The Limitless Possibilities for Nurses in Pittsburgh

Hear the stories of how the Excellence in Nursing winners have taken advantage of career opportunities.


Jennifer Lingler hates to hear someone say, “I could never be a nurse — I can’t stand blood.”

Like many members of the growing profession, Lingler, a professor and researcher at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, knows there is much more to the ever-changing field of nursing, even beyond the bedside.

“The opportunities are boundless,” says Lingler, this year’s Excellence in Nursing winner in the Research category. “As life expectancy has extended, there are interesting challenges, and nursing can play a major role in helping to ensure that as many people as possible live lives that are healthy and productive for as long as possible.”

From 2018-28, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth of 26% for nurse practitioners anesthetists and nurse midwives and 12% for registered nurses, both much faster than average for all careers. According to the Bureau, 18 of the nation’s 30 fastest growing occupations are in healthcare and related occupations. The agency links the rise to a growing demand from an aging population and patients with chronic conditions.

Those already employed in the field know such growth is translating into exciting opportunities.


Megan Rhoades, nursing manager for the St. Clair Hospital oncology unit and this year’s Emerging Leader honoree, jokes that with so much room for advancement in her field, she still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up.

“I never thought two, three years ago I would be where I’m at now,” she says. “There are so many areas of opportunity for nurses. There’s case management, there are educators, there’s leadership. There are ladders all over the place for nursing.”

When Krista Tharan, manager of population health for Heritage Valley Health System and the honoree in the Community category, was in school, her current role didn’t even exist. “Over the last 10 to 15 years since I’ve been a nurse, I have noticed a huge change in our career,” she says. “You can work with a patient. You can work behind the scenes and still be using your nursing knowledge and background. You can work in data analytics. There is so much nurses can do.”

Catherine Grant, family nurse practitioner, says nursing “provides an opportunity to change yourself.”

“If you worked on the med-surgical floor for five years, and you didn’t feel satisfied, you could reinvent yourself into being a family nurse practitioner or nurse midwife, or you could even reinvent yourself and go up to neonatal as a nurse,” says Grant, Advanced Practitioner honoree.


Chelsey Caputo, a nurse in UPMC Presbyterian’s trauma ICU and this year’s Clinician honoree, says as nurses take on a larger role within the healthcare system, perceptions of the profession are shifting.

“Not that they were ever disrespected, but I think nurses certainly are respected more for their level of intelligence and preparedness and the work that they do,” she says. “Part of being a nurse is the caring, the compassion, the handholding, but I think also we’re starting to take on a role of a clinician in a sense where physicians are saying, ‘I trust you.’ They’re trusting our opinions more and more.”

Dawndra Jones, chief nursing officer of UPMC East and UPMC McKeesport who began her career nearly 30 years ago as a staff nurse, says when it comes to possibilities for advancement in her field, there is no limit.

“I always say my career has been more than I ever could have dreamed of because I didn’t know to dream it,” says Jones, this year’s Leadership honoree.

As she looks toward the future of nursing, Patricia Watts Kelley, professor and Director of Veterans to Bachelor in Nursing Science Program at Duquesne University and the winner in the Academic category, reflects on the needs of the profession.

“There are many jobs in nursing that are creative and innovative, and there are surely enough patients to care for,” she says.” My concern is we won’t have enough nurses and the healthcare industry doesn’t necessarily utilize nurses to their full scope of practice. If we could tap into all the expertise of nursing, we could address a lot of gaps in the healthcare delivery system.”

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