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Chad Ricks’ path to nursing wasn’t traditional, but today he couldn’t imagine doing anything different.

After graduating high school in Texas, Chad went to college right away—but admits now that he wasn’t ready. “I wasn’t mature enough and therefore not successful my first attempt in college,” says Chad. He decided to enlist in the U.S. Army and worked in special operations for the next 10 years. After becoming wounded in the Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, Chad wound up at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. There, he was cared for by several excellent nurses.

A Spark Ignited

Growing up with a mother who was a Licensed Practical Nurse, Chad started thinking about becoming a nurse after his experience as a patient at Walter Reed. After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, he applied to and was accepted at Emory University’s School of Nursing. In 1997, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

By then, Chad was married with young children, so starting a new career chapter meant he needed to choose wisely to support his family. He accepted his first nursing position at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, a large Level 1 trauma center. When an opportunity to move to the Intensive Care Unit came up, he didn’t hesitate.

Travel Nursing to Gain Experience

In the early 2000s, Chad started doing travel nursing to expand his experience and marketability. “It was great exposure to health care in different parts of the country and to different clinical areas,” he says. In 2004, he was assigned to a hospital in Long Beach, California. After two years, he was in love with the Sunshine State—and convinced his family to move across the country.

For many years, Chad worked as a staff nurse, typically in intensive care units and emergency rooms. He moved into management in 2014 when the chief nursing officer of his hospital asked him to manage the hospital’s busy emergency department. Soon, he became the director of medical-surgical, rehabilitation, telemetry and nursing education as well.

Encouraged to Further His Education

Chad’s colleagues started encouraging him to return to college for a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and he agreed that the time was right in his career to do so. He started an MSN program at United States University in San Diego and graduated in 2020. While there, a professor told him that he should think about continuing on for a doctorate. He was also invited to join the university’s advisory board.

“I started looking at backgrounds of different nurse leaders on LinkedIn and noticed that many I admired had Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees from American Sentinel University [now American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Post University],” says Chad. After doing his own research, he decided that American Sentinel checked all the boxes. “The Executive Leadership focus, the affordable price, and the practice focus of the DNP degree—it all sounded great to me.” Chad started the Doctor of Nursing Practice with a specialization in Executive Leadership in November 2020. He expects to graduate in 2024.

A New Opportunity

When Chad started the online DNP program at American Sentinel, he was finishing his second interim assignment with Kaiser Permanente as a director of emergency services at Santa Rosa Kaiser Permanente. Before that, he was director of inpatient services in San Diego. A referral led him to an opportunity at Providence St. Joseph Eureka—the other end of the state from his home near Temecula. With the DNP underway, Chad was offered a position as director of clinical/operations of acute care inpatient services. He works remotely one week a month from his home and spends the other three in Eureka.

Attainable Education

The knowledge Chad is gaining from the DNP program has allowed him to perform deeper research on everything from retaining nurse leaders to the economics of health care to managing millennial nurses. Eventually, Chad wants to become a chief nurse executive of a hospital or system. As he looks toward that goal, he’s very impressed with the return on his educational investment. “The health care industry must make education attainable and affordable to confront the nursing shortage and other challenges, and Post University has done exactly that,” Chad says. “I’m very pleased with the education I’ve received.”

Pursuing nursing, he adds, was one of the best decisions he’s made in his life. “Nursing has opened my eyes and mind to a world I didn’t know existed growing up in an underprivileged community,” says Chad, who is a board member for the National Black Nurses Association. “This career has been good to me and allowed me to serve others and make a difference.”