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Army nurse officer becomes Liberty School of Nursing’s first Ph.D. graduate

Brandy Clayton, the first graduate of the Ph.D. in Nursing – Nursing Education program from Liberty’s School of Nursing. (Photos by Chase Reed)

As an active-duty U.S. Army Nurse Corps Officer with over 23 years of service, Lt. Col. Brandy Clayton has been leading the way for her peers and the next generation of nurses. Now, having successfully defended her dissertation in April and received her diploma on Thursday, Clayton is leading the way as the first graduate of Liberty University’s Ph.D. in Nursing – Nursing Education.

While growing up in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Clayton originally planned to become a surgeon, but that changed after she got pregnant as a teenager. Still wanting to enter the medical field, Clayton started as a nursing assistant. Clayton graduated high school a year and a half early, and became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).

Clayton chose to enlist in the Army as an LPN in 2000 after having her second child and needing to earn more money for her and her young children. She has primarily worked in military facilities in the labor and delivery, postpartum, and newborn areas, helping military servicemembers, their spouses, and their children. She eventually transitioned into administrative roles, currently as the Chief of Nursing Education and instructor at Madigan Army Medical Center, located on Joint Base Lewis-McChord just outside Lakewood, Wash. She has also developed nursing education for Maternal Child Services, with a special emphasis on MEDCOMs perinatal training requirements.

“When I was on the floor, we would often get student-nurses coming through or LPNs who were brand new right out of school or still in their preceptorships, and I would always say that I wanted to work with them,” Clayton said. “Once I started learning how to be a great nurse and built my foundation in nursing, I felt like it was my calling to train the newer nurses. That’s now the biggest thing for me.”

After earning her bachelor’s in 2006 and her master’s in 2012, both through the Army Enlisted Commissioning Program, she knew she wanted a doctorate level degree. While it took some years for her to progress, Clayton finally looked into opportunities to earn a Ph.D. A simple Google search found Liberty’s Ph.D. in Nursing – Nursing Education, through Liberty University Online Programs. The program had launched the previous semester. She began her classes in March 2020.

Clayton focused her dissertation on the effectiveness of simulations of fetal monitoring in training pre-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students as opposed to learning solely from a textbook or on the job. She surveyed local BSN students at a program in Washington, asking them about their confidence and comprehension of the fetal monitoring before and after a simulation, and found that the simulations did help reinforce their learning.

“With our national nursing shortage, there are a lot of new nurses going into the labor and delivery field who do not understand how to read the (monitor results),” Clayton explained. “In doing this research of watching them perform the simulations, they met the benchmarks.”

She said she is enthusiastic about visiting Liberty’s top-notch nursing simulation labs while she is on campus for the first time to participate in this week’s Commencement festivities. Clayton is one of over 10,000 members of the Class of 2023 on campus this week.

Being the first graduate of the doctoral program was a welcomed surprise for Clayton.

“I honestly didn’t think I would be the first one to graduate from the program,” she said. “It’s an amazing feeling having earned my degree because it took me a long time to get where I’m at with the program.”

“Brandy has many good qualities that helped her succeed in this endeavor,” said Dr. RuthAnne Kuiper, Clayton’s dissertation chair. “She has perseverance, persistence, and is willing to learn and follow advice. She never hesitated to make corrections or reconsider her thoughts and ideas when asked to. She also was very independent in seeking help from others when she needed it. She was a pleasure to work with.”

Liberty’s Ph.D. in Nursing – Nursing Education is a research-focused doctorate that prepares nurses at the highest level to identify research gaps, design research studies, and translate and disseminate new knowledge that will impact the profession. The degree is applicable for those who seek to be leaders/scholars in research and nursing education inside and outside of academia.

“Because of who we are at Liberty, we have a biblical worldview integrated into our courses and program, and since the majority of our graduates are either currently working as nursing educators or administrators at a university level or plan to when they are done, they have the ability to shape and impact the lives of countless student nurses,” said program director Dr. Elizabeth Whorley. “To me personally, that is the most exciting part. Our program is fully online, there are no residency or intensive requirements here on campus, and this allows for flexibility when scheduling classes and for individuals to have a better overall work/school/life balance.”

As of the Fall 2022 semester, there are now 157 students enrolled in the Ph.D. program.

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