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Everyone Has a Role in Building the Future of Nursing

May 13, 2016, 11:30 AM, Posted by Beth Toner

Six years ago, I graduated from nursing school at the age of 40-something—a feat accomplished while working full time, attending class and doing clinical rotations nights and weekends—with no small amount of support from my husband, my teenage children and my almost-3-year-old.

Frankly, when I graduated, I should have given each of them a gift for their support.

Instead, my then 15-year-old daughter gave me a copy of the book Critical Care by Theresa Brown, who, like me, was a second-career nurse. She’d heard her interviewed on National Public Radio and thought I might enjoy it. What I read in that book got me through some very rough overnight shifts when I was working per diem at my first job in long-term care. Her book reminded me that every new nurse is scared, tentative and not quite sure of her or himself. Yet somehow we muddle through, and we do the very best for our patients.

Fast forward to 2013, and I’d come to work at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Why School Nurses Are the Ticket to Healthier Communities

May 11, 2016, 9:37 AM, Posted by Susan Hassmiller

A visit to Mt. Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Delaware, highlights the critical role that school nurses play in fostering healthier kids and communities.

Robin Wallin, DNP, RN, first became concerned about the unmet dental needs of children attending the Alexandria City Public Schools in 2000 when one of the school nurses she supervised participated in a multidisciplinary evaluation for a kindergarten boy named José who could not sit still in class.

Upon examining his mouth, the nurse discovered gaping black holes where teeth should have been. She helped find an oral surgeon willing to treat José—who came from a low-income family without health insurance—free of charge. As it turned out, once José’s teeth were treated he no longer struggled with sitting still in class.

This experience led Wallin—who was then the Health Services Coordinator for the Alexandria City Public Schools in Alexandria, Virginia, and now serves as the director of health services at Parkway Schools in the Greater St. Louis area—to wonder if other kids like José struggled with school due to underlying oral health problems.

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Identifying the Causes of a Persistent Health Disparity: High Blood Pressure Among African-Americans

Jan 29, 2015, 7:31 AM, Posted by Jacquelyn Taylor

Jacquelyn Taylor, PhD, PNP-BC, RN, FAAN, is an associate professor of nursing at Yale University and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars program (2008-2012). She recently received a $3.4 million grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research, a department of the National Institutes of Health, to conduct a large-scale study on the influence of genetic and psychological factors on high blood pressure in African-American women and children.

Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your new grant from the National Institutes of Health to study blood pressure in African-Americans. What will be your focus?

Jacquelyn Taylor: African-Americans have the highest incidence of hypertension of any racial or ethnic group in our country. Studies show that some medications don’t work very well in reducing blood pressure in this population, and we are convinced that some other underlying mechanisms are at play. My co-principal investigator, Cindy Crusto, PhD, an associate professor in the department of psychology at Yale School of Medicine, and our research team and I will be studying two of those—genetic markers and psychological factors, such as perceived feelings of racism, mental health, and parenting behaviors—in our study. We want to know what effects these variables have on increases in blood pressure among African-American women and children over time.

HCB: Does this study build on your earlier work?

Taylor: In a previous study in Detroit, I looked at gene-environment interactions for high blood pressure in three generations of African-American women and identified hypertension risk alleles in grandmothers and in their daughters and granddaughters. Then I replicated the study in West Africa, where people live the same way as they did in the 1400s—in clay huts, with no running water, no sanitation, and no fast food as in the developed areas such as Detroit. The West African Dogon sample were mostly underweight, participated in large amount of physical activity, and had a limited but healthy diet. But they still had the same genetic markers for hypertension that I had identified in the sample in Detroit.

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‘Good Morning, My Name is Aara’: Building Trust in Health Care

Jan 28, 2015, 8:00 AM, Posted by Aara Amidi-Nouri

Aara Amidi-Nouri, PhD, RN, is associate professor of nursing and director of diversity at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, Calif. She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellow (2014-2017) and has served as a project director for the RWJF New Careers in Nursing scholarship program at Samuel Merritt University since 2009.

Trust. Our health depends on it, and so do our lives.

