May 3, 2023

Robbyn DeSpain

Graduate in First Doctor of Nursing Practice Class at VSU Reflects on Unique Path to Success

Nisha Patel is one of 17 students who will be the first to earn the Doctor of Nursing Practice at Valdosta State University on May 5. She moved to Valdosta from India in 2013 and earned a Master of Science in Nursing from VSU in 2018. She began her career as a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner at Legacy Behavioral Services in Valdosta. 

VALDOSTA — For Nisha Patel, a student in Valdosta State University’s first Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) graduating class, her unusual journey will be top of mind as she adds “Dr.” to the front of her name. The first cohort of 17 DNP students will cross the stage during the 235th Commencement Ceremony at VSU on Friday, May 5.

Let’s go back 10 years to best understand Patel’s journey. On April 4, 2013, Patel and her family, including her 4-month-old son, arrived in Valdosta from India. She had an undergraduate nursing degree, a goal of continuing her education, and dreams of working in the medical field.

Patel began looking for a quality nursing program and didn’t have to look far. In August of 2016, she began the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program at VSU.  She became a mom for the second time and graduated from VSU with her MSN in December of 2018.

After graduation, Patel realized a new career interest -- mental and emotional health. She began her career as a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner at Legacy Behavioral Services in Valdosta. As the COVID-19 global pandemic hit in 2020, the need for mental health care and resources grew immensely. Patel’s passion became an urgent need.

“I love my patients, and I want to help them any way I can with their mental health needs,” she says. “My passion and my work guided me and helped me choose a focus for my doctorate project.”

In the fall of 2021, she was accepted into the very first cohort of VSU’s DNP program.

“We designed our DNP program for nurses wanting a terminal degree with an alternative to research-focused doctoral programs,” said Dr. Jim Pace, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at VSU. “As patient care becomes more complex, having high quality and safe nursing practices is even more important. A higher level of preparation is needed for those who evaluate and assess care, and our DNP program provides the curriculum and flexibility to ensure these healthcare leaders can succeed.”

Patel says the DNP program fit with her personal life and work schedule.

“The way the program was organized really helped me as a student. It did not overburden me at all, even though I was also a full-time nurse practitioner and a full-time mom. It helped me accommodate my work life and my social life.

“I am so grateful to my professors. They sent me emails and messages and provided me with the support I needed during some personal challenges. I couldn’t have asked for more from them.”

Patel also credits her strong support system, specifically her family and husband, for getting her to this point. She has some advice for those who may be nervous about getting their degree.

“Do not give up. Yes, there will be a time during your studies or maybe even before you start your program that you want to, but don’t. Just keep working. Utilize all the support available to you instead of trying to do it all yourself. Let others help you.”

As Patel continues on her journey, her story with VSU is not quite over. She has one more semester before also earning a Master of Business Administration, and she would love to return to teach at VSU one day.

Patel shares some wisdom for those just setting out on their own path.  

“The feeling of achievement is going to be so special when you look back on your journey.”

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