Private funding that assists the work of our faculty is seen well beyond the walls of our college & university.
By: Tracy Brown Wright
One of our underlying needs always remains supporting the work of our faculty
As the University of Florida College of Nursing prepares to embark on our next capital campaign in the fall, one of our underlying needs always remains supporting the work of our faculty and students. Private funding that assists the work of our faculty and students is seen well beyond the walls of our college or university:
The service and care provided by students while they are in our communities
The inspiration and mentorship provided by faculty members to their students
The improvements to patient care and health care systems
And the mark of the future careers of our graduates — who continue to touch the lives of their patients and inspire other nurses and health care professionals
But what about the people behind private funding? Those faculty who fill professorships to transform scholarship and science; and talented and motivated students who benefit from scholarships and fellowships that offset the costs of nursing education — all with the singular goal of transforming and improving nursing and patient care. These are merely a glimpse of some of those faces.
Ezenwa Uses Past Experiences to Fuel Career
By Fabiana Otero
When she was 16, Miriam O. Ezenwa’s 20-year-old neighbor died from sickle cell disease.
Ezenwa, Ph.D., R.N., grew up with her mom, dad and nine brothers and sisters in a poor and unsafe neighborhood in Nigeria. Ezenwa remembers her neighbor receiving monthly blood transfusions to reduce his risk of a stroke but he still suffered from something called sickle cell crisis, or severe attacks of pain. During these attacks, Ezenwa didn’t see her neighbor for weeks.
“Had his pain been properly managed with opioids and adjuvant pain medications, he would have had less frequent pain crises,” said Ezenwa.
His experience sparked Ezenwa’s lifelong study of the disease. Now an associate professor in the UF College of Nursing, Ezenwa is part of a team focused on palliative care for chronic conditions like sickle cell. That team is headed by Diana Wilkie, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, the Prairieview Trust-Earl and Margo Powers Endowed Professor.
Sickle cell disease changes the shape of hemoglobin in red blood cells. Typically, according to the National Institutes of Health, hemoglobin is disc-shaped, allowing it to slip through different sizes of blood vessels to carry oxygen throughout the body. Instead, people with sickle cell disease have hemoglobin that contains stiff rods, potentially causing the cells to become stuck in blood vessels, leading to stroke or severe attacks of pain.
The disease develops in people from malaria-prone regions such as the Middle East, India, the Mediterranean and Africa, and affects 100,000 people in the United States. One in 500 African Americans are born with the disease.
Ezenwa came to the U.S. in 1995 — on a diversity visa granted through a lottery developed to promote immigration from countries that have had low rates of immigration to the U.S. — and began studying nursing in New York. While working as a nursing student during her clinical rotations, Ezenwa saw that certain patients complained of more pain and requested more medication.
Her interest in health disparities in pain became the topic of her doctoral dissertation. Ezenwa found that African Americans’ pain was poorly managed because of perceived discrimination, which led to hopelessness and a lack of self-advocating.
Ezenwa is currently a principal investigator and Wilkie a co-investigator in a guided relaxation intervention study to help sickle cell patients manage their pain and stress through an audiovisual exercise.
“The least that I can do is … lend my voice through research and advocacy for them. Not only for patients with sickle cell disease, but for all Africans and minorities in America who are suffering.”
Miriam Ezenwa, Ph.D., R.N.
Now, Ezenwa and a team of sickle cell researchers are advocating for a more comprehensive sickle cell disease program. Their goal is to collaborate with doctors who have expertise in sickle cell disease to establish a dedicated clinic and unit for patients with sickle cell disease.
“The African Americans, they are my people,” Ezenwa said. “Their grandfathers, my ancestors, they were stolen from Africa, they were brought here as slaves and I see my connection with them.”
Ezenwa sees her win of the green card lottery as divine intervention that led her to what she calls the blessing of an American education.
“The least that I can do is … lend my voice through research and advocacy for them,” she said. “Not only for patients with sickle cell disease, but for all Africans and minorities in America who are suffering.”
Ezenwa has contributed to teaching and learning of undergraduate and graduate students through classroom and online instruction and one-on-one mentoring. Ezenwa’s goal as a teacher is to cultivate active and independent, yet collaborative, learners who engage in the exchange of diverse ideas. To this end, she views her role as a facilitator as she involves students in their learning. She encourages students to view her not as an “all-knowing orator” but as one of the resources for their academic success.
Gail Keenan: A True Advocate for Patients
Nursing researcher Gail Keenan, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, is driven in her work to be an advocate for the patient and the nurse. An international leader in nursing informatics, Keenan focuses on improving electronic communications among health care teams.
“Every patient has a story,” said Keenan, who serves as the Annabel Davis Jenks Endowed Professor at the College of Nursing. “As a health care provider, you need to be able to get that story quickly and understand it immediately.”
Keenan, hired as part of UF’s preeminence initiative in September 2014, came to UF from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she served as director of the Nursing Informatics Initiative. Her research program focuses on continuously refining a “big picture” standardized clinical data set to provide a summary of patient care, support day-to-day communication between members of the care team and universalize electronic health records.
