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A Nursing Education Degree Helps RN Donna Lovestrand Change Lives

Her online MSN degree program helps lead to groundbreaking research.

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree online at Walden University gave Donna Lovestrand the knowledge and training she needed to achieve her career goal of becoming a nurse educator. But online learning opened other doors for this Philadelphia-born RN, too.

Donna Marie LovestrandAs Lovestrand tells it, she was working at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital in Fort Polk, Louisiana, enrolled in Walden’s online master’s in nursing program, when she says she was “voluntold” to join the hospital’s process improvement committee. “Being at Walden and learning how to use the databases, and learning how to find research, helped me with my job and process improvement,” she says. “And it was because of that that I did identify a problem that happens after anesthesia, called emergence delirium.”

Lovestrand, who is certified in perianesthesia nursing and was working in the postanesthesia care unit (PACU), scoured internet databases for research on how to address this postsurgical condition, which occurs in approximately 5% of the general population.1 In the Army hospital setting, Lovestrand says, they linked it to individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I was looking for information but there was nothing there to help me assist these people, and we could not fix it. But it was because I was able to use the databases, look for research, and now do process improvement, that my co-authors and I were published in both 2013 and in 2017 on how to handle this. And I recently submitted another manuscript for a simulation exercise to teach the things that we have developed since 2013. It’s due to be published in the AANA Journal in June of 2021. I would not have done that if I didn’t have Walden, because I wouldn’t have had the ability,” she says.

In 2013, Lovestrand and her co-authors Steven Lovestrand and Steven Phipps published Emergence Delirium and PTSD in the AANA Journal, the journal of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. In it, the authors conclude that “best practice includes a proper identification of patients at risk of emergence agitation, a minimally stimulating environment, intraoperative sympatholytic therapy, and patient and staff education,” according to the study’s abstract.2 (Steven Lovestrand is a clinical psychologist and her brother-in-law, Lovestrand notes.)

In 2017, Lovestrand and co-authors Steven Lovestrand, Denise Beaumont, and Jonathan Yost published their award-winning Management of Emergence Delirium in Adult PTSD Patients: Recommendations for Practice in the Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing. “In the past several years, literature has begun to address the problem, but no standardized guidelines exist at present. The authors synthesize the available literature, combining data with evidence-driven principles from multiple disciplines, to submit an initial set of guidelines until research either supports or disproves these recommendations,” the abstract says.1

“Walden has given me the opportunity to be a part of this,” she says. “With what I’ve learned and what I’ve done with emergence delirium and PTSD, I’m making a difference in a lot of peoples’ lives, and that's overwhelming to me sometimes, that I’m able to do that.”

Now a faculty member in the Pennsylvania College of Technology’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Lovestrand is considered a subject matter expert on emergence delirium in PTSD patients and speaks globally on the topic.

At Penn College, she teaches courses on topics such as leadership and management, surgical nursing, and process improvement. Students in the BSN program get the benefit of her research, 37 years of direct care nursing experience, and the MSN with a specialization in Nursing Education she earned from Walden in 2014. As a result of her work, Lovestrand received the Commanding General’s Award at Fort Polk the same year she graduated from Walden and then in 2020, she received the Patient Advocate Award from the Pennsylvania Association of PeriAnesthesia Nurses.

“Without that education, I wouldn’t be doing the things I am doing now,” says Lovestrand, who committed to earning her MSN degree when she was 54. She was an RN with a bachelor’s degree and thought she was “pretty much done with school.”

“But then my husband and I went down to work at Fort Polk, and education is a big deal in the military,” she says, noting they were civilian employees. “All the military nurses around me were getting higher degrees, and it just motivated me.”

Initially Lovestrand thought she’d have to choose between working full time or earning a degree. But she saw that online nursing programs made it possible to do both and she thought, “Oh, I could do that.”

From her first contact with an admissions advisor, Lovestrand said she found the Walden experience respectful and accommodating: “It was, ‘OK, that’s what you want? Let's see how we can fulfill that.’” Her faculty members were invested in helping students succeed: “If you needed help, you got it.”

Lovestrand graduated when she was 57, and she and her husband flew from Louisiana so she could attend commencement in National Harbor, Maryland. “I wanted to walk, meaning it was a lot of work working full time and going to grad school.” An added draw, she says, was commencement speaker Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state and national security advisor.

Though Lovestrand lives in Central Pennsylvania now, she still gets back to Philadelphia to visit family. “It was a wonderful place to grow up,” she says. “I lived in the city, in a row house. I went to school, nursing school, just three miles from where they filmed the Rocky movies. The history of our country is there … You can get a lot of knowledge and love of the country by being born in and experiencing Philadelphia. Plus, we have good food.”

She’s not a fan of Philadelphia’s traffic, though. But she sees this as another advantage of online education: “Well, it’s hard to get around Philadelphia. Walden gives you that opportunity to be online, and you’ve got basically good internet connections there. So, if you’re going to earn a degree online, Philadelphia is a really good place to be,” she says.

“You can go to other schools and get a degree, but it was all that experience online—which is where everything is now—that has equipped me to be good at my specialty, and good in education. I’m also president of our chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, which is the international honor society for nursing, and we have a vision of bringing the best practice to the bedside. Well, how do we do that? Well, we have to use databases, we have to use the internet, to try to get it to the staff nurse, who doesn’t have time to do that. So that's what our chapter is doing, and that’s part of what Walden prepared me for,” she says.

Change Lives With an Online Nursing Degree

When you earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) online degree from Walden, you can choose the specialization that meshes with your career goals. If you want to provide direct patient care, there are four options that prepare you to pursue certification and credentialing as a nurse practitioner, including the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) Primary Care specialization. Or, like Donna Lovestrand, you can position yourself for advanced leadership or educator roles by choosing one of the four specialty practice choices: Nurse Executive, Nursing Education, Public Health Nursing, and Nursing Informatics.

When you are ready to pursue an online nursing degree, Walden gives you other choices, too, offering two master’s in nursing degree completion options: a traditional, course-based learning track or Tempo Learning®, a competency-based learning format that lets you progress at your own pace.

In your MSN nursing degree program, you’ll learn from didactic faculty who all hold doctoral degrees and have real-world experience. You’ll build and hone skills using top technology like the i-Human patient simulation software. And throughout your nursing school journey, your master’s degree program will always be at your fingertips, in a flexible, online learning platform that travels with you.

These are just some of the reasons why no other school graduates from MSN students than Walden.3 Walden can help you find your niche and prepare you to use your education and talents to improve patient care.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) online degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

3Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Based on the most recent year of completions survey data available, using CIP code family 51.38 “Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research, and Clinical Nursing” for Master’s degrees (Award level 7). Available at (Retrieved January 2021; may consist of or include provisional release data.)

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,