“I’m Going to Match!” A Tale of Nurses, Mentoring, and a Lifetime Bond

“I’m Going to Match!” A Tale of Nurses, Mentoring, and a Lifetime Bond

Roxana Chicas, PhD, RN, a research professor in Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, rued her nontraditional academic path until a mentor reassured her: “The teacher always arrives when the student is ready.”

That advice about timing resonated last month as she prepared to donate a kidney to her mentor, professor and faculty colleague. Professor and biostatistician Vicki Stover Hertzberg, PhD, who directs the school’s Center for Data Science, had been waiting nine months for a transplant after being diagnosed with kidney failure.

The two professors’ personal relationship is only one aspect of their remarkable story. Vicki Stover Hertzberg, PhD, FASA and Roxana Chicas, PhD, RN.

Both long ago had personal experiences that made them aware of the high need for living kidney transplants and the safety of donation. At the nationally No. 2-ranked School of Nursing, both women work on a research team that studies renal issues and other health problems related to heat exposure in farmworkers and published their findings in March. Both say their life-giving partnership reflects their school’s caring connections.

Chicas was only one of several Emory employees who answered Hertzberg’s call for potential donors in mid-2021. While others matched enough to donate, Chicas was the closest match.

“So much science has gone into it for such a long time, and to be able to use that science to help Dr. Hertzberg be healthier and live longer, it’s awesome. And I get to be a part of it.”

—Roxana Chicas, PhD, RN

“I have no words to express my gratitude for the individuals who came forward including those who ultimately, for one reason or another, could not be a donor,” Hertzberg said before the March 15 transplant surgery. “And for Roxana to do this is just phenomenal. I find it very overwhelming and very humbling.”

Most of us only need one kidney

Chicas’ first job at a pediatric office in Atlanta, when she was 18, exposed her to kidney issues and solutions. She translated for pediatric nephrologist Stephanie M. Jernigan, an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine.

“Children who were born with just one kidney often lived perfectly normal lives,” she says. “Other children who had kidney transplants did very well, even though it’s a very invasive surgery.”

She also learned to see her own intellectual potential.

Having come from El Salvador at age four and undocumented, Chicas had received temporary protective status that allowed her to work for the pediatricians. She helped them communicate with families who only spoke Spanish, and thought she might be smart enough to become a medical assistant so she could help them more. Pediatrician A. Gerald Reisman, MD, urged her to try nursing instead, and at age 28, Chicas enrolled in what is now Perimeter College at Georgia State University.

That educational decision led to Bridges to the Baccalaureate, an Emory program that nurtures minority students in research. With School of Nursing Dean Linda A. McCauley, PhD, RN, FAAN, as her advisor, Chicas got a BSN and went directly into the doctoral program. She joined McCauley’s team working on farmworker health, which felt personal because her mother, Maria Chicas, farmed in El Salvador. Farmworkers are 35 times more likely to die from heat-related illnesses than any other profession, she says.

“My goal is to do great science that will really improve the working conditions of agricultural workers,” Chicas says. “They are the backbone of this country and the globe. They feed us, and I think we need to value them more and recognize their worth, and they should be treated with dignity and given the same benefits that sometimes we take for granted. Many of them are undocumented and live in poverty, and I hope that I can be a part of a movement to better their lives.”

Heat-related illnesses affect kidney function, and Chicas did a postdoctoral stint in renal (kidney-related) medicine at the Emory School of Medicine. The research team measures indicators of health like core body temperature and kidney function.

“I got lucky, because I could have been working out in the field,” Chicas says. “I’m not there because of sacrifices that my mom made, and many other Latino parents have made and by having a mentor who told me that I can be a professional.”

A mentor in need

Hertzberg became Chicas’ professor and research teammate. From Florida to Mexico to Brazil, Chicas was in direct contact with farmworkers while Hertzberg worked to tell the story of the collected data.

“A wonderful mentor,” Chicas, 39, calls Hertzberg, 67. “She taught me that you can be smart and be strong in your career, and yet still be very kind.”

As the director for the nursing school’s Center for Data Science, Hertzberg is an internationally-recognized expert on “big data” and its impact on health care. She is widely known for her work measuring the social contacts in emergency departments and disease transmission on airplanes.

