Alumni Interview with Leigh Montejo, DNP, FNP-BC – Duke University

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About Leigh Montejo, DNP, FNP-BC: Leigh Montejo is a Family Nurse Practitioner located in North Carolina, who currently works at both a VA Medical Center and a convenience care clinic. She has practiced clinically in a variety of settings, including corporate health clinics, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and the Emergency Department of the VA hospital in Tampa, Florida. Along with these clinical positions, Dr. Montejo has also instructed nursing students at the BSN and MSN levels, served as a nurse preceptor for MSN students, and traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on medical mission trips to provide health care services.

Dr. Montejo holds a bachelor’s degree in health science from the University of Florida, a BSN from the University of South Florida, and a Master of Science in Nursing from the Catholic University of America. In 2016, she earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice through the online DNP program at Duke University.

Interview Questions

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background in nursing?

[Dr. Leigh Montejo, DNP, FNP-BC] My name is Leigh Montejo and I am a Family Nurse Practitioner. I began my career in healthcare with a Bachelor’s degree in Health Science from the University of Florida in 2006 and a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of South Florida in 2007. I worked as a Staff Nurse in the Emergency Department at the VA health center in Tampa, FL before returning to obtain my Master’s Degree (MSN) from The Catholic University of America (CUA) in 2011. I later earned my Doctorate of Nursing Practice Degree (DNP) from Duke University in 2016. I currently practice as a Family Nurse Practitioner in ambulatory care at a VA Medical Center and at a convenience care clinic in North Carolina.

I have practiced clinically in other settings, including on-site corporate health clinics and federally qualified health centers. I also participate in medical mission trips and have traveled to the Dominican Republic and Haiti to provide health care to those in need. I have provided clinical instruction to students at the BSN level and have been a preceptor for a number of MSN students. Currently, I am also clinical faculty for a VA Nursing Academic Partnership with Duke School of Nursing, aimed at increasing access to healthcare for Veterans by recruiting, training, and retaining qualified nurse practitioners to provide adult and geriatric primary care. Additionally, I am an adjunct faculty member at CUA providing online instruction for students enrolled in their distance MSN Program. My research interests include community health, health promotion, improving healthcare access, and preventative medicine.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Why did you decide to pursue a DNP? What benefits did you see to earning a doctorate in the nursing field, as opposed to concluding your formal education at the master’s level?

[Dr. Leigh Montejo, DNP, FNP-BC] Following graduation with my MSN, I secured employment in a federally qualified health center that provided primary health care in an underserved community, as was the requirement of the National Health Service Corp Scholarship (NHSC) Program that provided funding for my Master’s education. While working as a nurse practitioner (NP) in this setting, I was actively engaged in patient care and increasing access of healthcare to those who otherwise would not have access. This was both a very rewarding and challenging experience.

My decision to pursue a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree was influenced by my desire to make changes in healthcare. I wanted to ensure that the healthcare system that I practice in and that is utilized by my friends and family provided the highest quality of care. Nelson Mandela said it best: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” A DNP would provide me with the additional training and education I needed to prepare me to work in a nursing educator role. Through this role, I would have a greater impact on nursing and the healthcare system as whole. My decision to pursue a DNP was driven by my desire to instruct and develop the vital stakeholder in the future of healthcare: the nurse practitioner.

The DNP provided me with the foundation I needed to translate evidence into practice both clinically and in an educator role through didactic instruction and collaboration with other doctorate-prepared nurses. One requirement of the program was the completion of a self-directed quality improvement project in the clinical setting. Through this project, I was able to implement and evaluate an intervention and closely examine the role of health education in improving health outcomes. I have a better understanding of my role in changing healthcare and the confidence to engage in radically transforming nursing education to ensure that NPs are fully prepared to provide quality care as part of the healthcare workforce.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What motivated you to pursue your DNP online? What advantages did you see to online education? Did Duke’s online program meet these expectations?

[Dr. Leigh Montejo, DNP, FNP-BC] My motivation to purse the DNP online was rooted in my desire to pursue an education at Duke University. Their reputation for being one of America’s top graduate schools gave me the reassurance I needed to pursue education in this fashion. Virtual instruction and online courses have infiltrated the educational system and have changed the way education, especially graduate nursing education, is delivered. This infiltration has resulted in a great number of advancements and improved educational access for many.

Online instruction provided me with autonomy to direct my education and develop a schedule to engage in course work at times that were convenient for me. Additionally, this design allowed me to continue to provide clinical care to patients while pursuing an advanced degree. Duke University’s DNP program exceeds these expectations throughout the program, not only by offering an online format, but also utilizing approaches to make students feel as if they are truly part of the Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) family, separated only by distance and nothing else. They value the technological advances that allow for online programs and strive to utilize them to their greatest capacity.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] How did Duke University’s online platform enable you to interact with faculty members and classmates? Were courses asynchronous, synchronous, or a combination of both? How often did you interact with faculty, and did you feel that your instructors were accessible to online students?

[Dr. Leigh Montejo, DNP, FNP-BC] When I began the DNP program at Duke, I was eager to enter into the virtual learning environment and to navigate this new setting. Courses were delivered through Sakai and combined asynchronous and synchronous instruction. My instructors used Voice Thread, voice messaging, and conference calls to create a sense of presence in each of my courses. They used visual interaction software for more complex courses such as healthcare finance, where concepts could be better understood in an environment that permitted active dialogue and demonstration.

