Tammy Bennett, WHNP, was inspired from childhood to become a nurse. However, it wasn’t until Bennett earned her master’s degree that she found her calling by working in sexual and reproductive health.
Bennett says she wants to turn that passion into policy, and to do that she’s pursuing her Doctor of Nursing Practice online through the University of Louisiana at Lafayette College of Nursing & Health Sciences.
“When you have the DNP credential behind your name, people tend to listen,” she says.
Advancing from RN to NP
Bennett had an aunt who was a nurse. Bennett says she was enthralled by her aunt’s white scrubs, her beeper, and, above all, the urgency of her position.
“I thought she was so important because she’d have to leave the family function and go to work,” Bennett recalls. “I wanted to be, not important, but needed."
Bennett earned her bachelor’s in nursing in 1992 and spent nearly a decade as an ER nurse. Eventually, Bennett was promoted to charge nurse and faced a crossroads.
“I was looking at my life and thinking I was as high as I could go without getting out of patient care," Bennett says. “I didn't want to get out of patient care, and I was only 26 years old, and I had a full career in front of me.”
Bennett’s solution was to advance her level of practice through an M.S. in Nursing degree. She completed her master’s in 2000, became a licensed women’s health nurse practitioner, and stepped into a grant-funded role running a low-risk OB clinic, working with patients through their pregnancies and then providing contraception after their deliveries.
“It was absolutely awesome,” she says. “I loved my patients, and I loved doing OB care.”
The grant ended after 10 years, and Bennett found another position. However, reproductive health continued to be her passion.
Tackling Title X
In 2017, Bennett jumped at the opportunity to serve as the reproductive health statewide nurse consultant for the Bureau of Family Health within the Office of Public Health, moving from Shreveport to New Orleans.
Through her role, Bennett works to ensure access to reproductive health through Title X, which directs federal funding to provide basic, preventive reproductive health care for all.
“We want patients to have quality family planning services in the state of Louisiana," says Bennett. “I do that by partnering with 65 health units to deliver targeted services and by partnering with three Federally Qualified Health Centers to incorporate reproductive health into their repertoire of services.”
Federally Qualified Health Centers, or FQHCs, provide healthcare services in underserved areas. Bennett says to create better access, FQHCs serve multiple healthcare needs, from primary care and mental health to dental services, in one location.
Bennett has brought the perspective gained from her role to national organizations and conferences.
Three years ago, Bennett began working with the Washington, D.C.,-based National Family Planning Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) to research telemedicine offerings for Title X patients in Louisiana. Part of that research was establishing implementation procedures to enable patients using the Depo-Provera, or Depo, shot to administer their own injections instead of returning to their healthcare provider every three months.
“In 2019, the shot was approved for a subcutaneous version where patients could administer in the privacy of their own home. That breaks down barriers. They can have their medicine in the cabinet where they just grab it and do it every 13 weeks," says Bennett. “We rolled out the subcutaneous version of Depo at the beginning of the pandemic and it has revolutionized Louisiana's ability to access contraception during the pandemic.”
She was invited to speak on Louisiana's implementation at a national level in April 2020. Since then, she has been asked to speak at three additional national conferences: The National Reproductive Health Conference, the Title X National Conference, and the upcoming Society for Family Planning Conference.
She was also the sole nurse practitioner invited to participate on a nationwide Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel to write the guidelines for use and implementation for an emerging birth control method.
Bennett’s long-term goal is to use her DNP degree and credentials to amplify her voice to give FQHCs nationwide the tools to provide quality sexual and reproductive health services.
"My goal is to work on a national platform for Title X in Washington, D.C.,” says Bennett. “My experience is primarily in clinical practice, so I would like to work with the individual states’ reproductive health programs to help them to offer these evidence-based practices.”
Development through DNP
Bennett says earning her DNP degree will bolster her credibility on a national level while enhancing her current role through courses in epidemiology, project planning, and preventive care.
"This is what I’m doing now — the quality assessments, the quality improvement plans, and the epidemiology because I also work with the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program in Louisiana for COVID,” says Bennett. “This is just right up my alley.”
Bennett has also connected with the program’s faculty. Dr. Cynthia Suire, assistant professor of nursing, served as Bennett's mentor during a Louisiana Action Coalition project and encouraged her to pursue her terminal degree.
“Having that mentor to pour into you that says, ‘Yes you can do it,’ was invaluable,” says Bennett. “I don't think I'd be here without her.”
Bennett’s first semester of coursework began Aug. 23, 2021, but she said she'd found mentorship is part of the DNP program culture.
“I've been so impressed with the faculty,” she says. “They really pour time into the students they accept. And it's a competitive program, so I like that.”
To maintain her full-time job and organizational involvement alongside her doctoral studies, Bennett set her game plan before her first semester began.
"I have a she-shed that was delivered about a month ago and my husband is decking it out with an office, an extra bedroom, a full bath and a little mini kitchen, and honestly I don't know if my family will be seeing me for three years,” Bennett says.
More critical than the physical workspace Bennett’s creating is the space she’s creating in her calendar.
“It's called putting ‘rocks’ in your calendar. And those rocks are immoveable,” she says. “They’re going to be chunks of time that I'm going to have dedicated for my DNP work. If you don't make that time and make it known to your family and friends, ‘I've got to work,’ and treat it as such, you're always going to be behind the eight ball.”
Through UL Lafayette's Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program online, you'll elevate your practice through coursework as well as the connections developed with faculty and your cohort. Request information today to learn more about the BSN to DNP or MSN to DNP curriculum.