Dr. Princess Gayles-Jones, MSN ’18, DNP ’20, knew she wanted to become a nurse, ever since she opted in 11th grade for the Health Profession Liaison program at Trenton Central High School. Through the program, she began an 11-year relationship with the St. Francis Medical Center, where she practiced nursing on every floor and found her calling on the correctional health floor working with the prison population. Her extensive career experiences and a resolute pursuit of education paved a path to this spring when Gayles-Jones earned her hood and gown and a coveted Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree from Holy Family University.
“I love correctional nursing because that population is more humble,” said Gayles-Jones. “They know they’re in a transition phase and they’re more receptive to care. It gave me a sense of fulfillment that I could be a catalyst to make a change in someone’s life through kindness and care.“
While earning her Master’s degree at Holy Family, Gayles-Jones was a full-time Department Nurse manager for the New Jersey Prison System, working concurrently at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women and the Annandale Youth Correctional Facility. In her role, she managed nurses across the system, caring for male youth offenders, ages 18-35, who were on good behavior.
“The money is good but the environment can be harsh, so some nurses know it’s not for them,” said Gayles-Jones. “For me, I like how correctional care is more than just one dimension of nursing. Since it’s a system unto itself, you need to bring everything to them.”
After receiving her Master’s degree in 2018, Gayles-Jones consulted with her three children, ages 14, 11 and 2 at the time, before making a decision to go for two more years of school to achieve her DNP.
“I knew that my kids were still young, and it was going to be now or never,” said Gayles-Jones. “I needed to do this not only for myself but for them as well.”
As Director of Nursing at an assisted living facility in Princeton, NJ, Gayles-Jones was already working 40 hours per week. Going back added another 40-50 hours for school, plus mom time included. She decided to continue on with Holy Family because it was a new program and a collaborative process between the instructors and the students.
Class work included papers, reflections, basic coursework and exams. During the evenings, she would shadow her preceptor, a nurse leader working on the job. She was fortunate to have an “unofficial” mentor in Dr. Marina Boykova, PhD, a nurse educator at Holy Family. During her Master’s program, Gayles-Jones had taken Boykova’s Statistical Aspects course, and she was able to draw on Boykova’s expertise and coaching when it came time to do her own statistical research study for her DNP.
Gayles-Jones credits her positive Holy Family University experience with its rigorous curriculum, high-quality professional training, and close collaboration with her professors across the School of Nursing and Allied Sciences.
“Reaching my DNP dreams–and all that it has entailed– means everything to me,” she said. “It’s my last goal and I achieved it. My family’s so proud of me. It’s a surreal feeling.”
Gayles-Jones hopes to one day become a Chief Nursing Officer at a Correctional facility, and now with her DNP in-hand, this too has become more achievable.