Advanced Degrees Add Value to This Nurse's Professional Journey
While I can’t point to a single class, I would say that my Ph.D. courses were incredibly valuable because they encouraged me to research evidence with a critical eye. It is so important that nurses can read both clinical and non-clinical research and be able to ask the question, what can we learn from it to inform our practice?
I think it comes down to a love of learning and an internal need to continuously grow as an individual and as a professional. Since graduating from Emory’s Ph.D. program, I haven’t stopped pursuing knowledge. Remaining up-to-date on the latest evidence is foundational to being successful, both clinically and programmatically speaking. The nursing and public health professions are ever-changing and we simply cannot rely on the knowledge gained in school. I use the current evidence to identify where the gaps are and how I can help fill those gaps through global health research. This strategy can be used by nurses in clinical roles. Don’t be afraid to suggest change in the way things are being done!
If you know what you want to do, then go after it! I would strongly encourage nurses to pursue an advanced degree early on in their careers. When I finished my RN degree at Luther College in Deorah, Iowa, I immediately started pursuing advanced practice nursing graduate programs. I went through Yale University’s School of Nursing in New Haven, Conn. and earned a Masters in nursing degree, launching my career as a nurse-midwife.
The Sierra Leone Ebola treatment unit was a challenging environment, and my years as a nurse and nurse-midwife helped me find the calm that I needed to focus and be productive amidst the chaos. Through my work, I was able to observe the mental health needs of health workers who were caring for their own colleagues as they succumbed to Ebola. This understanding ultimately led to the development of a counseling center for health care workers and Ebola survivors.
My experience implementing reproductive health programs in low-resource settings helped me identify ways to engage the community and provide education on how to prevent Ebola transmission in a culturally-appropriate way. My research experience helped me to step back, look at the situation and decide how best I could fill the research gap. Taken together, every single experience I have ever had as a nurse and nurse-midwife, researcher and public health professional informed the work I did in Sierra Leone, and I am truly grateful that I had so much experience to draw on!
My favorite aspect of public health nursing is the fact that I get to use all of the knowledge, skills and experience that I have gained over the last two decades. I use my clinical knowledge and skills when designing maternal and newborn health evaluations, or responding to Ebola in Sierra Leone. I get to use my organizational and programmatic skills when I am assessing reproductive health surveillance systems in refugee camps. I get to use my research skills when evaluating gender based violence interventions or when designing new ways to measure complex constructs in parts of the world where the cultural context is very different from the U.S. There is no truly limit to the work you can do in public health nursing!
Never give up and always strive for your goals and beyond!