Released on November 15, 2022

In recognition of National Nurse Practitioner Week, which seeks to increase awareness of the role of nurse practitioners and remove barriers that impede access to care, three UCF alumni share their nursing journey and lessons learned in establishing their own practice.

Three people in white clinical coats with stethoscopes and a clipboard (no faces seen)

There are more than 355,000 licensed nurse practitioners in the U.S. who provide more than one billion primary, acute, and specialty care patient visits annually. In all 50 states, nurse practitioners assess patients, order and interpret tests, make diagnoses and provide treatment including prescribing medications. In 26 states, nurse practitioners have what is called full practice authority and are able to deliver patient care independently without restrictions.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, full practice authority improves access to care especially in underserved urban and rural communities. Additionally, studies show that full practice authority increases access to high quality care, helping meet growing demand for primary care services while decreasing healthcare costs.

After working as a practitioner for 22 years and with encouragement from her husband, two-time alumna Marlene Lindsay ’05BSN, ’20DNP opened her practice, Living Florida Healthcare LLC in Orlando, in 2018 with a physician colleague — a requirement at the time.

In 2020, Florida, which has one of the highest employment levels and project job growth of nurse practitioners in the nation, passed legislation for autonomous practice license. Advanced nurse practitioners with at least 3,000 hours of experience under physician supervision within the last five years, among other requirements, can apply for the license.

“I always visioned Florida nurse practitioners operating their own practices after hearing about independent nurse practitioners in other states and how much contribution they have made to their communities,” says Clelia Lima ’08MSN, ’11DNP, who is the owner of FeelWell Telehealth and one of the thousands of autonomous advanced nurse practitioners licensed in Florida. “It was exciting to see the progress for Florida.”

UCF Alumna and Nurse Practitioner Marlene Lindsay

“I love the autonomy of this role. You can really make changes and do what you know you can do.”

— Marlene Lindsay ’05BSN, ’20DNP

Prior to her own business, Lima worked with a company that provided healthcare to hotel employees and their families. When the pandemic hit, she – and many others – were laid off. “It was the kick I needed to start my own practice,” she says. A journey in which she says she’s still learning every day, but “has been the best two years of my life.”

“I have control of my time. I work from home as I provide telehealth exclusively, and I’m able to serve my patients at their convenience,” she says.

She’s grateful for the generosity of other nurse practitioners and business professionals along her journey to establish her practice. “Now it’s become a passion of mine to help other colleagues.”

Starting an Independent Practice

Lima recently shared her tips to starting an independent practice at a national conference, and her top advice is “to do an honest self-examination, determine your expertise and how confident you are as an independent clinician.”

UCF Alumnus and Nurse Practitioner Charles Chuck Dugan

“Follow your passion! Don’t let the politics of healthcare or naysayers blunt your dreams.”

— Chuck Dugan ’22DNP

Lima admits that starting your own business is hard. She says one way to avoid burnout is to take care of yourself. “Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and practicing meditation or some spirituality will help you be good for your patients, family, and the people around you,” she says. “You can’t give what you don’t have.”

“Ensure you have money saved up as starting your own practice is an expensive venture and you may not see the returns for a few years,” Lindsay adds. She also recommends having someone help with the business aspect of the practice.

Alumnus Chuck Dugan ’22DNP, who owns Dugan Family Medicine, has followed his passion for helping others throughout his career, from a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman to paramedic to emergency and trauma nursing to now nurse practitioner.

“My desire to open my own practice was born out of a gap in personalized, affordable, and accessible healthcare options,” says Dugan. “I’m putting humanity back into medicine.”

Passion for Patient Care

As nurse practitioners, the alumni are passionate about caring for the “whole patient.”

“Nursing appealed to my passion for helping others with more than just physical ailments, taking into consideration the whole picture,” says Dugan. “I love that nurse practitioners are multidimensional, bringing together years of experience providing whole person care with the latest in medical advances.”

Lima adds, “I love being a nurse practitioner because the way we serve our patients with a holistic and comprehensive approach. Patients sometimes come in for one problem, and you discover other key issues because you took the time to listen to them.”

Listening to patients is something Lindsay also says is a differentiator for her practice. “We take the time to listen, and really get to know what’s going on with them,” she says. “I love my patients and hearing about their life, connecting on a personal level. It’s wonderful.”

Unlocking Opportunities

“I wanted a bit more of a challenge, and becoming a nurse practitioner was the perfect avenue to do that,” says Lindsay. “I enjoy coming to work to something that’s my own.”

“Initially, I chose the nurse practitioner path to cast the largest net, per se, on what I could do with my nursing career,” says Dugan. “I found having a nurse practitioner credential not only appealed to my passion for education and leadership, but it afforded me the opportunity to deliver high quality, evidence-based healthcare to patients of all ages.”

For nurse practitioners, owning an independent practice is just one of many career opportunities the degree unlocks. “Many doors have been opened in research and academia,” says Lima, who has shared her research on sleep disorders by presenting at international conferences and in media interviews.

She also shares her clinical experience with future nurse practitioners as an adjunct faculty member at UCF. “It’s exciting to bring real-life cases to the academic curriculum for students,” she says. She’s also currently working with a university in her native country of Brazil to help establish a DNP program there.

“If you have a passion for serving people in the medical field, I highly recommend you pursue a career as a nurse practitioner,” says Lima.

UCF Alumna and Nurse Practitioner Clelia Lima

“There are many ways I can contribute and make a difference in people’s lives as a nurse practitioner.”

— Clelia Lima ’08MSN, ’11DNP

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