Doctor of Nursing Practice Graduate Determined to Succeed

September 28, 2023  |  by Heidi Wells, Global Campus

Susan Ferguson
Susan Ferguson

Susan Ferguson’s story is about determination and mindset.

Ferguson grew up in Strawberry, Arkansas, a town with fewer than 300 people in Lawrence County. That’s in the northeast corner of the state, about 50 miles west of Jonesboro, where Ferguson lives now.

A first-generation college student, she didn’t have any role models when it came to education but, early on, as a single mother, Ferguson decided she would further her education to care for herself and her son, now 22. Three college degrees later, Ferguson is pursuing her goals of educating patients with diabetes about how to take care of themselves as well as educating future generations of nurses.

Ferguson’s drive to succeed can be seen from a young age. She began mowing cemeteries at age 11 to buy herself school clothes. Her grandparents helped raise Ferguson, and her grandmother’s experience with diabetes, complications from which she eventually died, influenced her eventual decision to become a nurse.

After graduating as school valedictorian from Strawberry, Ferguson went to work in factories.

“Are you going to support your son this way? I asked myself,” she recalled. “After reflecting, I decided I was going to be a nurse. I was going to take nursing to the absolute top. I started at rock bottom to the end of a wonderful journey.”

Ferguson, now 53, began working as a licensed practical nurse in a long-term care facility in 2012 and worked while she earned an associate’s degree from Arkansas State University-Newport. She graduated in December 2015 and got her registered nurse’s license before the year ended.

“I wanted to provide for my family so that we could have a better way of life than what my parents were capable of providing for me,” Ferguson said. “I had a motivated and positive outlook.”

Next up, Ferguson enrolled in the RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program delivered online by the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing in the College of Education and Health Professions at the U of A. Ten days after finishing the BSN, she enrolled in the BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice offered online by the U of A. She graduated this past spring and is working as an adjunct faculty member for the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville serving as a clinical preceptor to students south down U.S. 67 at health care facilities in Newport and Searcy.

“No breaks,” Ferguson said. “My mindset and the philosophy of my desire to pursue my education further told me I should not take a break. I recognized a lot of students take a break and never go back. My goal was to keep my momentum to keep advancing in my education.”

Taking care of her son, working full time and going to school was challenging, she said.

“I got tired a lot but I don’t think I ever came very close to throwing my hands up and quitting,” Ferguson said. “Being a single mom, any time I set a goal there were so many obstacles I could have quit. My perspective was to keep my eyes on the bigger picture, to stay focused on the bigger goal as well as setting smaller goals to get to the bigger goal. That kept me motivated. My vision never changed.”

Her BSN felt like a great achievement, she said, and she recognized she had some leadership qualities and skills that she wanted to build on with the nursing practice doctorate.

“I had begun integrating leadership into my employment as a house supervisor,” Ferguson said. “I recognized taking it to a DNP level would advance my leadership skills and give me greater opportunity in employment. My goal is to teach.”


Razorbug Diploma Tour

Susan Ferguson receives a framed diploma for her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree presented by Michael Hevel, associate dean for research, strategy and outreach in the College of Education and Health Professions.

The U of A Global Campus celebrated Ferguson and nine other spring 2023 graduates of online degree programs on Aug. 17 at the final event of the Razorbug Diploma Tour. After driving 1,850 miles through northeast and south Arkansas in June, the Razorbug took the checkered flag in downtown Little Rock at the Walton College Executive Education center, bringing the summer total to 2,200 Arkansas miles.

In total, the tour celebrated 23 online graduates with 14 academic presenters from the Fayetteville campus. Faculty and staff met graduates in their yards, their workplaces and beside hometown murals for diploma presentations in front of this special car. The August event provided an opportunity for online graduates in central Arkansas to take part.

The Razorbug, a 2005 Volkswagen Beetle converted to look like a Razorback with tusks, razor-edged spine, snout, hooves and a curly tail, waited out front for visitors to take pictures. Inside, Michael Hevel, associate dean for research, strategy and outreach in the College of Education and Health Professions, one of several faculty members attending, presented Ferguson with her framed diploma.

More than 550 students graduated from online degree programs last spring. The U of A offers 92 online degree, certificate, microcertificate and licensure programs. They can be viewed at U of A ONLINE. The Global Campus supports U of A colleges and schools in the development and delivery of online, distance and workforce education programs and courses. It provides instructional design services, technology services and assistance with marketing, recruiting and strategic academic development.


Research on Diabetes

Students in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at the U of A are required to complete a capstone project designed to improve the quality of care. Working nurses design and carry out projects to benefit their patients. The idea is to formulate a question to investigate that is drawn from the hospital, clinic or practice where they work based on an area where the health care staff would like to improve care or fill gaps in service.

DNP projects are designed to be a sustainable intervention for the site to continue without student assistance, said Michele Kilmer, assistant professor of nursing who coordinates DNP projects. Students share their results through oral presentations, publications and other formats.

Ferguson chose her topic – diabetes education – based on her experience with her grandmother, her clinical practice and her own experience with elevated A1C levels, the markers that indicate pre-diabetes by the sugar levels in hemoglobin detected in a blood test.

She wanted to see what effect using a continuous glucose monitor had on Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease. A continuous glucose monitor allows a diabetes patient to keep track of sugar levels through a sensor placed under the skin on the stomach or arm, according to the Cleveland Clinic website. The sensor measures glucose levels in the fluid under the skin, taking readings every five minutes and transmitting them to a device that displays the data.

At an outpatient clinic in Paragould, Ferguson gathered data from patients who received information through a hospital discharge protocol. She recruited patients for her study while they were in the hospital, and she monitored them for 30 days with weekly visits to check on them.

“We saw these patients at the outpatient diabetes clinic within one week of their discharge,” she said. “Previously, there was a high rate of rehospitalizations but, after we implemented the protocol, there was improvement. Their glycemic levels were better.”

Her findings supported the use of continuous glucose monitoring in patients diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes to improve their health as well as to reduce health care costs. She reported she found a 14% decrease in mean blood glucose levels and a 7.3% reduction in rehospitalizations in the study population. Participants also showed increased knowledge of current diabetes treatment, glucose monitoring and lifestyle measures, she said, and providers had increased knowledge of risks and benefits.

As a side note, Ferguson also focused on lowering her own A1C levels by changing her diet and increasing her exercise.

“When you are aware that diabetes contributes to so many co-morbidities, I told myself I am not going down that road,” she said. “In a nutshell, you have to take care of yourself, or you can’t take care of others.”

Photo of Heidi Wells

Heidi Wells

Content Strategist

Heidi Wells is the content strategist for the Global Campus at the University of Arkansas and editor of The Online Learner. Her writing spans more than 30 years as a communicator at the U of A and a reporter and editor at Arkansas newspapers. Wells earned two degrees from the U of A: a master's in 2013 and a bachelor's in 1988.

Wells can be reached at or 479-575-7239.

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Doctor of Nursing Practice

Advance your career by earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Nurses in this degree program learn to solve complex health issues, design and sustain quality improvement in organizations, and lead the transformation of health care through evidence-based clinical prevention and health services.

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