new to the career or veteran nurses, and has seen it grown since its start three years ago.
“We are so excited to have seen our first cohort of Doctor of Nursing Practice students graduate,” Davis said. “They have led some amazing changes with their projects and patients will be impacted for many years to come by their awesome work.”
Meet the August graduates of the first DNP cohort and learn how the DNP program is enhancing their careers.
Jessica Melton is a nurse practitioner at the St. Francis Bon Secour Emergency Department, located in downtown Greenville. She earned both her bachelor’s and her Family Nurse Practitioner master’s degrees from Clemson. She loved those two programs so much, she decided to go back to complete another degree.
In the DNP program, Melton said she’s learned a lot about leadership and health care organizational structures and how they function. Her project focused on the use of point of care troponin in the emergency department triage area and its effect on care time for patients with chest pain.
“My project was important to me because it showed that little changes within the department can make a huge difference in patient care,” she said.
Like her first two degrees, Melton said she hopes this degree will expand her career options.
“I hope to transition into a leadership role with my job,” Melton said. “It’s important not only to impact patient care, but staff and work environment. This curriculum provides you with the knowledge and skill-set, and that’s what drew me to this degree.”
The Director of Nursing for Prisma Health’s Children’s Hospital–Upstate, Carl Cromer began benefiting from the program even before graduation.
“Because I’ve just started in this leadership role, I just knew I wanted to get my terminal degree,” Cromer said. “I knew this would enhance my leadership skills and help me be a better leader in the organization.”
His doctoral research project focused on the implementation of a bronchiolitis pathway in the pediatric emergency department to reduce chest radiographs and viral testing. Cromer said the project was successful in reducing the exposure of infants to radiation in the Pediatric Emergency and the project could be replicated in other Emergency Departments within a system that do not have pediatric attending physicians.
Cromer’s also a former graduate of Clemson, having earned his nursing degree in 2012, and his family nurse practitioner master’s degree in 2016. Though he’s been a nurse since 2012, that’s not his first career. He originally started out in a process engineering career with a biology degree from Clemson but found the chance to switch careers as soon as he could.
“I had always wanted to go into the medical field,” Cromer said.
Since switching careers, he’s worked at Prisma Health–Upstate as a nurse in the Neuro-Trauma Intensive Care Unit and the children’s emergency room before moving up to an administrative role.
For Clemson nursing lecturer Beth Fisher, earning her doctorate in nursing practice has been a life-long goal for her. After her children had all graduated high school, she decided it was time for her to go back to the classroom as a student.
“It’s the period at the end of my nursing education. This was the degree I wanted to end with,” Fisher said. “I see this as a launch pad. I enjoy doing professional work with national organizations and this will help me grow professionally in those roles. This degree will open doors that will allow me to give back more through teaching and serving my patients and their families, students and colleagues.”
She said with the nurse practitioner role moving toward the DNP as the degree to enter into practice, she felt like if she was going to teach those students, she needed to go through this program too. She has been a nurse for more than 30 years, and a life-long learner. For the last 16 years, she’s worked as a pediatric nurse practitioner in the specialty of pediatric hematology/oncology. She is currently a nurse practitioner in this field at Prisma Health–Upstate and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Her project tied directly to her work with cancer patients, as her project focused on the care of childhood cancer survivors as they prepare to transition to adult health care providers.
Clemson University’s Joseph F. Sullivan Center clinician Michelle Deem was at a point in her career where she wanted to broaden her horizons in the nursing practice. She’s been a nurse for almost 30 years, and in her role at the Sullivan Center, she treats patients in the clinic in Edwards Hall as well as in the community through the mobile clinic.
“I’m an older student, and have no regrets at all about going back to school. I wanted to think more outside the box,” Deem said. “And, I feel like more opportunities will open up with this degree to serve in my current role at Clemson.”
Through the DNP program, Deem said she’s enjoyed getting to dig deeper into research topics such as her project on screening for diabetic kidney disease in the primary care setting. For her practice improvement project, she led a quality improvement initiative at a local federally qualified healthcare center that led to improved screening and treatment rates of diabetic kidney disease.
“The project I’ve done, is very rewarding,” Deem said. “It’s the process that is more valuable than the outcome, and I foresee this being able to help implement detailed screening processes for other complications associated with diabetes and similar chronic diseases.”
Megan Kyle, director of outreach for the Joseph F. Sullivan Center, has now earned three degrees from Clemson. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing and wanted to go back for a third time.
“I always knew I was going to pursue a terminal degree, even when I was getting my associate’s degree in nursing. School was something I was always passionate about,” Kyle said. “And, along the way, it became very evident to me that the more skills I acquired, it shored up my practice and enabled me to step into new roles I wouldn’t have considered for myself when I first started in nursing. This made me feel like I was having a bigger impact among the people I was called to serve.”
She said within her administrative role, she wears many hats, and like Cromer, being in this program has helped her in career even before getting her degree.
“While seeing patients in the clinical side, I need to know the most up-to-date research and evidence-based practices, especially in specific populations,” she said.
She also sees her dissertation on telehealth medicine being something that could help the Sullivan Center. For her project, she implemented a telehealth model – live webinar, nutrition education and stress management, and learned the patients had high acceptability rates.
The students said that it’s exciting to be in the first cohort of this program.
“It’s been a good experience being in the first class and working our way through the program,” Cromer said. “We’ve helped set the tone for the following classes and hopefully it helps it become a great national program.”
Their advice to anyone interested, is to take the program as it can help any nurse.
“Regardless of the type of nursing you’re in, whether it be administration or practice focused, any nurse would benefit from this program,” Kyle said.
Valerie Mattingly, Allison Honea and Ronni Ayala are the students in the first cohort who will graduate in December.
Incoming DNP program coordinator and assistant clinical professor in the program Jennifer Rice, looks forward to more DNP graduates, working with future DNP students and helping the program grow even more.
“I am so proud that Clemson has developed a program that will encourage nurse practitioners to become leaders in clinical practice and policy,” Rice said. “As a DNP prepared nurse, I am thrilled to teach fellow nurse practitioners how to create positive change for our evolving healthcare system.”
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