It was a presentation that changed the trajectory of Shecarra Cook’s life. She didn’t know it at the time, though.
It was 2012; and Shecarra was in San Antonio, Texas for a nurse practitioner conference with some of her nursing colleagues and friends. She’d just started as a nurse at Baylor Scott & White Family Medical Center in Garland, Texas after moving from Shreveport, Louisiana, where she’d worked in a hospital’s postpartum unit since 2009.
At this conference, there was a presentation by Dr. Tonya Sawyer-McGee, inaugural director for Abilene Christian University’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. In her presentation, Dr. Sawyer-McGee urged the nurses who visited her station to pursue a doctorate in nursing—particularly Black women like herself because less than 1% of nurses have doctorates and only 4.4% of doctoral degrees are earned by Black women.
Shecarra, by pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice, would be in the top 1% of her profession and the first one in her immediate family to receive a doctorate. Dr. Sawyer-McGee’s vision of an up-and-coming, highly educated generation of nurses thrilled Shecarra—and she stayed after the presentation to talk with Dr. Sawyer-McGee about what a future like this would look like.
Though Shecarra’s professional trajectory took a big decisive turn at this conference—her life, in a way, had been leading her on the path of nursing all along. Caring for sick people and serving others was a family heritage of Dr. Cook’s childhood; and that heritage has impacted every aspect of her life.
She comes from a Louisianan family, filled with teachers. Early on in her life, Dr. Cook learned first hand how to care and serve others. When she was just 7, her diabetic grandfather taught her how to give an insulin injection. When her uncle got diagnosed with cancer, Shecarra watched nurses come into the home daily to care for him. She would observe them administer medications and found it intriguing. Being the oldest granddaughter, she also helped care for her younger cousins and her sister.
With this background, it was unsurprising that Dr. Cook decided to attend Northwestern State University, where she graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After graduation, she immediately began working as a nurse in the postpartum unit at Christus Schumpert Hospital.
Finding Her Path
While working at this hospital in Shreveport, Shecarra began to realize a tremendous passion for her work. Postpartum nurses, she recognized, were an integral part of setting up new mothers for health and success. This is largely because of the amount of time that these specific nurses have with the mother. According to Dr. Cook, “the standard time for mothers to be in the hospital after birth is 3 days.” So, even more than OBGYNs, pediatricians, or family physicians, “nurses have the most time of anyone in the medical field with the mother.” Additionally, the time that they spend with these mothers is directly after birth—situating them to make a large impact on mothers in these units. More than any other medical professionals, nurses are in the best place to offer resources for recovering mothers to help make the first, essential months of her and her baby’s life as successful as possible.
Yet, despite this unique ability to impact their patients, Dr. Cook felt that, during her time in the postpartum unit, the opportunity to educate and equip mothers was squandered. The nurses were instructed to give the mothers a pamphlet about birth recovery info to share with their OBGYNs—and that was it. Dr. Cook felt she and her colleagues weren’t being utilized to their fullest potential to help their patients transition out of the hospital and into their normal lives.
In light of this, an idea began to form in Cook’s mind about what she wanted to do with her life: she wanted to enable nurses in postpartum units to be partners and educators with new mothers in the first crucial days after giving birth. Shecarra realized how she could make this dream a reality: she’d need further education if she wanted to follow her vision to reform postpartum nursing. In short order, after she’d moved nursing positions to Baylor Scott & White Family Medical Center in 2012—Cook enrolled in a Master’s in Family Nursing program at Texas Woman’s University. She loved her time there, meeting some lifelong friends, which just confirmed her sense that this was the profession where she was meant to be.
Cook graduated in 2016 with her Master’s; but she knew that wasn’t enough. Dr. Sawyer-McGee’s call had been for more nurses to receive doctorates, creating a generation of highly equipped and educated nursing practitioners. And where better to pursue her Doctor of Nursing Practice than at Abilene Christian University Online, the very program that Dr. Sawyer-McGee helped start?
“Walking In My Path”
So, in 2017, Shecarra Cook started in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at ACU Online. At first, it was difficult. She was going to school, while also working full-time as a nurse and teaching part-time at a nursing college. Plus, “it’s one thing to do a program in-person,” she said, “But it’s entirely different when you’re learning online and you don’t always know your peers.” Simultaneously, though, Shecarra also felt that getting an online degree helped her “stay focused on her work and maximized her time and money.”
Things really started to click when Shecarra began working on her DNP project. All Doctor of Nursing Practice students develop a project that can be productively applied in a nursing practice setting; it’s the DNP’s equivalent to a dissertation, a capstone demonstrating the depth of the nursing student’s expertise as a top practitioner in their field. This project is developed in partnership between the student, who identifies a topic they’re passionate about, and a faculty-appointed advisor, who helps refine and focus the research.
Shecarra, of course, immediately knew what she wanted her project to be about: postpartum education. In conjunction with her faculty advisor, over the next four years, she developed an intensive, focused series of resources and classes, designed to equip nurses in postpartum units to educate new mothers. According to her, in order to “educate the mothers, you need to first educate the nurses.” Ultimately, postpartum nurses partner with their patients, connecting them with resources and helping them create healthy, sustainable habits, which in turn will help foster healthy sustainable habits for their newborn child.
Dr. Shecarra Cook graduated from ACU Online in December 2021. She was thrilled when she got an email saying that she could attend the celebration in person. “It was an amazing experience getting to go to Abilene for graduation,” she enthused. Surrounded by her family—parents, grandmother, aunts, and cousin—Dr. Cook got to walk the stage one final time. She’d gone from a 7-year-old girl giving insulin injections to her grandfather to an accomplished, driven nurse practitioner in the elite stratosphere of her profession.
Dr. Cook currently helps run a COVID testing clinic as well as a men’s health and wellness center, facilitating and developing the communication protocols for interacting with patients who come to the clinic. Her long-term dream is that she will become a consultant for hospitals—empowering postpartum nurses and patients with the educational program she developed at ACU Online. It’s her life’s goal and what she feels “called to do.”
“I feel like I’m walking in my path,” she said excitedly. When asked what she’d say to anybody considering pursuing their vocation like her, she offered two words of encouragement. The first is her mantra: “If I can do it, you can do it!” And how does she know you can do it? Because she keeps her favorite Bible verse front and center: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phillippians 4:13).
Interested in “walking in your path” like Dr. Cook? Visit our website or call 855-219-7300 to learn how you can follow your calling at ACU Online.