“Dr. Keenan is passionate about the profession of nursing and improving patient outcomes. Her innovative research is making it possible, for the first time, to efficiently capture and measure the impact of nursing on cost-effective, high-quality care outcomes through the electronic health record,” said Dean Anna M. McDaniel, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN.
As a recipient of more than $7.5 million in research funding, Keenan focuses her research on creating and implementing useful electronic health records. Specifically, her research team has built and refined an electronic plan of care method Hands-on Automated Nursing Data System—HANDS –designed to improve the consistency of documentation and handoff communication.
HANDS is a standardized computerized tool that can help nurses not only document patient care and outcomes but also communicate more effectively and efficiently at handoff — when a nurse’s shift ends and she updates the next shift nurse on the patient’s status.
“Nurses are the front line of health care and help keep patients’ health care plans up to date. We need technological tools that embrace the interdisciplinary nature of health care and recognize nurses being in line with the rest of the health care providers,” Keenan said.
Keenan was drawn to UF because she could immediately feel the energy of the interdisciplinary environment with faculty members and students who are collaborating to move science forward together.
“It is very exciting being able to be a part of this wonderful university at such a dynamic time. I was sold quickly on the potential for my informatics research at UF after witnessing firsthand the depth and breadth of genuine interprofessional scientific collaboration,” Keenan said.
Keenan also understands the importance of nurturing and building confidence in her students — the “next generation of the profession … who will eventually be our leaders.”
“I have a responsibility to help students find and devote their passions around nursing practice and research. I engage students in any and all activities that will help them build their confidence, skills and knowledge, applying humor, joy and fun as needed,” Keenan said. “Finally, I regularly convey my heartfelt belief in the unique talents and value of each student to me and the profession, now and in the future. “
Lucero's Commitment to Community and Teamwork in Research and Teaching
Associate Professor Robert Lucero is clear about his commitment to improving health through systems and informatics research. His program of research focuses on exploiting the use of electronic health record, or EHR, other sources of health systems data and developing novel consumer health informatics approaches to understand the complexities of health care delivery and health management — with a particular focus on empowering nurses and consumers, respectively.
Lucero is the principal investigator of an ongoing interdisciplinary study, funded by UF Health and the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, to identify unknown risk factors in EHR and health systems data associated with a patient’s risk of falling during hospitalization. The goal is to incorporate these findings into a point-of-care early warning system to support registered nurses and administrators in reducing a patient’s risk of falling.
Lucero is also the principal investigator of an NIH subcontract from the New York City Hispanic Caregiver Research Program. Lucero and interdisciplinary colleagues are working to more fully understand the needs of the rapidly growing population of Hispanic dementia caregivers and use this knowledge to design and test an innovative tailored web-based intervention they refer to as a Family Health Information Management System.
“As a nurse scientist, I am motivated by discovering data-driven knowledge that can be used to guide decision-making by nurses, consumers and health care administrators,” Lucero said. “We need to understand how the discipline of nursing influences consumer (i.e., patients) and system outcomes.”
Lucero’s research and scholarship have benefited from private funding, like the College of Nursing Faculty Research Enhancement Fund, given by alumna Mickey Dougherty (B.S.N. 1965, M.S.N. 1968) to support faculty research efforts such as continuing education for faculty.
Beyond his research, Lucero is a committed nursing educator and mentor. It is rare to walk by his office without seeing Lucero mentoring a student, serving as a resource for students exploring career paths and, most importantly, with his diverse research team, made up of postdoctoral associates and graduate and undergraduate students.
“I encourage students to consider diverse perspectives that can inform legislative, professional and practice issues. I enjoy partnering with students on my research team and engaging them in cross disciplinary and inter-curriculum learning,” Lucero said.
Leslie Parker: Improving Care for the Tiniest Patients
“Your job must be so sad.”
It is a statement that Leslie Parker has heard too many times to keep count. Parker is an associate professor and nurse researcher who has dedicated her career to helping the tiniest of patients as a neonatal nurse practitioner. She still practices in the neonatal intensive care unit at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.
“People see it as simply that I am working with very sick babies,” Parker said. “But there is so much that is rewarding about my job. I get to work with an interdisciplinary team of medical residents, neonatal nurses, my students on rotation — all with the goal of helping these tiny infants and their parents.”
Parker is an alumna of the College of Nursing, having received her B.S.N. and M.S.N. from the University of Florida. She originally wanted to work in labor and delivery and never pictured herself working in a neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. But after working in a nursery when she completed her undergraduate degree, she was transferred to an NICU and “never left.”
However, about 15 years ago, Parker yearned for more. She thought of the words of her former faculty member in nursing school, Judi Lott, who was an inspiration and mentor to her.
“Judi encouraged me to publish in scholarly journals, to attend conferences and grow within the profession,” Parker said. “She was not content with us just going through school and not becoming involved and growing professionally.”
