Inspiring grads: Tosha Donnals

Before she had children, Tosha Donnals never considered being a nurse, but when she graduates from University of Illinois Chicago this May, she’ll be a family nurse practitioner.

Tosha Donnals

The 46-year-old mother of two from Arthur, a small town in central Illinois, served in the Illinois Army National Guard for 25 years. She always knew she wanted to further her education, but it wasn’t until after her son got sick that she decided to pursue nursing.

“My youngest son got cancer when he was 4,” Donnals said. “I fell in love with the kids and the atmosphere at the hospital. I had to take care of him, and I thought, ‘I could do this,’ so I went to nursing school.” Her son is now 15 and recovered.

The nurses she met inspired her. “Never in my life had I thought about doing nursing. But I remember the nurses made the whole journey bearable,” she said.

Donnals received her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Millikin University in Decatur in 2015. She became an ICU nurse at Decatur Memorial Hospital.

“Once I got into working in an ICU, and I saw the effects of chronic conditions, I wanted to go into primary care,” she said. “Being from a small town, and having been there most of my life, one thing I know is we need more health care providers and so I decided to go into family practice.”

Donnals selected UIC’s Doctor of Nursing practice program because of its focus on community health and diversity, as well as it being a nationally ranked school, close to home.

“It has a really good reputation and I wanted to get the best education for my time and money. It’s held up to its reputation,” she said.

The opportunity to experience clinicals at a federally qualified health center (FQHC) was important to her as well. She wasn’t familiar with the communities that FQHC serves outside of book learning, and she really wanted to get that experience. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed her clinical placement, but she finally got placed in an FQHC.

“I love it. It’s been the highlight of the program, learning about this health care model, and interacting with the patients, it’s been a blessing for me,” she said.

For her DNP project, Donnals chose to focus on quality improvement, developing a program to educate nurses on how to deliver smoking cessation information to patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD. COPD has been on her target list because her grandmother died from the disease.

“When I was working with COPD patients, I realized nurses didn’t have a standard way to educate patients about smoking cessation. I came up with a program to teach them (RNs) how to talk to patients and to improve their knowledge on smoking cessation. It’s always been something I wanted to do,” Donnals said.

Even with her COPD project practicum hours, she still needed to do more DNP project hours. So, she decided to try out for a spot on the UIC’s Clarion Case Competition Team — an interprofessional case competition in which teams must develop a strategy to address complex health care issues.  Donnals, along with three other individuals, represented UIC at the national-level competition on April 10.  Even though the UIC Clarion Team did not make the top three teams this year, the knowledge and experience Donnals gained were invaluable, she said.

She also received the UIC Cardew-Mullane Award in Clinical Excellence and Leadership, which recognizes outstanding clinical skills and leadership abilities in graduating students. 

While in the DNP program, she remained employed as a nurse, earned her sleep health certificate and raised her two sons.

“I don’t know what I’ll do when I only have one job,” she joked.

After graduation, she hopes to work in primary care, serving patients across the lifespan, possibly at an FQHC in a small town.





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