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COLUMBUS, Miss. – Ty Walton never imagined a career in nursing. But, after working in the field for more than a decade, she knows that it was meant to be.

This Friday, Walton and four of her colleagues will receive their doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) degrees from Mississippi University for Women, the first graduating class of the program, which was created to help advance healthcare in the state.

“I never dreamed that nursing would be my career. As a teenage mother and a high school drop out who later graduated with my class, nursing was a call from God for me,” she said. “As God allowed the doors of nursing to open for me, it was in his divine timing and plan that I pursue my doctorate.

“The program allows me the opportunity to let others that have had detours in life to see the reality of what purpose, hard work and determination can produce,” she added.

Walton, a wife and mother of three teenagers, currently works at the North Mississippi Regional Center, which promotes independence and enhances the abilities of individuals with intellectual and related developmental disabilities. She is the only full-time nurse practitioner on the campus, serving 260 individuals.

“This DNP program has helped me to see the big picture of nursing and has provided me with the necessary skills to operate as an expert clinician as well as nurse leader in the profession,” she said. “This program has equipped me with–what I describe–as the best of both worlds as I have the skills to work at the bedside and in the administrative fields of nursing.”

Also sharing the spotlight with Walton on Friday will be Wanda Towery Stroupe of Ripley, Jacqueline Shonda Phelon of Grenada, and Teresa Hamill and Sally Pearson, both of Starkville.

Stroupe owns a family practice clinic in Ripley that employs two nurse practitioners, five nurses and two office staff.

She sees children and adult patients with a special interest in childhood obesity and adult hypertension and diabetic care. Her clinic also is participating with North Mississippi Medical Center in a pilot project with TransferMed as a Patient Centered Medical Neighborhood.

Stroupe chose to pursue her DNP to reach the maximum education in her field and increase her knowledge base for patients.

“I felt this would enhance my ability to provide high-quality care to my patients. I also enjoy training future nurse practitioners and have served as preceptor for nurse practitioner students. I feel as a clinical site, I needed to have a terminal degree to serve as preceptor.”

Phelon, who teachers part-time in the graduate nursing program at The W and serves patients as a nurse practitioner for Region VI Mental Health, said she always wanted a clinical nursing doctorate degree, which is the focus of the DNP.

“When I learned that The W was starting this program, I wanted to be a part of it. I obtained my MSN at The W in 1992 and earned two post master’s certifications at other universities. Obtaining my DNP from The W has brought me full circle in my nurse practitioner education.”

Hamill and Pearson, both of whom have completed the DNP program, are instructors in The W’s College of Nursing.

Dr. Johnnie Sue Wijewardane, department chair of the graduate nursing program, said 10 students have been admitted into the program, with six scheduled to enroll. Launched in January 2012, the DNP is The W’s first doctoral program.

“Utilizing a consultant from Texas Tech University, Dr. Mary Fenton, we revised some of our course content to better focus on chronic illness as well as to strengthen coursework such as informatics, leadership, and health policy,” said. Dr. Wijewardane.

She added, Dr. Fenton is an expert in DNP curriculum development and has a keen understanding of the DNP concept and how coursework should be structured.

“An exciting part of our coursework has been adding course content that focuses on quality and safety in healthcare and critical analysis of the diagnostic process,” Wijewardane said.

Two highlights of the year for the DNP students were spending a day at the Alabama Crime Lab in Montgomery and spending a day at the Mississippi State Capitol where a program was put together by Sen. Terry Burton specifically for these DNP students to be updated on and become comfortable with health care needs in the state from a legislative and lobbying perspective.

“The five students who are graduating this week represent The W in a very positive manner. Their DNP projects have been presented. They have each submitted to national journals for publication. We are very proud of our first DNP graduates. They have set the bar high for those who come behind them,” Wijewardane said.

Approximately 190 participants are expected to walk in Friday’s graduation ceremony that begins at 2 p.m. in Rent Auditorium. Ed Blakeslee, a member of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning, will be the speaker.

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