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High-energy personality helped GSN class speaker juggle responsibilities

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When Dawn Carpenter describes herself and the other three members of the inaugural class of the Graduate School of Nursing’s doctor of nursing practice program, it’s clear that she relished the opportunity to be immersed in a challenging advanced degree program with such remarkable colleagues who share her dedication to the profession and to their patients. To be selected as class speaker, she said, is an honor that could have gone to any one of them.

Dawn Carpenter“To say the program was academically challenging is an understatement,” said Carpenter, whose can-do attitude and intensity is evident even in a casual interview. “But the four of us are very energetic, so we worked very well together and provided each other with balance and support over the last 20 months. I couldn’t have picked a better group of colleagues or a better school.”

The 40-credit DNP program, which prepares students to be administrators and expert clinicians who can evaluate and translate best evidence into practice, includes core and specialty courses, a residency practicum and a capstone project, as well as a focus on collaboration to improve the quality of care for patients in hospitals and community-based settings. The program has a strong focus on interprofessional partnerships (including those with the School of Medicine and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Commonwealth Medicine, UMass Correctional Health, UMass Memorial Health Care and the greater Central Massachusetts community), which is something Carpenter readily embraces.

“I think our ability, as nurse leaders, to collaborate with other medical professionals will be critical as health reform is implemented in the coming years,” she said. “One thing I’ve learned in my years in nursing is that patients do best when cared for by a cohesive team of professionals who work well together and value each other’s contributions. The overall clinical environment becomes healthier and more efficient, too, when each team member has a voice.”

As a full-time nurse practitioner in the surgical intensive care unit of UMass Memorial Medical Center since 2004, Carpenter is responsible for coordinating the program, overseeing the clinical placement of acutely ill patients and ensuring the flow of care in the unit. She is a role model for her staff not only because of her adept day-to-day management of the unit, but also because of her thoroughness and her let’s-do-this-right approach to challenges. She leads by example and always puts patients first, striving to perfect the care she and her colleagues provide.

Although the GSN tries to discourage candidates from working full time during the grueling 20-month program, Carpenter and her three classmates chose to juggle careers and the academic work. In addition to her work at UMass Memorial, Carpenter is also on faculty at the GSN, a position from which she took a sabbatical while in the DNP program; she resumes teaching in August, and can’t wait to get back to it.

“UMass and UMass Memorial have created a culture that I haven’t found anywhere else,” she said. “Within both organizations there is a sense that the faculty, students and clinicians are all working towards the same goal, to enhance and improve nursing education and patient care. I think it’s easy to sometimes overlook how important a supportive and collegial environment is in this field. Nobody here works alone.”

Carpenter, who received her undergraduate nursing degree in 1991 at Mansfield University in her home state of Pennsylvania and a master of nursing at Syracuse in 1994, received her post-master’s certificate at the GSN in 2003. Now that she has completed the DNP program, Carpenter’s extended family keeps asking her when she’s moving back to Pennsylvania. “I keep telling them ‘no way, you don’t know how great things are here,’” she laughs. “I’ve got a wonderful, challenging job I love with people I greatly respect and admire, and I have a newly minted degree that I can’t wait to apply. I can’t explain to them just how unique the culture is here and how great a fit it is for me.”

Read about how doctors of nursing practice are ready to be tomorrow's leaders.

To see a video interview with Dawn, click here.