McNeese Celebrates Commencement of First DNP Students

Melissa Blair Guilbeau, Nkem Nwaobi and Christy Roberts are the first Mcneese State University graduates of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in advanced practice psychiatric mental health nursing offered by the College of Nursing and Health Professions. 

Melissa Blair Guilbeau, Nkem Nwaobi and Christy Roberts are the first Mcneese State University graduates of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in advanced practice psychiatric mental health nursing offered by the College of Nursing and Health Professions at the McNeese commencement ceremony on Friday, Dec. 8. 

McNeese’s DNP program is a practice-based approach to prepare current nurse practitioners to care for patients with psychiatric mental health needs. 

Nwaobi, of Beaumont, Texas, was an emergency room nurse for 13 years, but she knew she wanted to do more as a health care provider. She became a family nurse practitioner in 2017. 

“As I cared for patients, I realized there was more to do. A lot of patients who came in for medical issues had underlying mental health problems that clinicians had not addressed for a long time and that had a significant impact on their physical health,” Nwaobi said. “With that in mind, I wanted to do more, to provide more evidence and to learn more about mental health.” 

Guilbeau, of Lafayette, started her career as a family nurse practitioner in 2005 and became a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) in 2013.  

“I own and operate two psychiatric outpatient practices and the DNP has helped me offer a fresh perspective in managing the mental health needs of clients in Southwest Louisiana,” explained Guilbeau. 

Roberts, of Beaumont, began her journey in 2001 as a licensed vocational nurse. She earned an associate degree in nursing, then a bachelor’s degree and followed that with a master’s degree in 2011 to become a family nurse practitioner. In 2017 she earned a post-master’s PMHNP degree from McNeese. 

“This educational milestone, the DNP, has fundamentally shaped my thinking, inspiring a deeper appreciation of interdisciplinary collaboration, a heightened emphasis on patient center care and a relentless pursuit of excellence in addressing the complexities of mental health challenges,” Roberts said. 

The DNP program at McNeese builds on the knowledge of a nurse practitioner and prepares students to deliver high-quality, evidence-informed and patient-centered care.  

Nwaobi is a leader at a community clinic that provides health care for an underserved population and feels that the DNP has empowered her to innovate and transform. Also, as a clinician with direct contact with patients, she can use evidence-based interventions and monitor the results. 

“My goal is to enhance and improve the patient experience, improve my community’s health and decrease hospitalization, which directly affects or reduces the cost of care. And at the same time, improve the lives of my team members, meaning decreased burnout on my staff members and my colleagues,” Nwaobi explained. 

Guilbeau says her perspective changed as she went through the DNP program.  

“I analyze research and medical information on a different level and focus on the validity of the research associated with guidelines used to treat patients.” she explained. “I ask better questions and advocate for my clients differently.” 

With high demand for mental health practitioners across Southwest Louisiana and throughout the state, this degree is practical and can positively affect outcomes, says Guilbeau.  

“When a nurse practitioner receives a DNP with a clinical psychiatric focus, he/she can provide mental health support and medication management to thousands of patients in struggling communities,” she said. 

According to Nwaobi, nurse practitioners should consider earning a DNP degree because a DNP degree prepares them to lead system and organizational improvement.  

“The DNP prepares you for these opportunities and allows you to make decisions regarding the care you provide,” Nwaobi said. “It enables you to advocate for your patients and influence policies that affect our overall health.” 

McNeese’s DNP program is online with minimal campus visits. The continuous DNP program is geared towards current advanced practice nurses who are working full time. Both Guilbeau and Nwaobi appreciated that they could complete the program while working full time, being organization leaders, sole proprietors in private practice and parents.   

“I was in another DNP program but I wasn’t getting the support I was looking for,” said Nwaobi. “The McNeese faculty offered support, leadership and guidance that is second to none!” 

Guilbeau chose the DNP program at McNeese because of the clinical psychiatric focus.  

“The professors and staff in the graduate nursing program have been amazing guides in my journey,” she said. “I’m so pleased that I found this program and look forward to implementing the skills that I have learned in my private practice.”  

Roberts chose McNeese because of the support she received while earning the PMHNP in 2017 and beyond graduation. She says the unwavering and consistent support of graduate nursing faculty Dr. Sattaria Dilks and Dr. Twila Sterling-Guillory added tremendous value to her DNP journey 

“I’ve been through six nursing programs throughout my life, but the DNP program at McNeese stands out as the most exceptional experience,” Roberts said. 

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