Heather Schoonover (MN ’06), MN, RN, PHCNS-BC
Director of Professional Practice
Heather Schoonover is the Director of Professional Practice at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview, Washington. She began her nursing career as a Licensed Practical Nurse after attending an associate degree program. Soon after starting her nursing career she decided to continue her nursing education and enrolled in the BSN program at WSU followed by the Master of Nursing program. She graduated from WSU College of Nursing Vancouver in 2006 with a Master of Nursing with a focus on public and community health as a CNS. She was nominated for the 25 distinguished alumni award. She received the Authentic Leadership award from the Northwest Organization of Nurse Executives and the Excellence in Nursing Management from Sigma Theta Tau –Delta Chi Chapter at Large.
Tell us a little bit about your career, what you are doing, and where you work.
Once I became a Registered Nurse, I found a job at Oregon Health Sciences on their orthopedic/trauma unit. OHSU was a great place to work as a new graduate nurse. I got to experience and learn things there that I would not have been able to learn elsewhere. That is also where I was first mentored and encouraged to return to school to obtain my baccalaureate degree. While I was at OHSU I was actively involved in shared governance, and was introduced to staff development. I enrolled in the BSN program at WSU and subsequently the MN program. While in the MN program, I was recruited back to PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center, as the Manager of Clinical Education. My responsibilities at St. John changed over time, and I became more actively involved in developing processes and systems to ensure evidence based practice, good quality outcomes and an environment of professional nursing practice. Today, as the Director of Professional Practice, that is how I spend the majority of my time. I assess the current delivery system, developing and implementing strategies to improve the organizational practices, ensuring we are aligned with the current evidence, and that our patients are receiving the desired outcomes. I oversee staff development, orientation and competency assessment.
Why did you choose to attend WSU College of Nursing?
There were several reasons I chose to attend WSU College of Nursing. As a resident of Washington, an in-state program appealed to me. Even more appealing though, was the reputation and structure of the program. Because of the program’s structure, I was able to continue working while earning my degree.
The Institute of Medicine Future of Nursing Report calls for nurses to receive a higher level of education through improved education systems that promote seamless academic progression. The goal is for 80% of nurses to have a BSN by 2020. Additionally, there is a recognized need for more advanced practice nurses. WSU’s program provided me the scheduling flexibility I needed to continue to develop, align my skills with the national goals for the nursing workforce, and continue to work.
What do you love about WSU College of Nursing?
I love the faculty, the structure of the program and the content. I have incredibly fond memories of the faculty who coached and mentored me so I could be successful. Today, I love seeing the staff I work with who are in the WSU program. It’s a lot of fun to see them learn and develop insight through participation in the program.
How did WSU prepare you for your career?
WSU prepared me well for my career. The role I currently hold is all about systems of care and designing a system for populations of patients in aggregate. While I consult for complex issues for specific patients, I use my skills, many of which were developed while at WSU, to improve the organizational systems of care and ensure positive outcomes. Today, health care is undergoing an unprecedented amount of change. Health care organizations are being challenged to achieve the “triple aim,” which includes improving the patient experience of care (including quality and satisfaction), improving the health of populations, and reducing the per capita cost of health care. The WSU Master of Nursing program as a CNS in public and community health prepared me to do just this.
Who is your favorite faculty and why?
My favorite faculty is Dawn Doutrich. Dawn was on my thesis committee provided me great feedback, learning and growth during my graduate program. She encouraged me to become a CNS, when that wasn’t initially my plan. I love being a CNS, and am thankful she saw my potential and fit for this role, encouraging me to do more. Today, I get to work with Dawn as a colleague. She continues to encourage me to grow and develop.
What has been challenging about your nursing career?
Nursing can be a challenging career. Whether you are a nurse at the bedside or in an administrative position, work is not without challenges. I’ve always said that being a nurse is the best career there is. For me, it’s true. As nurses, we are allowed to bear witness to some of the most private and intimate moments in an individual’s life. We see and experience things most of the population don’t even talk about, let alone experience. Today, the most challenging thing about my nursing career is simply the complexity and the difficulty of the work we do in relation to a changing health care environment and associated financial pressures.
What advice would you give to new nursing students just starting at the college?
You can do it! It will be overwhelming at times, stressful at others, but you can do it. The work we do is incredible, but also serious and impacts each individual we come into contact with. Take school seriously and work to be the best possible nurse you can be. I would also tell them that they aren’t “done” when they graduate nursing school. You have a lifetime of learning in front of you. Realize and embrace this, and plan now for the ways you will continue to invest in your learning.
What are your future nursing career goals?
My future career goals include increasing the number of manuscripts I submit for publication. I think that CNS in hospital settings have a lot of valuable knowledge regarding how to take current evidence and translate it into practice. We could benefit as a profession from broader publication and representation. I need to make presentations and publications a priority. I am also contemplating returning to school to obtain a DNP, but have not made that decision yet.
How has the nursing profession or nursing education changed since you earned your nursing degree?
The nursing profession has changed dramatically since I first became a nurse. Both the pace of change and the amount of technology have increased from 15 years ago. More importantly, I think the role of the nurse is changing. For many years, nurses were valued for their technical expertise. It was visible and tactical. Often, people associated nurses with the tasks they performed, or the way the nurse cared for them and made them feel. Nursing today is different. The patients in our acute care hospitals are more acutely ill. Many of the technical tasks we used to perform can now be delegated to the assistive personnel working with us. Nursing in the ambulatory arena is growing. Nurses today conduct and publish more research. We are increasingly recognized for the scientists we are. Changes in primary care are resulting in additional practice opportunities for nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists. Nursing administrators have increasingly broad spans of control, and are being asked to lead their organizations, and the profession, to a different place. Nurses today have to be flexible and adept at change. What we do today will not be what we do ten years from now. I think it might be easier to list what hasn’t changed than attempting to list all of the things that have!
How do you see nurses filling the need in our rapidly changing health care system?
I see nurses leading and driving change. I hope that nursing will become more educated, more informed, and achieve top of license practice. We have the opportunity to redesign how care is delivered to the benefit of our patients and communities.
Using a few words or short phrases, describe what makes a Cougar nurse.
A Cougar nurse is skilled, tenacious, a professional who is willing to do difficult, amazing things for our patients and communities.