“Mentoring is what graduate education is all about,” Hertzberg says. “You learn a lot from each other. Part of it is just kind of a natural process because we’re engaged through research activities and part of that is just kind of understanding how the world works and what makes people tick. Roxana is incredibly driven and intrinsically kind, and always keeps me and our team focused on issues that our partner community experiences in ways that we don’t.”

On the farmworker longitudinal study, newer data relates to 25 markers of kidney function disease because of a relatively recent phenomenon called chronic kidney disease of undetermined etiology (CKDu). “Young farmworkers who had been feeling fine or really healthy all of a sudden wake up sick,” Hertzberg says. “Lo and behold, they have kidney failure and need dialysis.”

In late 2020, Hertzberg’s own bloodwork showed acute kidney injury, and when restrictive diet didn’t improve function enough, she was referred for a kidney transplant in mid-2021.

Like Chicas, Hertzberg had learned about the disease long before through a family friend and others. She reached out to her network by email and social media.

“Ideally a living donor is best,” she wrote. “A kidney from a living donor lasts on average 25 years, while a kidney for somebody who is about to have life support turned off is on average 12 years. Obviously, the 25 years is my preference…. the wait for a kidney from the person on life support will take three to seven years.”

She didn’t expect much response.

“I’m going to match”

Chicas jumped on Hertzberg’s direction for potential donors to phone the Emory Transplant Center (855-366-7989) or complete a questionnaire online.

“I knew it’s a pretty big surgery, but I was just like, ‘I have an extra kidney. I’m pretty healthy,’” she says. “And I called my mom and asked her what she thought and she was like, well, if that’s what you feel that you’re called to do, then go for it. And I was like, Okay.”

When she found out that there was competition to give a kidney to Hertzberg, Chicas told herself, “If God wants me to be the donor, then I’m going to match. So much science has gone into it for such a long time, and to be able to use that science to help Dr. Hertzberg be healthier and live longer, it’s awesome. And I get to be a part of it.”

Hertzberg even had colleagues clamoring to organize her meal train. This loyalty is partly from working at Emory since 1995, and supporting so many people and projects with her expertise. She served on dissertation committees for Chicas in 2020 and (at the University of Cincinnati) for McCauley in 1988.

Christian Larsen, MD, DPhil, professor of surgery in the Division of Transplantation at Emory and former dean of the Emory School of Medicine, transplanted Hertzberg’s new kidney last month. Larsen and Hertzberg knew each other through their collaborative research. From 2005 to 2010, they teamed-up on a protective immunity project studying aspects of the immune system in kidney transplant patients.

“This is not a road I would have chosen for myself,” Hertzberg says. “So I’m trying my hardest to learn the lessons along the way and to keep being positive. I want to dance at my grandchildren’s weddings, and the oldest one is soon to be five years old.”

Chicas believes that her success, her mentors and her organ donation have proved her favorite quote.

“Mother Teresa said, ‘If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed just one,’” she says. “I’m not a philanthropy. I’m not a billionaire. But I feel like there are certain things that I can do.”

Nurse-Midwives Train Doulas to Reduce Black Maternal Health Risks

Nurse-Midwives Train Doulas to Reduce Black Maternal Health Risks

Nurse-midwives and educators from three prominent research universities have teamed up to improve pregnancy outcomes in Black communities by providing specialized training for doulas, persons who support birthing mothers and families through the entire process of childbirth.

The Alliance of Black Doulas for Black Mamas is led by Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Associate Professor Stephanie DeVane-Johnson, PhD, CNM, FACNM, Duke University School of Nursing Assistant Clinical Professor Jacquelyn McMillian-Bohler, PhD, CNM—both graduates of Vanderbilt’s nationally-recognized Nurse-Midwifery program—and University of North Carolina School of Medicine Assistant Professor Venus Standard, MSN, CNM, FACNM. The project leaders are Black, certified nurse-midwives with a combined 60+ years of midwifery experience.

Doulas offer emotional and informational support for pregnant persons and their families. Unlike nurse-midwives, they are not medically trained; however, their help with things like breastfeeding, acupressure, birth plans and postpartum issues can be critically needed, as can their presence as an advocate for the mother.

The three researchers are addressing the U.S.’s Black maternal health crisis. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries—and the crisis is even more pronounced for Black mothers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics reveal disparities between pregnancy complications and risks across different racial groups. Black women are approximately twice as likely to have a moderately low birthweight child and three times as likely to have a very low birthweight child than white or Hispanic women (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db306.htm). Black women are also more likely than white or Hispanic women to die from pregnancy complications—almost 67 percent of which are preventable.