Our very first stage of personality development as infants starts with trust, according to renowned developmental psychologist Erik Erikson. A newborn’s basic needs—food, shelter, and clothing—are entirely entrusted to a caregiver, one who hopefully recognizes that he or she does not yet have an ability to shiver, sweat, or shed tears.

When caregivers are attuned to babies’ environments and hunger cues, they are able to meet their needs and build their trust in other human beings. When caregivers hold newborns close, they meet their need for love and affection, building trust with every heartbeat and with every breath. We are social beings, dependent on one another. We must trust one another in order to survive. It’s no coincidence that our pennies—our most basic form of currency—are engraved with that very word.

What happens when, instead of building trust, we create mistrust? What happens when we can’t trust our health care system or our health care providers—our own caregivers, the very people who hold our fate and our lives in their hands? 

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Like a Koala Bear Hanging Out in a Tree: Anxiety and Excitement as a Nurse Starts Her PhD Journey

Jan 26, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Laren Riesche

Laren Riesche, MSN, RN, is a nursing PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. With clinical experience in neonatal nursing, her research focuses on the role of the placenta in fetal programming and its effect on health and disease throughout the life span. She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Careers in Nursing alumna and an RWJF Future of Nursing Scholar

I have been extremely fortunate to have had great leadership development opportunities throughout my nursing education, thanks in part to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). I have been privileged to be selected for two RWJF nursing education scholarship programs which are not only helping build my leadership skills, but also shaping my perspective on the importance of nurse leaders.

I am one of 16 nurses in the inaugural cohort of the Future of Nursing Scholars program, which supports nurses earning their PhDs. This August, we all participated in a leadership development workshop that was part of the very first scholars’ Boot Camp. The event was intended to help us prepare to complete our nursing PhDs in three years.

One of the activities involved choosing and then discussing a picture that represented our fears; we chose from more than 200 picture-cards that bore a wide range of images, from nature scenes to cityscapes, family events to individual athletes, and everything in between. I chose a picture of a koala bear hanging out in a tree. What I saw was a koala, all alone with nothing to hold onto but a single tree branch. It tapped into my fear that I was throwing everything I had into my PhD program, pushing my family and friends away, and losing myself in order to stay focused on finishing in three years—and maybe, in the end, the only thing I would have to hang onto was my degree.  

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Nurses Are Leading the Way to Better Health Care for Older Patients

Jan 21, 2015, 12:00 PM

Barbara Bricoli, MPA, is executive director of Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders (NICHE), an international program based at New York University’s College of Nursing that is designed to help improve the care of older adults. The program was developed by Terry Fulmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, chair of the National Advisory Committee for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellows program.

The rapid expansion of the aging population is a national concern. Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over age 65 by 2030, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging. And our aging population will place a heavy burden on our health care system; older adults, in fact, are hospitalized at three times the rate of the general population.

Yet health care providers lack adequate training in geriatrics and gerontology to care for older patients. Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders (NICHE) is working to change that.

Based at New York University’s College of Nursing, NICHE aims to better enable hospitals and health care facilities to meet the unique needs of older adults and embed evidence-based geriatric knowledge into health care practice. Hospitals and organizations that adopt NICHE report improved outcomes, decreased lengths of stay, better patient and staff satisfaction levels,  and higher success in building systemic capacity to effectively integrate and sustain evidence-based geriatric knowledge into practice.

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Calling All Nurses to Address Health Disparities

Jan 16, 2015, 10:11 AM, Posted by Susan Hassmiller

I spent the 2014 holiday season reading a book by Sarah Wildman called Paper Love. She describes how she, as a journalist, examined the fate of her Jewish predecessors, including her grandfather and his long lost love. I selected the book because my father was a Jew of Polish descent.

Wildman describes the horrific atrocities bestowed upon the Jews. Of course I knew of the Holocaust growing up, but as I get older, the connections between past and present seem to be more important. While I don’t know of any relative who was personally affected or killed, someone in my extended family very likely was. I pondered my own existence and how it may have depended on a relative escaping Europe and immigrating to the United States to escape the death camps. It is unspeakable how one man’s view of what is mainstream or normal sent so many others to their death.