Parker heeded her mentor’s advice. Lott was one of the first people Parker turned to when she decided to pursue her Ph.D. in Nursing Science. She pursued and achieved this goal with the assistance of the Wendy L. Henderson Fund for Neonatal/Perinatal Nursing Education, which was created to assist students or faculty contributing to the care of neonates and their families.
“As nurses, we never stop learning or teaching,” Parker said. “All of the nurse practitioners on our unit are my former students. It’s so wonderful to see how they have grown and how much I can also learn from them.”
In 2013, Parker received two NIH grants to study nutrition in very low birthweight infants, which is the focus of her research and scholarship program.
She received $1.4 million for a four-year study to determine nutrition outcomes and risks in the care of very low-birthweight infants, who weigh less than 3.3 pounds. Her team is studying a clinical standard of care for assessing these infants’ nutritional status to determine if this standard is beneficial or risky for the baby. Parker is examining whether the customary clinical practice of assessing the amount of residual gastric contents in an infant’s stomach actually improves care or whether it can cause harm. Residual gastric contents are the volume of fluid remaining in the stomach after a feeding.
A second $400,000 NIH grant funded a study to assess the best time to initiate breast milk expression in mothers of very low-birthweight infants. Parker and her team compare different times post-birth for expressing milk in the mothers and evaluate which time frame is optimal for ensuring adequate breast milk production.”
“I hope that my program of research can improve short- and long-term health outcomes for very low-birthweight infants by improving their nutritional status and decreasing complications due to prematurity,” Parker said.
Michael Bumbach: Coming Full Circle
"I am not sure I could have gone through the Ph.D. program without the scholarships I received.”
Michael Bumbach, Ph.D., ARNP
It is fitting that one of the most memorable moments in Clinical Assistant Professor Michael Bumbach’s young teaching career has been receiving a thank you card from a student.
“My proudest moment to date is receiving that student’s card. This helped reinforce that I can have a positive influence on many people, including our students. It inspires me to see how I can make an impact in our American health care system, especially in Florida,” Bumbach said.
Bumbach is also grateful to the many ways his education was supported when he pursued his Ph.D. at UF. Prior to that, he served in critical care inpatient settings and primary care outpatient settings as a family nurse practitioner.
“Funding for my Ph.D. program meant a lot to me,” Bumbach said. “I had four small children at the time, and the amount of diapers and food that could be purchased with the amount of a graduate study credit hour was overwhelming. I am not sure I could have gone through the Ph.D. program without the scholarships I received.”
Bumbach chose UF for his Ph.D. because of the high quality of the program and the opportunities it would afford his career. As difficult as it was to manage family and schooling with the financial burdens, Bumbach said obtaining a faculty position was always his dream and “the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I chose to pursue a faculty position at UF because of what I saw as a student — the collegiality, the quality and the dedication of the faculty,” Bumbach said. “Also, who doesn’t want to be a Gator?”
Bumbach has had to learn a lot quickly in his relatively new role as a faculty member. But the support he has been shown by his fellow faculty members and colleagues has allowed him to succeed. The quality of the students has also kept his role exciting.
“They keep you on your toes,” Bumbach chuckled. “These are high-caliber students and they absorb knowledge quickly and thoroughly. Our graduate students are also on the cutting-edge of technology and information from the field.”
When Bumbach thinks about being a Gator Nurse —as a student and a faculty member — he thinks of support and a high level of excellence.
“I was supported as a student with offsetting the costs of my education; I feel that support as a faculty member as well with the resources that allow me to be a nursing educator at a high level,” Bumbach said.
Debra Lyon: Making a Difference in Nursing Education and the Future of Women with Breast Cancer
“I am excited to help to create a preferred future for the College of Nursing working with our dean. I think this is a great time to be at the college — we are poised for a time of positive growth.”
Debra Lyon, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN
Debra Lyon, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, is the executive associate dean and the Thomas M. and Irene B. Kirbo endowed chair. Lyon’s research focuses on symptom management in women with breast cancer, and she is currently the principal investigator on two NIH-funded studies totaling $4.8 million. She has years of experience in nursing education administration.
“I have been fortunate to serve in a variety of faculty roles in my career — clinical faculty member, researcher, department chair and associate dean. As a researcher, I am passionate about improving care for women with breast cancer. As a faculty administrator, I am passionate about working to create a positive environment for faculty to allow them to accomplish their goals,” Lyon said.
The Thomas M. and Irene B. Kirbo Charitable Trust, which funded the Thomas M. and Irene B. Kirbo chair in cancer research, has a history of providing student and faculty development funds and scholarships to the UF College of Nursing. The chair was established to attract a dynamic scholar whose research focuses on cancer care.
In October 2015, Lyon was one of the four esteemed nursing researchers to present a scientific session at the National Institute of Nursing Research’s 30th Anniversary Scientific Symposium.
“I am excited to help to create a preferred future for the College of Nursing working with our dean. I think this is a great time to be at the college — we are poised for a time of positive growth,” Lyon said.