When Frontier Nursing University alumna Dr. Elizabeth Akinyemi, DNP, FNP, came to the United States from Nigeria, she had no plans to become a nurse. She dreamed of becoming a doctor, though teaching might have been an even better choice, given her tendency to quiz her patients.
“I describe myself as a fierce patient educator. I love to teach my patients,” said Dr. Akinyemi, who worked for four years as a family nurse practitioner at Baylor Scott & White Health, the largest not-for-profit healthcare system in Texas with more than 50 hospitals and 800 additional patient care sites. “I won’t let you leave the clinic until you are sure about what you are doing. Lack of education can lead to unnecessary clinic visits and poor patient outcomes. I’ll ask my patients questions during the visit to gauge their attention and to assess their understanding of instructions. Spending that extra minute or two reinforcing knowledge goes a long way in ensuring patients are well educated about their health, that they have the tools they need, and that they know what to do if things get worse. My patients leave visits feeling like they have a working plan. It is reassuring to them. Nursing taught me that.”
It was a lesson she almost never learned. An excellent student at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, she came to the U.S. when she was 20 years old and stayed with her aunt in Houston, and began attending college. The high costs of medical school were more than she had anticipated, but chemical engineering, not nursing, was her next choice.
Dr. Akinyemi did not enjoy her first U.S. college in Houston, so she transferred to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. That experience was much more to her liking. Not only did she meet her husband, Ladi Akinyemi, there, but she also found a welcoming community and life-long friends.
“Nebraska was predominantly Caucasian in population, which was a new experience for me coming from Nigeria,” Dr. Akinyemi laughed, “but it was a great experience. Nebraskans are very welcoming, and the University in Lincoln attracts so many different people from all over the world. The beauty of it is that I got to contribute to the diversity in the university community and in Lincoln. I still have family and friends in Nebraska, and we visit at least once a year.”
“I had never been in an environment that just brings you in, includes you, makes you feel loved and cared for. The way I think about healthcare has definitely been transformed, and this is a result of going through Frontier’s very objective DNP program. I came out of the program feeling more confident about my ability to contribute positively to any clinical quality improvement initiative.”
– Dr. Elizabeth Akinyemi, FNU Alumna
Dr. Akinyemi graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and found a job in that field. A year later, she and her husband had their first child. She became a full-time mom but knew she would return to work eventually. As that time approached, Dr. Akinyemi realized that chemical engineering was not for her.
“I did not take into consideration a core piece of my personality,” Akinyemi said. “Significance is one of my top strengths – what I do has to be meaningful to me. One of my other top strengths is being a relator. I love to connect with people”
Being isolated in a pilot lab and with little in the way of interactions, she found chemical engineering unfulfilling. Two years later, she had her second child and continued to be a full-time mother, raising her two young children, cherishing that time while also keeping an eye on her professional future. If chemical engineering was out, what was in?
“I got interested in nursing because I had used a pediatric nurse practitioner for my children, and she was beyond amazing,” Dr. Akinyemi said. “She would educate me and give me a lot of information. I never felt rushed during our visits and always felt like my confidence was boosted in my knowledge of caring for my young kids. She inspired me and became my mentor.”
After five years as a full-time mother, Dr. Akinyemi went through the University of Nebraska’s one-year accelerated bachelor’s in nursing degree program, graduating with highest distinction in 2012. The Akinyemi’s then moved to Austin, Texas, where she found a job as a registered nurse. She enrolled part-time at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, working toward becoming a nurse practitioner. Akinyemi’s first job as a nurse practitioner was at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in the Austin area.
“I enjoy working with underinsured and underrepresented, vulnerable or just neglected,” Dr. Akinyemi said. “I loved it, but it’s an extremely busy environment with many hours spent at home after work catching up on charting. Anyone who works in that environment knows that you’re overworked and underpaid. With my kids being school-age, I just didn’t have a good work-family life balance. I worked there for about a year and a half and then switched to a different role at Baylor Scott & White.”
Dr. Akinyemi came to understand that the reason a career in nursing didn’t occur to her sooner was that nurses in Nigeria play a very different role than nurses in the U.S. do.