Having a trained and trusted professional who can help parents-to-be make healthy decisions and choose proper prenatal care can make a difference in maternal health and birth outcomes.

DeVane-Johnson, McMillian-Bohler and Standard worked together to write and fine-tune a plan to train and provide Black doulas to help Black families, with hopes of mitigating the high Black maternal and infant mortality rate. In 2020, the doula project was funded by a $75,000 award from UNC, the Harvey C. Felix Award to Advance Institutional Priorities and the group trained its first 20 doulas. In 2021, they received a $545,000 Duke Endowment grant, which will fund the program for three years beginning in May 2022.

Nurse-midwives Jacquelyn McMillian-Bohler, Venus Standard and Stephanie DeVane-Johnson.

Nurse-midwives Jacquelyn McMillian-Bohler, Venus Standard and Stephanie DeVane-Johnson.

The main program goals are to: decrease Black maternal mortality and morbidity; improve patient experiences; provide doulas for free to families; and help those interested in becoming doulas build critical skills and later use those skills to earn wages. The program’s goals align with the 2021 Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, which “directs multi-agency efforts to improve maternal health, particularly among racial and ethnic minority groups, veterans, and other vulnerable populations,” states congress.gov (https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/959).

“The training is more than about labor and birth,” said McMillian-Bohler, who teaches the mindfulness curriculum. “We also introduce the doula to general stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness and acupressure. Although evidence suggests these techniques are helpful, they are often not accessible to the Black community.”

DeVane-Johnson works remotely as the community engagement liaison for the program, which is housed at UNC Family Medicine in Chapel Hill, but the doulas will be serving families in Durham, Wake and Orange counties in North Carolina. Devane-Johnson hopes to receive funding to expand this program to Black pregnant persons in Nashville, TN.

“The strength of the program is the expertise of the entire team and the integration of the expertise,” said Standard, who connects families with doulas from the program and is currently teaching the third cohort of Black doulas. “Although each university could independently support the doula program with its hospital system and academic affiliation, a collaboration between the three universities positively impacts the project as a whole.”

Doula training applicants attend information sessions and are screened to make sure they will be successful in the program and that they will enjoy the work.

According to McMillian-Bohler, the program’s doula/family partnerships offer racial concordance, which can increase trust and understanding.

“I think the fact that we are able to come in and talk about some of these health resources and, I hope, remove some of the stigma, opens up a whole area of health care and wellness to people who desperately need it, who maybe didn’t feel like it was for them,” McMillian-Bohler said.

The doulas recognize that birthing parents have the right and need to speak up for their own bodies and health, and help them build the confidence and ability to do so.

Doula students learn to use use birthing balls to help relieve pain and pressure during pregnancy and during birth.To receive help from a doula in the program, a person must be Black, pregnant and planning to deliver at a University of North Carolina-affiliated hospital.

“By having a culturally concordant doula, the patient has a personal advocate, educator and support person to help guide and navigate the system as a Black person, whose needs are often dismissed or ignored,” Standard explained.

“Our hope is that by selecting doulas, who are gatekeepers into various aspects of the Black community, and by giving them tools to share with families, we create a community project that helps birthing families and doulas, said McMillian-Bohler”

The program offers doula training that is expanded to accommodate the specific needs of Black women, covering topics like reproductive justice and the “superwoman schema,” which says that many Black women care for others at their own expense, increasing stress during a pregnancy.

“The goal is to help mitigate Black maternal and infant mortality rates,” DeVane-Johnson said. “Doulas stand in the gap. Sometimes, Black women bring things up to their health care providers and are not taken seriously, or the provider does not talk at a level that the patient and family can understand. The doula is there to bridge that gap and potentially interpret information.”

DeVane-Johnson also serves as the facilitator for breastfeeding lectures. She studies the history of breastfeeding and presents lectures to doula-trainees to help them understand the hurdles faced by those they are trained to help. The doulas use this training to support Black women who want to breastfeed and connect them with lactation consultants, as research indicates that breastfeeding decreases cancer risks in mothers and improves health outcomes for babies.