I am not naive enough to believe that prejudice is a curse of the past. Stark data on health disparities continue to mount. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on Health Disparities and Inequalities (2013) found that mortality rates from chronic illness, premature births, suicide, auto accidents, and drugs were all higher for certain minority populations.

But I believe passionately that nurses and other health professionals can be part of the solution to addressing these disparities. Nurses are privileged to enter into the lives of others in a very intimate way, and that means lives that are, more often than not, very different than our own.

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Being Willing to Really Listen Can Help Those Facing Extreme Disparities and Challenges

Jan 9, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Malia Davis

Malia Davis, MSN, RN, is a nurse practitioner and the director of nursing and clinical team development at Clinica Family Health Services in Lafayette, Colorado. She has cared for patients in the community, including those who are homeless, for more than a decade. She is a 2014 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellow.

Social and economic disparities define my work each day, and have provided powerful motivation for me to commit my professional life to attempts to minimize these disparities in the health care setting. Community health centers, which provide health care for the homeless, are where some of the sickest and poorest people in our communities seek medical and behavioral health care from people like me, a nurse practitioner who is honored to serve each of these individuals and families. 

I believe one common misperception is that some of my patients fail to contribute to society. Working in community health care for 12 years—10 of them serving homeless people—I have found that most people are very hardworking. Many work at day labor and other low-wage, temporary jobs that are physically demanding and fraught with challenges of all kinds. I often hear of workers experiencing abuse, failing to get paid, and experiencing unsafe working conditions.

They have, of course, none of the benefits we usually associate with jobs. Instead, they face the stress of not knowing day to day if they will find work and be able to support their families—or not. This stress is often compounded by the personal experience of witnessing, surviving, and overcoming trauma or violence, often while in poverty and with very limited resources for healing physically or emotionally. 

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The Role of the Chief Nursing Officer in Bridging Gaps Among Health Systems and Communities to Improve Population Health

Jan 8, 2015, 9:56 AM

Jerry A. Mansfield, PhD, RN, is chief nursing officer at University Hospital and the Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital, and a clinical professor at Ohio State University College of Nursing. He is an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellows program.

Since my doctoral work in public health, I have thought a great deal about the relationship of public health theory and practice and my acute care background. With more than 30 years of progressive leadership experience in a variety of for-profit/non-profit, inpatient and outpatient positions, I am trying to generate dialogue and discern a purposeful plan regarding the role of a Chief Nursing Officer in an academic medical center and the health of the populations we serve in our communities.

Based on earlier work in the 1990s and early 2000s, in 2007 the Health Research and Education Trust (HRET) engaged national experts to address the following question: How can hospitals engage their communities to improve the health of everyone? The report provides a framework and encourages hospital leaders and community members to envision health care in communities beyond the medical services offered by providers; it notes that the production of health is not only medical care, but also our environment, individual behavior, and genetic make-up.

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'We Need People to be Incensed by the Health Inequality that Persists in This Country'

Jan 5, 2015, 9:00 AM

Felesia Bowen, PhD, PCPNP-BC, is an assistant professor at Rutgers University School of Nursing, and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar (2014-2017). Her research focuses on community-based pediatric asthma care.

When I first began working as a pediatric nurse in New Jersey 20 years ago, I was committed to getting asthma care right. I worked hard to educate my young patients and their families about the disease, how to avoid the triggers that cause attacks, and how to use their medications. I wrote asthma action plans and prescribed the correct medications to control symptoms. 

It wasn’t always enough. One Monday morning, one of my young patients experienced asthma symptoms. The family followed his asthma action plan, “stepping” his medications in an effort to relieve his asthma symptoms. On Tuesday, he wasn’t feeling better, and went to the nurse practitioner (NP) in his school’s health office, who appropriately modified his treatment plan and called the asthma specialist to get a next-day appointment for him.

She remembers the young man telling her that he really needed to feel better, because he was going to his middle school graduation dance Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, he visited the NP again, still with asthma symptoms. He told her that he had missed the appointment with the asthma specialist because his mom couldn’t make it—she had health issues of her own, and three other children to care for. But he’d gone to his dance and proudly showed her his middle school class ring.

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