After 10 years as a bedside nurse, Lindsay Kirker ML’17 MSN’17 came to Penn to pursue a distinctly interdisciplinary educational path. In 2017, she graduated with an MSN in Nursing Health Leadership and a Master in Law (ML), and she is now an Assistant Nurse Manager with Penn Medicine’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) who has helped the hospital tackle the COVID-19 pandemic as part of her job duties and as a volunteer in the vaccine clinic.
The decision to pursue the ML degree
For Kirker, the decision to enroll in the ML program wasn’t simply about aiming for a specific job. Rather, she wanted to bring a more comprehensive understanding to her work, particularly from a legal perspective in the heavily regulated healthcare industry. In her ML courses, Kirker explored complicated concepts such as policymaking, regulation, and constitutional law. Ultimately, she believes that her knowledge of the law helps to make her more competitive and marketable when she applies for jobs in healthcare.
“I was really thinking about expanding my education and getting a better understanding of a field that I knew would touch on whatever career choice I made. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do career-wise, but I knew I wanted to explore further,” Kirker said. “I think the ML provided me with an uber-balanced education and really made me stand out as a candidate when I ultimately left nursing to go into consulting.”
Sharing a classroom with students from across Penn held inherent value to Kirker, she said, because everyone was able to provide unique and varied contributions to the course topics.
“The professors that I talked to were so welcoming and so excited to have different types of students and professionals in their classes,” Kirker said. “I think it made for great discussions in class because everyone typically had real-world scenarios for different ways to apply the law, which I just thought was awesome. And I think, talking to law students there, they appreciated having real-world insight into how some of these cases were brought and into the medical side of the story.”
After the ML
Following her graduation, Kirker worked as a healthcare consultant. She completed several projects within the federal government, including work for the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Much of her work involved analyzing systems and determining how the staff could implement solutions that streamline resources and ensure that patients are getting optimal care.
Most recently, Kirker returned to Penn Medicine to work as an Assistant Nurse Manager within the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). In her current role in the 50-bed unit, Kirker is responsible for managing and supervising over 120 employees as well as acting as a liaison to physicians, nurse practitioners, and assistants. Alongside the Nurse Manager, Kirker is also responsible for the recruitment and onboarding of new staff and for managing an $11 million operating budget.
Kirker began working in the Assistant Nurse Manager position in March of 2020 – about two weeks prior to COVID-19’s emergence in the U.S.. Though she and her team observed that newborn babies usually weren’t strongly affected by the virus, Kirker explained that their main challenge has been navigating how to handle a situation wherein the pregnant parent tests positive for COVID-19 and thus cannot visit their baby.
“We’ve had a lot of babies born to the COVID-19-positive moms come to the NICU, where they couldn’t have any visitation because mom wasn’t allowed to enter the unit,” Kirker explained. “It’s been a lot of learning and navigating best practices for how to handle COVID in the hospital, for sure.”
In December, Kirker and her team began the process of vaccinating the hospital staff. In February, the hospital launched a community vaccine clinic at the Theatre of Living Arts(TLA) on South Street, where Kirker has been volunteering every Saturday since it opened.
“It’s been great,” Kirker said of her experience with the vaccine clinic. “The beginning was a little crazy, and it’s definitely slowed down a lot, so we’ve been re-directing our doses. We’re going out on the streets — literally on South Street, talking to people from the Jim’s Steaks line and seeing if they want a vaccine.”
Even amidst what she called a “crazy year,” she emphasized how grateful she felt to be doing the kind of work she truly loved. Kirker thrives on the personal connections that are quintessential to nursing; whether in the NICU, at the vaccine clinic, or as a consultant, she values providing patients with care when they need it the most.
“The best part of my job is definitely working with people and having an impact on peoples’ lives, especially when they’re going through a hard time,” she said. “Everything I do and everything my staff does impacts people. It impacts people’s lives, and that keeps me going every day.”
This fall, Kirker will return to Penn’s classrooms, where she will begin studying for her Doctor of Nursing Practice. Though she will miss her ML classes, she said, she is excited to continue to expand her education.
“I always tell people to think outside the box of their education. I think people get stuck on ‘how will this directly get me a job?’ or ‘what are you going to specifically do with that?,’ and I don’t know if that’s the right way to look at pieces of your education,” Kirker said. “There’s so much value that the Law School can bring, because law hits every job and every career. Having an understanding – even if it is just a baseline of how some of these things work – can not only make a person a better candidate for a job, but also more well-rounded as an individual.”
The Law School’s ML program provides a unique and unrivaled opportunity for those seeking to advance their careers with valuable knowledge of the law shaping their disciplines.