“Black women have the lowest breastfeeding rate out of any race,” DeVane-Johnson said. “When variables such as socioeconomic status, education and marital status are controlled for, similar positioned white women still tend to breastfeed at higher rates.”

Doulas help solve communication issues and offer consistent labor support for those who don’t have it, something that has been shown to decrease time in labor and the need for pain medications.

“We hope to create opportunities for Black women to find their voices and be empowered to ask questions,” McMillian-Bohler said.

“Doulas are there to empower, uplift and elevate birthing families,” she continued. “If something doesn’t feel right, the doulas help them recognize that they need to speak up and keep speaking until their voice is heard.

The doulas are trained to recognize preterm, term and postpartum warning signs that may otherwise go untreated, leaving parent and baby at risk.

They train over the course of seven weekends. While on-call with patients, they assist with birthing plans, help pack bags for the hospital and even attend appointments, depending on how much support the birthing parent needs. Once trained, a doula is paired with three Black families who receive assistance for free.

DeVane-Johnson says program applicants need to be Black, have a passion for birth work and have a desire to support women in labor. In the past, applicants may not have been financially able to secure training, but thanks to the grants, training is free.

Applicants are screened to make sure they have reliable transportation, a job that’s flexible enough to allow them to leave to attend a birth and are vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to DeVane-Johnson, the most important qualification is “a passion to help support Black families in the community.”

“Being a doula often is different than what many people imagine,” said McMillian-Bohler. “They may have a romanticized notion of what the job is like. Babies come all the time, anytime, and doulas have to be able and willing to drop whatever other things they may be doing to come to a birth.”

The program benefits go beyond those received by the birthing family.

“Doulas are marketable and can hire out their services after they work with their first three families through the program,” DeVane-Johnson said. “This training will help them bring in money for their families and provide an important service.”

The program supports workforce development, DeVane-Johnson said, as the new doulas have sustainable jobs and develop entrepreneurial skills.

With many interested in training and families lining up for the service, the program is poised to make a difference in communities and in Black maternal health—and the leadership team envisions it as something that can go even further.

“Our goal with this program is to create a doula training model that can be tailored for birthing people with disabilities, those in the LGBTQ+ community, making things culturally relevant to whatever specific marginalized population that is birthing, because it’s these marginalized populations that have the worst birth outcomes,” DeVane-Johnson said.

At this time, the program has one year of data and the group looks forward to evaluating the incoming qualitative and quantitative data, something the new Duke Endowment grant will help them do over the course of the next three years.

DeVane-Johnson, McMillian-Bohler and Standard also hope to see the program expand beyond the borders of North Carolina.

“We want to disseminate this program throughout the country,” Standard said. “We want to reach out to other academic hospital-affiliated institutions and integrate this program into their maternal care systems.”

If the program receives additional funding, Standard said they plan to increase compensation to the doulas and faculty, and hire additional staff to support an expansion to help more families.

Mentoring the Next Generation of Black Nurse Researchers

Mentoring the Next Generation of Black Nurse Researchers

“We’ve come a long way,” remarks Dr. Yvonne Commodore Mensah, Ph.D, MHS, RN. Now an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing—where she started her PhD study in 2010—she is guiding the next generation of emerging scientists. Nurse mentor, epidemiologist Yvonne Commodore-Mensah.

With a special interest in mentees of color.

That’s because sheer numbers are not the whole story of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In 2018-2019, about 15,000 Black Americans earned PhDs, about 14,000 Hispanic or Latino Americans, and just 720 American Indians — compared to over 100,000 white Americans.

Mentors guide junior researchers through opportunities with world-renowned nursing faculty, cutting-edge facilities, and opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration throughout Johns Hopkins University and health care system. Among researchers of color and women, mentors are also critical for sponsorship and in building the fortitude to navigate underrepresented and unfamiliar spaces.

Meet Dr. Commodore-Mensah and her mentees: Dr. Ruth-Alma Turkson-Ocran and Dr. Oluwabunmi (Bunmi) Ogungbe

Dr. Ruth-Alma Turkson-Ocran.

“Yvonne was always asking me ‘when are you going to come to Hopkins and get your PhD?’” laughs Dr. Ruth-Alma Turkson-Ocran, Ph.D., MPH, FNP-BC, RN.