“I didn’t really know much about the nursing model in the U.S.,” she said. “Being raised in a different country, you don’t know what you don’t know. Nurses do so much more here in the U.S. In Nigeria, I feel like nursing is almost overlooked. This could also be because medicine, engineering, and law are valued in that society as more prestigious. Here in the U.S, there’s so much that you have to know as a nurse. It fulfilled the need that I always had. The nursing model is so patient-centric and patient-focused and all about building trust. As nurses, this is just who we are. We are skilled at building trust. It’s a great honor and privilege to be in this position.”
At Baylor Scott & White, Akinyemi worked with Frontier Nursing alumna Tarnia Newton (DNP, Class 28). Newton suggested getting her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), but Dr. Akinyemi was skeptical about how much it would really advance her career. She questioned what she would learn that she didn’t already know.
“Tarnia had a different way of thinking and looking at problems,” Dr. Akinyemi said. “This is what the DNP does. It helps you become more analytic and a problem solver who tries to figure out root causes and solutions. There was this difference between Tarnia and me. She sold the Frontier Nursing DNP, and I bought into it. Frontier was the only place I applied to.”
Even though the pandemic forced her to attend Frontier Bound virtually, Dr. Akinyemi quickly connected to the university and her classmates.
“I had never been in an environment that just brings you in, includes you, makes you feel loved and cared for,” she said.
She also found the curriculum to be different and challenging in ways she hadn’t expected. She learned about shared decision-making and enjoyed seeing how the foundation established in the early classes built up to more and more advanced ideas and concepts. It was difficult and rewarding at the same time.
“It’s a different kind of learning,” she said. “In my past learning, you give me the material, I study it, I’m confident, I take the exam, and I move on. In the DNP, you’re trying to discover what you need to learn.”
At the end of the DNP program, students complete a quality improvement project, usually in their place of employment. Dr. Akinyemi’s project was focused on improving hypertension. She implemented it at her clinic, which fully embraced and participated in the project. Akinyemi hopes to publish her paper “Increasing Effective Care of High Blood Pressure Using“ and intends to present it at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) conference.
“This is the best educational program that I’ve ever attended, and I’ve attended five universities. I’ve never felt more connected to a place, more encouraged. For this to be an online program and still have that impact, you know that Frontier is doing something very well.”
– Dr. Elizabeth Akinyemi, FNU Alumna
“The way I think about healthcare has definitely been transformed, and this is a result of going through Frontier’s very objective DNP program,” Dr. Akinyemi said. “I came out of the program feeling more confident about my ability to contribute positively to any clinical quality improvement initiative.”
While at Baylor Scott & White, Akinyemi filled many roles. She worked as a family nurse practitioner in one of their family medicine clinics, which is where she did her quality improvement project. She also worked in the walk-in clinic, which provided urgent care, and began doing more and more telemedicine as the pandemic wore on.
Dr. Akinyemi completed her DNP in March of 2022. She also continued to work while raising her family, which now includes three children, ages 15, 13, and 5. Balancing work life and home life is always challenging, but she is excited about the solution she has found.
She plans to continue in family practice and the telemedicine space for now and hopefully explore roles in administration and academia in the future. “We will see where it all leads,” she said. “I’m trying to balance moving ahead in my career while making sure I’m carrying my family along. I really hope that someday I can come back to Frontier and teach. That is one of my hopes. It would be great to encourage the next generation of students.”
She credits all of her FNU instructors and classmates who helped her acquire her DNP, but she especially acknowledges DNP clinical faculty Dr. Diana Jolles, Ph.D., CNM, for her tutelage and leadership.
“Dr. Jolles is awesome,” Akinyemi said. “She’s an amazing human being, instructor, and mentor. She carried our cohort group very well. She’s very humble and easy to connect with.”
It’s a model of instruction she hopes to emulate with her patients and future students.
“This is the best educational program that I’ve ever attended, and I’ve attended five universities,” Dr. Akinyemi said of FNU. “I’ve never felt more connected to a place, more encouraged. For this to be an online program and still have that impact, you know that Frontier is doing something very well.”