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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Sandra Cleveland

There is no traditional nursing path. Some are called to it from an early age, while others are introduced to it through time and life experiences. Yet the focus on serving, caring, and providing the best possible care for people remains the same. As an associate professor in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, Dr. Sandra Cleveland takes great pride in teaching her students that while nursing is a serious profession, it can also open doors to new opportunities, including self-discovery. With over 30 years of experience in nursing and teaching combined, Sandra has always seen her role as both an educator for future nurses and a motivator for professional women to reach their fullest potential in and out of the workforce. 

And although her story does not fit the mold for most individuals called to the nursing profession, Sandra believes that her unique journey allowed her to see nursing from a different point of view—to see people as people instead of unknown patients. 

Getting into Nursing

Sandra would be the first to tell you that she never wanted to be a nurse. Instead, Sandra would describe herself as a “sports nut to her heart and soul.” Falling in love with the world of sports and science, Sandra attended Grand Valley State University, hoping to become one of the first students in their pilot sports medicine program. However, encountering some problems with her departments, she eventually picked nursing because of its flexibility and versatility to enter into the workforce while still having the ability to mesh her passion for service, physical fitness, and science. 

“I wish I had a better story as to why I chose nursing,” Sandra laughs. “But, that’s it, really. And I mean, I never knew I would be able to gain the skills that I have along the way, so there were some good aspects to choosing nursing, but that wasn’t my journey. Now I am thankful to have selected nursing.”

Shortly after graduating, Sandra began serving in multiple nursing environments, including working in dialysis, hospice, and neurology, during which she focused on stroke patients. Seeing the great need of those suffering from strokes or severe illness reminded Sandra of one important lesson: a nurse’s vulnerability is the key for making a patient feel safe and comfortable. 

“To be a good nurse, you need to have the care and passion to understand that caring for a person is both an art and a science,” Sandra says. “You need to bring your most authentic self just as the patient brings their most authentic self to you.” 

Growing as A Nurse and Academic

Following her first few years as a nurse, Sandra decided it was time to make a change from the typical nursing job. While her newfound love for serving others had not diminished, Sandra knew she could do more. Motivated to advance her career beyond patient care, she started thinking about the importance of community healthcare and whether she had enough training to teach future nurses. 

Earning her master’s in community health education from Wayne State University and a doctoral degree in nursing education from Capella University, Sandra began her new career teaching up-and-coming and senior nurses. She worked as an associate professor at various institutions, including American Sentinel University and the University of Michigan.

After working for several years remotely and in-person, Sandra’s journey toward ACU Online arrived at the perfect time. In fact, it all started with an online job posting from ACU for a new nursing faculty member. Intrigued but having never heard of ACU, Sandra felt the urge to do a little digging and researched its values and mission. She liked what she read, and in true Sandra fashion, she jumped at the opportunity and applied. In her words, “it was a no-brainer.” 

Within no time, Sandra joined the ACU Online Doctor of Nursing Practice program as an associate professor, where she would teach seasoned nurses and offer hands-on support to students seeking to pursue their DNP degree in Executive Leadership. 

Building the Next Generation of Leaders

One of Sandra’s favorite questions to ask her DNP students is, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” In asking, Sandra gets a feel for why her students want to gain their doctoral degree. What is their real aim? What are their ambitions? In her experience, some want to earn their degree because it’s a personal goal, while others seek it to enhance their current position or launch themselves into a new one. But regardless of their reason, the fact remains the same: nursing is a role, so “what you do with that is really important to address early on.” And that’s how Sandra likes to teach. 

According to Sandra, nurses should have more than just their job at the forefront of their minds. They should have other goals, external passions, and social groups that enhance their personal development so that they can become not only better healthcare professionals but better human beings and servant-leaders. 

In leading by example, Sandra is the first to tell you that she is more than just an academic professor of nursing. As a published author, avid writer, motivational speaker, an active member of her community, and competitive weightlifter, Sandra understands that not everyone shares her interests or style of teaching. She is a firm advocate for students pursuing any and all opportunities that come their way, especially professional women of all racial or ethnic backgrounds. 

“Nursing is just one piece of us,” Sandra remarks. “If it’s your calling, and it’s your passion, then more power to you. Keep going. But I just know that I, as well as many others, have a number of diverse interests and passions, and I think it’s important, in this day and age, to pursue what you can.” 

Do you desire to make a difference in the lives of others like Sandra? Visit or contact us at 855-219-7300 today to learn about our online programs.

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