They’re the same age – they are also both from Ghana, went to the same high school, and came (unknowingly) to the U.S. in the same year to become nurses. Dr. Commodore-Mensah traveled a more direct research path however, while Dr. Turkson-Ocran became a nurse practitioner first. She earned her PhD at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in 2019 and was a post-doc at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine until summer 2021, when she became an instructor of medicine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.

On the other hand… “I found and reached out to Yvonne when I began to explore doctoral programs,” Bunmi Ogungbe, MPH, RN/BSN says. Bunmi is from Nigeria. “She was one of the first people investigating cardiovascular disease among African immigrant populations.”

The COVID-19 curveball

Heart disease and African immigrant health are interests all three women share. In fact, Bunmi began the PhD program at Johns Hopkins in 2019 intending to investigate cardiovascular disease medication adherence in Ghana, working through an existing study by Dr. Commodore-Mensah. But then COVID-19 threw her work a curveball.

Grounded, with travel unsafe, Bunmi conferred with Dr. Commodore-Mensah and additional mentors, including former dean Patricia Davidson and other faculty internationally recognized for their cardiovascular and chronic care research, to take her research in a new direction: examining biomarkers that indicate an injury to the heart, to determine the long-term cardiovascular effects of COVID-19 among Baltimore City residents.

“Dean Davidson advised me that part of the journey is knowing when to pivot and take advantage of emerging opportunities,” Bunmi says. “Yvonne helped me work through such a big change. She has connected me with so many mentors and sponsors, and brought me into the spaces that matter.”

Mentoring relationships foster bidirectional learning

JHU nurse scientist mentors.“It’s really interesting when the mentee takes a slightly different path. There is mutual learning that enhances our skills and knowledge,” says Dr. Commodore-Mensah. “After working with Bunmi I was asked to give a presentation on cardiovascular disease and COVID. And Ruth-Alma is my tech person.”

As faculty at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Turkson-Ocran gets to explore her interest in technology with projects investigating blood pressure at home, ambulatory blood pressure (meaning tracking blood pressure over a 24-hour period), and exploring how to use machine learning to examine blood pressure. Incredibly, information on blood pressure from wearable devices could be actionable in as little as five years.

With the interview process for her faculty position fresh in mind, Dr. Turkson-Ocran reflects on Dr. Commodore-Mensah’s generosity.

“It’s empowering to work on a multicultural team, yet, as underrepresented women in health and academia, there is something to be said for having someone who looks like me there to help raise me up.”

– Ruth-Alma Turkson-Ocran, PhD, MSN, MPH, RN

“Yvonne has constantly sponsored me, encouraged me to take on responsibilities I didn’t realize I was ready for.” She continues, “It’s empowering to work on a multicultural team, yet, as underrepresented women in health and academia, there is something to be said for having someone who looks like me there to help raise me up. It tamps down imposter syndrome and reinforces that this path is truly meant for me.”

“There is this façade of scarcity in academia,” Bunmi says. “People feel the need to hoard resources, opportunities, networks. Yvonne doesn’t do that.”

“You don’t lose anything by being kind.’ Former Dean Davidson used to say that, and I’ve been so fortunate with all my mentors that I can’t help but pass it on,” says Dr. Commodore Mensah.

Johns Hopkins School of Nursing logo.

Read more about graduate and post graduate degrees at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing:
Maria Rodriguez Shirey Steps Into New Role As Dean of UAB School of Nursing

Maria Rodriguez Shirey Steps Into New Role As Dean of UAB School of Nursing

Maria Rodriguez Shirey, Ph.D., associate dean for Clinical and Global Partnerships and inaugural holder of University of Alabama Birmingham‘s (UAB) Jane H. Brock – Florence Nightingale Endowed Professorship in Nursing, became dean of the UAB School of Nursing on June 1 following a national search. Shirey is succeeding Doreen Harper, Ph.D., holder of the Fay B. Ireland Endowed Deanship in the School of Nursing, who announced her intent to retire in 2021.

“Dr. Shirey’s work within the university, the community and the world at large is a testament to her abilities to lead this ever-growing school. We are confident that she will continue to propel the world-class academic, research and clinical enterprises in the School of Nursing,” said Provost Pam Benoit.

“As a Health Promoting University, it is essential that our leadership embraces the challenges of advocacy for local and global well-being, and we are fortunate to have a demonstrated champion in Dr. Shirey,” said President Ray Watts.

