The desire to pursue my doctorate degree in nursing practice began years ago while practicing as a cardiovascular acute care nurse practitioner, shortly after I graduated from California State University, Los Angeles with my masters of science in nursing. I started to focus on the present by setting my goal to graduate by the age of 50. My desire was so strong that my heart and soul were on fire, so I got ready, got set, and read through the multiple university applications in California. I literally reset my brain to tell myself “GO GET TO YOUR GOAL.”
Choosing the right school for me was easy. As a single mother of two children, ages 9 and 11, and a nursing director of critical care and three cardiac telemetry departments for a large trauma center in southern California, it had to be the one closest to home that included both online instruction and multiple options for financing. So, the journey began: transcripts, application process, recommendation letters, and a personal interview at Loma Linda University with the doctors running the program. My acceptance letter was received, and shortly after that, I realized that, for the next three years, I had to make a choice to embrace this change and follow my passion, which was to obtain my doctor of nursing practice.
Acceptance of my decision by my son and my daughter were next on my list of things to do and was my priority. Knowing that they didn’t know much about my journey or why my desire to do this was so strong, it was tough convincing them that I would be doing something they saw as a “take away” from them, that would be “their mommy time.” I convinced them this would be best for our future, and they seemed to understand and were supportive. That meant the world to me.
The next steps were to identify financing and decide what I could delete from my personal expenses to help pay for the first semester. The first few semesters were really tough, scraping and saving by eliminating the unnecessary pleasures of life, going out to eat, taking vacations, and decreasing my time and expenses associated with my gym.
So as the journey continued, the support from the chief nurse executive in my organization for furthering my education had to be in place. Meeting with the nursing leader was critical, and knowing that she had her Ph.D. in nursing, I already knew she would be understanding of this endeavor. My desire to complete a Ph.D. was overwhelmingly supported by senior leadership, and this is what you need to get you through a doctorate program while working full time. Knowing that I was entering this program, I gave up all my personal vacation time and spent all paid time off to attend school seminars that were required at Loma Linda University every quarter.
Is the time right for you to start, and will this be worth it for you? The answer is: there will never be the “perfect time,” but this, for sure, will be the best journey you will ever take. The decision to seek a doctoral level education starts with choosing the best program for you. Search for the program that best meets your needs and will fit into your work–life balance. I made this choice in 2011, and it was a three-year journey that has contributed to my growth both personally and professionally. Financially, things fell into place once I met with financial counselors and knew I could get student loans that did not require payments until six months’ post-graduation as long as I stayed enrolled in the program.
Setbacks will be expected, and mine happened in 2013 when I knew I had to move for the sake of my children. My living environment in the San Fernando Valley was not conducive to a healthy lifestyle for my children. I submitted a one-year leave of absence from the program, and thankfully they honored that request. I learned from this event, and most importantly I learned it was okay to take a break and that I did not have to be perfect. This was necessary for my family, and relocating in the midst of my program was right for my children, who are always my priority.
I woke at 4:30 AM every day, dropped my children off at two separate schools in two different valleys, went to work followed by many nights at random Starbucks waiting for my daughter’s dance classes to end, then after both kids went to bed, I spent every moment I could create for myself on the computer finishing assignments for school that were due, writing papers and outlining manuscripts, sometimes till 2 or 3 AM when no one could disturb me. Passion is what you need to survive, and most importantly, please remember, success was not only achieved by working hard, it was achieved only by working intensely and passionately on something I wanted to achieve for myself. Embrace the challenge, and I promise you, it will be the best decision you will ever make.
Dr. Elsie Crowninshield is a cardiovascular nurse practitioner and doctor of nursing practice. She is the clinical nursing director of critical care services and cardiac telemetry and steps down units at Dignity Health Northridge Hospital Medical Center, Los Angeles, California. She has 30 years experience in cardiovascular and neurosciences trauma nursing. She can be contacted at Elsiednp@gmail.com and is developing her own coaching and consulting business at elsiecrowninshield.com.