The University of Massachusetts Amherst

DNP Profile: Cassandra Zacke

Mar 11, 2019
Photo of Cassandra Zacke

Name: Cassandra Zacke

Location: Miami, Florida 

Graduation: May 2019

DNP Specialization:  I am in the Family Nurse Practitioner track 

Current role:  I am currently a Quality Assurance Nurse Coordinator for the Miami Cardiac and Vascular Institute, Baptist Health South Florida. I work in the Research and Outcomes Department, where the goal is to improve the quality of care of patients undergoing cardiac and vascular surgeries and procedures. I have been in this position for the four and a half years while pursuing my DNP.

What inspired you to become a DNP?

Nursing is my passion, and it has always been my dream to function at the highest level of my profession. I am always looking for ways to improve myself. After completing nursing school in 1996, I wrote down a list of goals; earning a doctoral degree was one of them. In pursuit of actualizing my goal, I investigated to find nursing programs that were accredited and highly regarded as being excellent. At the outset, I came across multiple PhD programs; however, I really wanted a clinical degree. At that point, I had never even heard of the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree; you can just imagine how excited I was when I found out about the DNP! 

After doing more research, I started looking at schools, and I discovered that the UMass Amherst DNP program had great ratings, and highly esteemed faculty members. More importantly, the program was online which would afford me the opportunity get a high-quality education in the comfort of my home, plus I could remain in my current job! You can’t beat that! 

Everything fell into place, and I entered the program and began the journey to realize my dream.

Please describe your experience in the DNP program at UMass Amherst.

UMass has a good reputation and I have met so many people who are impressed by the university, even here in South Florida. It is a place where you can pursue your dreams and create meaningful friendship. At UMass, we have the opportunity to have video meetings with faculty and classmates in some courses. This allows you to match faces to names; I found that fascinating.

Based on my experience, the professors at UMass are incredibly supportive; they have the genuine interest of their students at heart. If you have a concern, they aren’t just people on the other end of the computer screen; they are real people who you can call and speak with, or text or email. They have a heart, and want to see you succeed. You can contact them and share your experience in the program and even offer suggestions for improvement. If you have any difficulties with the courses, they will try to support you, and be as flexible as possible. For example, there was a hurricane in Miami during my time in the program. The faculty were supportive, kind, patient, and flexible. This made such a difference.

UMass offers the highest quality of education; the courses are appropriately challenging. To succeed you have to be committed, focused, determined, and dedicated to staying the course. You have to believe in yourself, and never give up; tell yourself that you can do this!

Describe your DNP project:

My DNP project was a faith-based heart healthy intervention for Latinos. The purpose of the project was to implement a culturally appropriate educational intervention aimed at increasing the knowledge and awareness of risk factors and possible sequalae of cardiovascular disease in Latinos.

Heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States, and 1 in 4 Latino deaths is due to cardiovascular disease. Latinos are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular disease and since the Miami-Dade population is >67% Latino, I felt that this was a perfect opportunity.

The project involved delivering 4 classes over a four-week period that focused on risk factors for cardiovascular disease, physical activity, weight, and diabetes. The classes were delivered in English and Spanish. The title used to promote and present my DNP project was “Your Heart, Your Choice, Your Future”. A little information goes a long way in helping people to reduce modifiable risk factors and live healthier lives.

What are your plans for the future? 

After I pass my boards, I will seek a job, ideally in pediatrics or family practice. This aside, I am open to any opportunity that will allow to utilize the knowledge I gained at UMass.

Ultimately, I would like to teach– that’s my heart. I would like to share with other nurses, so they will be motivated to strive for excellence in the profession. After spending five years dedicating my life and my time to earning my DNP, I now want to put my knowledge to the test.

Would you like to say anything else to people who are considering the UMass Amherst DNP?

UMass changed my life completely! It transformed my whole thinking. I will be forever grateful to the faculty at UMass; great professors inspire students to stay the course despite the odds.