The use of discussion forums created an environment that facilitated learning from other’s experiences and expertise, and to receive instructor feedback through written dialogue. In one course, I successfully completed a group project with group members from three different states through the use of the tools provided through Sakai, Google docs, and email. Through this effective use of technology, the potential for a lack of educator presence and interaction in the virtual learning environment was dispelled. Instructors were readily accessible and truly desired to be present to students in the virtual environment.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Duke’s online graduate nursing programs require students to make a limited number of visits to the campus for labs and on-campus intensives. What activities and events were included in these on-campus sessions?

[Dr. Leigh Montejo, DNP, FNP-BC] The executive format of the Duke’s DNP program requires that students, staff, and educators be present for on-campus sessions four times during the program. This was a requirement that also attracted me to enrolling in the DNP program at Duke. Prior to my DNP, I had not engaged in an academic program that was only offered in a virtual format, and thought that the on-campus requirement would offer some of the support that came with the traditional programs I had been used to.

Additional educational opportunities for learning and collaboration were provided during the on-campus sessions. During one of these sessions, we were given the opportunity to engage in an advocacy discussion with a panel of experts in policy. Some panel members held offices on the North Carolina legislature. This provided an opportunity to actively engage, influencing the decisions of policymakers towards evidence-based changes. Various presentations were expected to be delivered during these sessions as well, which allowed for continued practice on public speaking, dissemination of research, and active question-and-answer sessions in structured format. Additionally, during the on-campus sessions, there was time for collaboration and informal discussion. Lunch was often provided and it was encouraged to share these meals with faculty, staff, and other students.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What were the major pros and cons of pursuing your graduate nursing degree online? What challenges did you encounter throughout your completion of the online program, and how did you address them? On the flip side, what did you enjoy most about completing your DNP online?

[Dr. Leigh Montejo, DNP, FNP-BC] The pros far outweigh the cons of pursing a graduate nursing degree online. The flexibility and ability to direct your own education combined with the ability to continue to practice clinically while pursuing a graduate degree are superior to the unreliability of technology at times or delayed instructor feedback that one may face with distance learning.

Collaborating with colleagues in different time zones is a challenge of online degree programs; faculty would often have to schedule conference calls to accommodate student’s schedules in different time zones, which could mean early or late time commitments. Scheduling the dates for these sessions early in the semester helps with coordinating schedules, or it may help to choose a program where the academic institution is in your same time zone.

The use of technology is dependent on a number of factors, including reliable internet connection and adequate internet speed. Ensuring that these factors are addressed prior to enrolling in an online program is necessary. The use of a wide variety of technologic interventions to create an active learning environment throughout the DNP program was what I enjoyed most. The utilization of different software programs allowed for self-directed learning to be augmented with collaborative learning and instructor feedback in a way that 10 years ago would have seemed impossible.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What advice would you give students just starting Duke’s online DNP program? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are just starting or considering an online graduate nursing degree program, whether it be at Duke or another institution?

[Dr. Leigh Montejo, DNP, FNP-BC] For students just starting the program at Duke, identifying your quality improvement project early is key. Additionally, establishing a mentor and a support system for the required capstone project, both in the academic and clinic setting, will help with ensuring a successful project. Take advantage of the required on-campus sessions in order to collaborate and network with other students, faculty, and staff.

The decision to pursue a DNP should be a decision that takes into account the key stakeholders in your life. Your family, friends, co-workers, supervisors, and your patients, if you are practicing clinically. There is a considerable amount of time commitment that is required for the program, and it is important to consider how that might affect your current lifestyle. The online format of the program undoubtedly offers flexibility and autonomy in your educational endeavors, but it unfortunately does not add more hours to the day. Additionally, many programs require a project to be completed as a requirement of the program, and obtaining support for this from your current employer will help with project implementation and will be more meaningful if it impacts an outcome that is important to you. Choose a program that will align with your future career goals and will offer you the tools to succeed in the future.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What advice do you have for students regarding the interview portion of the Duke admissions process? How do you recommend online applicants prepare for their faculty interview?

[Dr. Leigh Montejo, DNP, FNP-BC] With many things, the more prepared you are, the better the outcome. In order to be prepared for the faculty interview, engage in self-reflection and know why you want to pursue a DNP and what impact you will make on nursing with this additional education. If you had to prepare a personal statement as part of your admissions application, be familiar with the content you included in this document. Additionally, even during the admissions and interview process, inquiries will be made of you on your role in quality improvement and your ideas for how you might engage in improving practice or outcomes in your current role. You should see the interview as an opportunity to engage the interviewer in conversation in order to develop rapport with them and get them interested in what you have to offer their program, their university, the practice of nursing, and healthcare system overall.

Thank you, Dr. Montejo, for participating in our alumni interview series, and sharing your experience as an online DNP student!


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About the Author: Jake Ravani is an Editor at OnlineFNPPrograms.com, and has been writing about educational trends and online degree programs since 2010. He earned his BA in English from UC Santa Cruz.