Shirey, a tenured professor of nursing at UAB since 2013 who is board certified in advanced nursing executive practice and health care management, is eager to assume her new role as the fifth dean in the school’s 70-plus year history. Provost Benoit thanked outgoing Dean Doreen Harper for her service, calling her a driving force of positive change who elevated the success and reputation of the school in her 17 years as its leader. “Dr. Harper’s vision for the School of Nursing has brought international acclaim to UAB and its community and has produced countless nurse leaders who continue to transform health care,” she said.

Shirey, who previously chaired the SON Department of Acute, Chronic and Continuing Care, has strategic, financial, human resources and operational responsibility for the school’s multiple community partnerships, the faculty practice enterprise and the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Collaborating Center for International Nursing.

Shirey’s areas of scientific focus on leadership science and health services outcomes research across the health care continuum. Since joining the UAB School of Nursing in 2013, she has extended her leadership and health services outcomes research focus and funding to test the efficacy and comparative effectiveness of interprofessional collaborative practice care delivery models advancing access to care, population health, care transitions and health equity addressing disparities in vulnerable populations with chronic diseases in urban and rural community settings. For her career contributions to advancing leadership and health systems science, Shirey was recognized in 2019 by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership Nurse Researcher Award.

She also has held several other administrative leadership positions in the school, including as the leader of its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Most notably in the clinical realm, Shirey was the founding director for the nurse-led Heart Failure Transitional Care Services for Adults Clinic in UAB Hospital in 2014 and continues to consult with its executive leadership.

Her current roles include co-leadership of philanthropic grant processes for community-based projects in the school and interim co-director of the  PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center for International Nursing.

Shirey is a senior scientist in two universitywide centers — Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center and the Center for Outcomes and Effectiveness Research. She also serves on the leadership committee of Live HealthSmart Alabama, winner of UAB’s first Grand Challenge competition, which is a key component of UAB’s strategic plan, Forging the Future.

Shirey’s service extends beyond the school to the university and its health system. She has had an integral role as leader in the UAB Nursing Partnership and is a member of the new universitywide Community Engagement Council and the UAB/St. Vincent’s Urgent Care Alliance Taskforce.  Her work in the community currently includes an advisory role with the National Family Partnership of Central Alabama.

She is a fellow of the National Academies of Practice, Academy of Nursing Education, American Academy of Nursing and American College of Healthcare Executives.

Shirey earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Florida State University plus a master of science in nursing from Texas Woman’s University and a master of business administration from Tulane University before completing her doctorate in nursing science at Indiana University.

Using EdTech Learning Tools to Sharpen Nurses’ Clinical Reasoning and Critical Thinking Skills

Using EdTech Learning Tools to Sharpen Nurses’ Clinical Reasoning and Critical Thinking Skills

To be a nurse, one must possess many different skills, with clinical judgment –the ability to think critically and make quick decisions that impact patient outcomes – being one of the most important. Another increasingly important skill is technology literacy, or the ability to use, understand and manage technology. Elsevier’s recent Clinician of the Future report found that 53% of U.S. nurses believe that technology literacy will become their most valuable capability over the next ten years, ranking higher than clinical knowledge.

The report also found that 54% of U.S. nurses predict they will draw on tools utilizing artificial intelligence to inform most of their clinical decisions. However, 69% of U.S.-based nurses report being overwhelmed with the current volume of data available and 84% of nurses in the U.S. predict the widespread use of digital health technologies will represent an even more challenging burden in the future. Despite these concerns, 59% of nurses in the U.S. still agree that the widespread use of digital health technology will enable a positive transformation of healthcare.

While use of technology in the healthcare setting is not without challenges, I believe it has a net positive benefit, particularly providing nurses with tools and information to enable rapid critical thinking and sound clinical judgment in patient care. I propose three ways higher-education institutions and health systems can maximize technology throughout a nurse’s career.

Utilize Education Technology (EdTech) Solutions

A nurse’s career journey begins in the classroom, and it’s during this time they develop the foundation for clinical judgment and critical thinking they will use throughout their careers. New and emerging forms of educational technology solutions, such as simulation-based and virtual-reality (VR) scenarios are providing students with an immersive way to learn skills in a safe and standardized environment. In these realistic patient scenarios that integrate the latest evidence-based research and education content, nurses can build confidence through practice on digital patients in a virtual environment that encourages exploration, adaptation and the development of critical reasoning skills.

