Dwight Hettler, MS, RN, OCN, NE-BC

Student, CNL to DNP program
Director of Nursing, Wilmot Cancer Center

Dwight Hettler

Dwight Hettler has been a nurse for more than 25 years. In his current role as director of nursing at Wilmot Cancer Center, he is responsible for quality of care, overseeing inpatient units and ambulatory areas in the Cancer Center as well as nurse managers on the units. He received both his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Rochester School of Nursing and is currently enrolled in the CNL to DNP program.

Why did you decide to pursue the CNL to DNP program?

I didn’t embrace going back for a master’s right away. Some of my peers that are nurse practitioners went right into the DNP program, but it took me a while to embrace it — and now that I have, and love it, I can see the value in it. For me, what it’s really benefitted is bringing me back to a little more of the clinical setting. In my role now, in a leadership role, I’m not in direct patient care as much — this has helped me go back to my roots, where I came from, my love of clinical nursing. So I think overall, it will prepare me better for a Doctorate in Nursing Practice.

"This has helped me go back to my roots, where I came from, my love of clinical nursing."

More and more, my director role is becoming a systems-level role. I really wanted to partner with that piece in my role. [Wilmot] has a lot of different regional sites, and the challenge has been to standardize care, replicating what we do here in the region. I thought this program would help me prepare to [kind of] look at things through those lenses.

How did the SON Tuition Grant impact your decision?

The fact that I’m here as an employee of the University of Rochester afforded me some benefits, tuition benefits, and then the scholarship really helped a lot. Plus, it’s a very good education, it’s high quality. It made it a lot easier — it made the difference, really, between being able to attend or not attend, for me.

What’s your experience like in the CNL to DNP program?

Ultimately, I think it made me become a better leader because I was not just doing things because that was just what we’re supposed to do — as a manager, as a leader, now I know why, and now I know how.

This past semester, I took a data management class which really brought me out of my comfort zone, especially with Excel and formulas and running [kind of] percentages, and mean, median, and mode [kind of] stuff — so working on my project here, I have a lot of data that, you know, I was able to obtain from work, and I was able to work with that data on real basis, where I probably would’ve been lost had I not been in this class. So it helps me take what I’ve learned and apply it right away.

How has the University of Rochester supported your goals as a nurse?

The other thing I will say about the School of Nursing is the partnership with the Medical Center it’s invaluable. Not every higher learning institution has that, and so there really is a partnership with the dean here and the chief nursing executive there — and I think that you have this great relationship between clinical and academic — it really just pays in dividends. And I’ve had some good conversations with colleagues here as well, and I think it’s really been valuable.

How have you been able to balance work and this program?

I would say that the flexibility has been great — I love the online courses, I love the Zoom classes, it’s much more flexible and it really [kind of] needs to be.

Any advice for other nurses considering going back to school at the School of Nursing?

I think it opens up opportunities, you know. As a Magnet institution, more and more, we’re requiring higher-level graduate degrees for leadership positions.

One of the things I’ve always said when people ask me about going back to school, is you really have to want it. You have to want what you do because you’re going to put a lot of time into it, and there’s going to be times when you don’t feel like doing this — and I’m referring to work outside of class and stuff — but I think if you’re committed, you really find a way to make it work, and that’s what I’m trying to do.