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Pat Tillman Scholar Pursues Excellence Through DNP Program

The Doctor of Nursing Practice stands as one of the most advanced degrees available for nurses, serving to propel careers forward and hone nurse leadership skills. 

For DNP graduates like Katelyn Newton, this degree provided her the opportunity to put those leadership skills to the test and to develop a stronger sense of self confidence in the nursing industry. 

As a 2016 Pat Tillman Scholar, Newton has demonstrated not just what it takes to be an excellent DNP graduate, but what it means to fight for patients. 

Here she gets candid about her initial concerns about pursuing a graduate program and how she overcame those concerns with the support of family, friends and faculty cheering her on.

Question: Why did you want to pursue this specific program?
Answer: When I first began thinking about returning to graduate school I considered going back for something in administration or possibly nursing education and then I realized I wasn’t ever going to be ready to leave patient care. This program has been the best of all worlds for me. As a nurse practitioner, I’ll have more influence in affecting outcomes for my patients, I’ll have a bigger voice in patient advocacy, and I’ll still be immersed in patient care, which is the aspect of nursing I love most of all. When I was choosing a DNP program that fit my needs, ASU not only has an incredible reputation, but their pediatric program was exactly what I was looking for. The professors here have been so invested in us since day one and have really supported us through this entire journey to get us to where we are today, so it was an easy choice to make!

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized this was for you?
A: Honestly, I don’t think that I had a single “aha” moment. I entered the DNP program with a lot of trepidation because I really struggled in my undergraduate program. I applied to nursing school three times before I was accepted, and once I did begin the program I struggled a lot with the coursework, to the point I almost didn’t make it through. In that process I lost a lot of my confidence and when I graduated I swore that I would never go back to school. It took years of working in the field, falling in love with my job, and realizing that I’d had this skillset all along before I was able to find that confidence again.

When I was getting ready to go back, I can so vividly remember my mom saying to me, “Is that really a good idea?” It wasn’t because she doubted my abilities, she was just the person who was there when I went through that and she was genuinely worried for me. I can laugh about it now, however, because I thrived once I started graduate school.  I did well in my classes, I was awarded a substantial scholarship from the Pat Tillman Foundation and with that was welcomed into a community of the most influential and kind-hearted people I know, and I was able to complete an impactful DNP project on a topic that is so important to me!

Q: What are two key lessons you learned from this program?
A: I learned a lot more about biostatistics that I ever thought I’d need to know! I’m teasing but as cliché as it sounds, the biggest thing I learned was the importance of finding your people and knowing when to ask for help. Nursing is a collaborative profession, so even before going back to school I like to think that I had a pretty good grasp of how important this was. Finding those people, knowing how to go to them when the mountain seems too steep, and then channeling that energy will enable you to achieve things you didn’t even think were possible.  The second most important thing I felt I learned was how to be an effective leader. I’ve never been the most outspoken person in the room but I really found my voice through this program and found new ways to express things that were important to me in a way that made people listen. The nursing program at ASU really fosters this environment of collaborative learning so that we can each go out and be a leader in our field.

Q: How do you feel this program prepared you for the next step in your career?
A: Well, there’s certainly a reason the college is called the “College of Nursing AND Health Innovation.” Our incredible and brilliant professors fostered an environment of learning where we were encouraged to identify health care problems from our own experiences and then they guided us through the process of impacting real change. Every part of the process was so challenging, but the invaluable experience of learning how to influence change is monumental for us as future nurse practitioners. So many of my long-term goals revolve around bringing change to certain elements of the pediatric health care field, and this program was designed exactly for that purpose.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: Short term, my husband is currently active duty and serving as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician for the United States Air Force. We know that we are going to be re-locating early next year but as of now we don’t know where we’re going.  Once we have an idea of where we’re going I’ll have the opportunity to start looking for and applying for a nurse practitioner position. My interests lie mostly in pediatric palliative care and pediatric oncology so I’ll explore those avenues first. Long term, I think that pediatric palliative care is undergoing a sort of revolution in our country right now—namely in what we consider it to be as well as how we deliver care—and I want to be a part of that. Really though, I would love nothing more than to make an impact in my own way and in my own small corner of the world!

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I think that we have a huge opportunity as a community to invest in early childhood literacy. My parents were foster parents for over 15 years so growing up I had sixteen brothers and sisters who came through our home. One of the proudest accomplishments of my lifetime was teaching one of those little girls at five years old how to read. Ensuring that kids develop the linguistic skills they need before their brain is developed at five, and then helping foster their language and literacy capabilities through their early education ensures their success for life. This most basic of skills give kids the confidence they need to function in an academic environment, empowers them to seek out information from the world around them, and ensures the most solid foundation as they grow into adulthood to be successful.