Shadow Health, a suite of simulation learning products, features a diverse patient set representing various backgrounds with different health concerns. This conversation-based solution allows students to respond to many patient scenarios, while developing clinical judgment skills and practicing therapeutic communication. These innovative forms of education technology are already having a profound impact on how students absorb information. A recent study on the efficiency of patient care skills for nursing students in programs that use Shadow Health found that 82% of learners showed an increase in overall efficiency and 68% were better equipped to identify the number of correct care plan components.

Make the Transition to Practice Easier

As nurses make the transition from nursing school to practice, they are entering an increasingly demanding and complex environment. In addition to patient care responsibilities and keeping up with evolving care guidelines, nurses must also update electronic health records (EHRs) and handle time-consuming administrative work. These stressors can result in high turnover rates, with some hospitals seeing novice nurse turnover as high as 35%.

Learning how to balance these responsibilities can be overwhelming and may be contributing to more patient-related errors for new nurses. According to research from the National Library of Medicine and The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 40% of new graduate nurses reported making medication errors, and 50% reported missing signs of life-threatening conditions. The industry can better support nurses and ensure they are always practice-ready by providing technology solutions.

Providing novice nurses in a hospital setting with simple-to-use tech-based reference and communication tools enables safe, practice-based development of their patient care competency. Nurses can rely on these resources when they have questions or are unsure of procedures, supporting the ongoing development of their critical thinking skills and reducing patient care errors.

Provide Continued Professional Development on Digital Health Technology

While a nurse’s journey begins in the classroom, ongoing education remains critical throughout their career. The Clinician of the Future report found that 79% of U.S. nurses believe that training and ongoing education needs to be overhauled so they can keep pace with technological advancements. While resident nurses may have been exposed to emerging forms of technology during nursing school and are more comfortable with digital solutions, nurses who have been in-practice for decades may not be as comfortable using unfamiliar technologies.

Healthcare leaders must identify where nurses need the most support and provide continued professional development to ensure nurses at all levels are comfortable using digital health technologies. Hospitals, health systems and nursing organizations can provide solutions for nurses throughout their careers to enable technological proficiency and support critical thinking during patient care. These resources ensure nurses have access to the latest guidelines and evidence-based treatment pathways, empowering them to make more informed, confident decisions and driving better patient results.

At the same time, it is crucial for leaders to be thoughtful about the technologies they are considering deploying and to take the time to understand the benefits of any solution under consideration. A study published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research found that the use of telehealth to manage certain diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension actually worsened nurses’ workloads and led to twice as many activities completed by nurses. To gauge the impact new technologies will have on nurses, administrators may want to consider issuing employee surveys or informally gathering feedback, which is also a great way to show nurses that their voices matter in choices being made by the organization.

Closing Thoughts

 The last few years have shown us that nurses are invaluable to the healthcare industry, and it’s imperative that we provide them with tools for success throughout their entire career. Technology is going to continue to play a major role in healthcare. Healthcare leaders and educational institutions can use technology to their advantage, but they must provide current and future nurses with development opportunities to enhance their technology skills.

Story of Resilience: “I Woke Up in Pain, In a Dark Room” – Then He Discovered Nursing

Story of Resilience: “I Woke Up in Pain, In a Dark Room” – Then He Discovered Nursing

When Cade Conville took the podium at the Fall 2021 Accelerated Masters in Nursing Pathway Senior Recognition Ceremony, what could have been a typical award speech turned into an emotional account of his path to nursing and his story of resilience.

Six years ago, Conville was a gunshot wound victim. The bullet injured the left side of his face, and he was rushed into life-saving surgery.

“I woke up in a lot of pain, in a dark room. I was alone except for my nurse. I couldn’t do anything but cry.”

“I woke up from later that night and realized I was still alive. I was relieved, but at the same time I woke up in a lot of pain, in a dark room. I was alone except for my nurse. I couldn’t do anything but cry,” Conville said. “I was a 21-year-old and supposed to be this big, strong athlete, but I felt weak and powerless. But my nurse stayed there, comforted me during my worst moments. That inspired me to want to do something to help other people.”Cade Conville, MSN in class.

Over the next few months, Conville underwent several surgeries and faced a long road to recovery. His initial plans—playing college baseball and attending medical school—were derailed as recovery took a mental and physical toll.

