This 'car on perpetual roll

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NADONA President, Robin Arnicar, RN
NADONA President, Robin Arnicar, RN
Robin Arnicar has been on an accelerated life plan.

By age 6, she knew she wanted to be a nurse. By 17, she had started working in her first nursing home as a licensed practical nurse. At 18, she was married. By the time she was 22, she was a divorced single mother who owned a home.

Today, at age 42, she's the president of the National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration/Long Term Care. She's also a grandmother, mother to a 10-year-old and two adult sons, and a director of nursing in Silver Spring, MD.

Arnicar grew up the youngest of five children in Baltimore. “It was very much a middle-class family, with one house, one dog and five kids,” she says.

Meeting an elderly neighbor set her on her career path.

“My very first patient was Miss Dorothy, who lived down the street. I was 6; she was 86 and confined to the first floor of her row home. For whatever reason, I started going down there on a regular basis and helping her,” Arnicar remembers.

When she graduated from high school in 1987, Arnicar was already an LPN, having to take time off work to go to the senior prom. Once she was on her own a few years later, her mother and a neighbor helped look after her sons while she worked and went to school. By 1996, she was a registered nurse and almost immediately a director of nursing.

“Everyone starts coming to you with their problems,” she remembers. “I went on a quest to really learn how to do my job. I didn't know about NADONA, I didn't know another DON, and I saw a computer and said, ‘I don't know how to turn that box on.'”

That set off a decade of change: Arnicar married husband Bill in 1999 — in the dining room of Grace Healthcare Frederick Villa Nursing Center, where she worked. At Frederick Villa, she met administrator Richard Goldsmith in 2005, who says Arnicar balances knowledge with humor.

“A day did not go by when we were not laughing at something,” he says. “She may be able to tell a raunchy joke, but she knows her stuff. And the amount of people she knows is immense.”

When Arnicar joined NADONA in 2005, she said to her husband, joking, “I'll take over NADONA in no time.” As the stars aligned, she did indeed become increasingly valuable to the organization.

Long-time NADONA leader Sherrie Dornberger says it was clear that Arnicar had the skill set and drive to lead.
“I saw how eager she was: She was like a sponge,” Dornberger says. “You learn to pick those people. After a phone call I can't even sleep at night, I'm so excited about what we've talked about.”

Still, Arnicar prioritizes time with family, which includes a son in the Army National Guard and a new grandson, Camden. She, her husband and daughter Emily live in West Virginia and enjoy camping and fishing. 

Despite her success, she says she's never thought of herself as particularly ambitious. “Everyone sees it more than I do,” she says. “Are you ambitious to walk? No, it just happens. You get out of it what you put into it.”

Resume

1987
Receives her LPN and graduates from Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School in Baltimore; starts at Deaton Specialty Hospital

1997
Finishes her associate's degree in nursing from Regents College (now Excelsior College); becomes DON at
Frederick Villa

2000
Serves as the director of nursing at Homewood Retirement Communities in Williamsport, MD

2006
Named NADONA Outstanding Member of the Year

2007

Receives Grace Healthcare's DON of the year award

2010
Becomes the director of nursing at Riderwood Village in Silver Spring, MD

2012
Named president of NADONA