Nursing & Health

3 DNP nursing stories that prove it’s worth it to advance

DNP Nursing Success Stories


Most of us are familiar with terminal degrees, which indicate you’ve reached the maximum level of education in a given field. Some common ones are Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) and Juris Doctor (JD). In the nursing industry, however, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing are the top tier.


While a Ph.D. in Nursing is more of a research-focused degree, a DNP qualifies nurses for doctorate-level clinical nursing practice. Both routes enable graduates to work as nurse practitioners (NP), although professionals with a Ph.D. in Nursing will often have to pursue a post-graduate certificate to become an NP.


If you’ve set your sights on advancing your nursing career to the NP level, pursuing a DNP could be the most clear-cut route to take. But you want to be sure that committing to going back to school for an advanced degree will be worth it in the end. As you do your research on DNP programs and the corresponding career opportunities, it can be helpful to hear from professionals who have already walked this path.


We’re exploring three DNP nursing stories to help provide a little inspiration. These graduates went through the doctoral programs at University of Massachusetts Global and are now using their education to make an impact in the world of nursing.


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3 inspiring University of Massachusetts Global DNP nursing stories

Whether you want to provide leadership in your own community or have an impact elsewhere in the world, a DNP could help you achieve the career you want. These graduates prove it.


1. Achieving a previously out-of-reach position

UMass Global graduate Dr. Run Heidelberg also began his journey toward nursing as a medic in the U.S. Army and National Guard. It was during his service that he began to feel drawn toward nursing, with a specific passion for the psychiatric side.


“I learned there was a lot more going on than just aches and pains,” Dr. Heidelberg says, recalling a number of soldiers he treated who simply needed someone to talk to. He quickly realized that advancing his education would be the key to expanding his ability to help patients with their mental health struggles in addition to their physical ailments.


After becoming an RN, Dr. Heidelberg earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in nursing. Upon deciding to pursue his DNP degree, however, he ran into some initial roadblocks. In Hawaii, where he resided, there were limited options for pursuing advanced nursing degrees. As Heidelberg looked for programs that would allow him to balance his studies with working a full-time job, University of Massachusetts Global’s program offerings began to catch his eye.


The combination of online courses with biannual full-week immersions at the Irvine, California, campus allowed him to manage his daily life commitments while earning a DNP. “They meet with you when you’re available,” Dr. Heidelberg says of UMass Global.


With a terminal degree in nursing now under his belt, he continues to make waves in the world of healthcare. Dr. Heidelberg is the first nurse to become the administrator of the Hawaii State Hospital — a role previously filled only by medical doctors. He’s responsible for overseeing the clinical and administrative aspects of the facility.


2. Providing relief close to home

Growing up in Nigeria, Dr. Jacinta Aernan always knew she would become a nurse. “I loved to take care of people, and I also had a loving father who was a nurse,” she says. “I was always fascinated by how he helped treat people and how their faces would light up when he finished or spoke softly to them while he was treating them.”


Years later, Dr. Aernan channeled her father’s passion herself while working as an RN for a community hospital in San Bernardino, California. He always told her that being a nurse was a calling.


“I have come to realize several years after his passing that there is nothing more heartwarming than to see a smile on the face of a patient you have helped,” Dr. Aernan says. “All that matters to me is the opportunity to make my patient smile, and when I achieve this, I know I have done my job well.”


Even with all she’s accomplished, Dr. Aernan has bigger goals. She believes an advanced degree will provide her with even more opportunities to help people, especially back in Nigeria. This is why she chose to go back to school and earn her DNP at University of Massachusetts Global.


“I feel the urge and the need to look into the mental health situation in Africa — Nigeria in particular,” she explains. Dr. Aernan’s goals are to find a sustainable solution for providing better care for patients with mental illness, to advocate for them and to focus research on how mental health relates to indigenous practices in Nigeria.


3. Aiding in the battle against Ebola

From caring for others during his days as a Boy Scout in Texas to working with some of the top healthcare organizations in the world to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Major Jack Miller’s life has always revolved around helping people.


Dr. Miller dedicated 12 years of service to the Army. He experienced numerous deployments to war-ravaged areas in that time, including Baghdad during the peak of the Iraq war. He was also involved in humanitarian missions in Honduras and Kosovo. But Dr. Miller’s efforts to make the world a better place were far from finished after leaving the Army.


“There wasn’t one specific moment when I decided to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner,” Dr. Miller says, “but I do remember seeing the Afghan girl on the cover of National Geographic in June of 1985, and after reading that article, I remember thinking to myself, ‘I want to go and help people like her.’”


He became an RN, earned his master’s degree, worked as a traveling nurse practitioner in remote clinics across southern Colorado, and also served in the U.S. Navy Reserves. Eventually, Dr. Miller decided to pursue a DNP at University of Massachusetts Global. He was a standout student.


“Jack was an inimitable advance practice nurse who surpassed our expectations in his doctoral nursing studies,” says Dr. Tyke Hanisch, dean of the Marybelle and S. Paul Musco School of Nursing and Health Professions at University of Massachusetts Global. “I am thankful for his service to our country and proud that he is using his education to support the healthcare of those in serious need.”


Along with his military experience, Dr. Miller’s DNP made him a prime candidate to work with Partners In Health (PIH). This global health organization is committed to improving the health of poor and marginalized people. Working closely with humanitarian groups like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, PIH has joined the battle against the Ebola virus in West Africa.


You could be the next inspiring DNP success story

Whether you’re a bachelor’s-qualified RN or an APRN with a master’s degree, earning a DNP could propel you into sought-after nurse leadership roles. If these three University of Massachusetts Global DNP nursing stories are any indication, you could be one degree away from unlocking your full potential.


If you currently have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, check out University of Massachusetts Global’s BSN to DNP program offerings. If you’ve already earned your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), head over to the Post-Masters to DNP page.



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