But the support of friends and family and an opportunity at UAB Hospital helped him rediscover his passion.

“It was very difficult for me to take my next steps forward in my education, but the one thing that always spurred me on a little bit, or kept my feet moving, was my nurse that night after surgery,” Conville said. “I can’t remember her name, and I hardly remember her face, but I will always remember what she did for me.”

His nurse’s care led Conville to seek out ways to help others. When a family friend and Senior Director of Emergency Services at UAB Medicine Frankie Wallis, DNP, NP-C, NEA-BC, COI, reached out about a shadowing opportunity in the emergency department, Conville jumped at the chance.

“I knew Cade wanted to help people and make a difference, and I said that if he wanted to be in health care, UAB was the place to be,” Wallis said.

“It was very difficult for me to take my next steps forward in my education, but the one thing that always spurred me on a little bit, or kept my feet moving, was my nurse that night after surgery.”

After shadowing in the emergency department, Conville knew it was the right next step.

“UAB is such a big, bustling hospital. I recognized all of our patients in need, but there is also an excitement because there was so much we could do at once,” Conville said. “It brought me back to this team atmosphere, where I could be part of a group that cared about something, where everyone pulled in the same direction. That spoke to me—I put my resume in the same night.”

Conville took a job as a patient care technician and thrived in the experience, but eventually, he felt compelled to return to school and further his education. Through the support of his family and Wallis, he applied to nursing school.

“I looked up to the nurses I worked with, and it brought back the memory of the young woman who helped me that night,” Conville said. “I thought that if I could do the same thing for someone else, it would make all the hours of extra work worthwhile.”

After consulting with mentors, including Wallis, and doing research of his own, Conville decided the Accelerated Masters of Nursing Pathway at the UAB School of Nursing was the best step forward. The program is designed for students with a bachelor’s degree or higher in another field and creates an accelerated track toward licensure and a master’s in nursing.

“I knew the program was for me. I already had a degree under my belt, but it also felt like I had the time management skills to take on such a rigorous program,” said Conville, who also has a Bachelor of Science in molecular biology.

“I’ve had several other staff members who have come through the AMNP program,” Wallis said. “It’s a great program, and when I talked to Cade about it, I had every bit of belief he could do it. I talked to him about pursuing this degree, while cautioning him about the tough road ahead. But at the end of the road there is a reward.”

When Conville started the AMNP program in fall 2020, he found another team in pursuit of helping others. Faculty offered continuous support and encouragement throughout challenges, he said, and provided the tools necessary to move forward.

“I looked up to the nurses I worked with, and it brought back the memory of the young woman who helped me that night. I thought that if I could do the same thing for someone else, it would make all the hours of extra work worthwhile.”

“One day I sat down with [AMNP Pathway Director] Michael Mosley, MSN, CRNP, ANP-BC (MSN 2012) and we talked about why he pushes us so hard to get the right answer and to understand why we got that answer,” Conville said. “He said that when you’re working with a patient, you’re not just checking boxes. And while you can make two or three mistakes on a test and still get a 96, if you make two or three mistakes with a person, you can really hurt them. That told me a lot about him as a person—he truly cares about us and wants us to be the best nurses possible.”

Conville also made an impact on his peers in his AMNP cohort. They selected him as the fall 2021 recipient of the Florence Nightingale Award, a recognition of his passion for quality of nursing care and pursuit of excellence. It was also the reason he stood up to speak about resilience at the Senior Recognition Ceremony.

“This award reiterates Cade’s personal characteristics and his commitment to nursing,” Wallis said. “It shows his dedication and how well he works within a team, how he incorporates team theory to develop relationships with his peers and colleagues. He is a great young man with great potential, great abilities and he will move forward to do great things in the future of health care.”

Conville finished the AMNP program in fall 2021 and accepted a job at UAB Hospital in spring 2022. He wants to further his education and work toward a career in nursing management.

Conville continues that refrain of resilience, for his future and the future of nursing.

“I know the state of nursing isn’t perfect right now, that a lot of us who are graduating and going into the workforce have a difficult road ahead of us,” Conville said. “We’re joining health care in one of the most difficult times to be a health care professional, and we just have to be as diligent as we possibly can. We need to understand that our patients need us, and we need each other. We’re going to get through this together. While there are a lot of tough times going on, it’s still a great time to be a nurse.”

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