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Alumna profile: Rita Armstrong, DNP ’14

Rita Armstrong, DNP ’14
Rita Armstrong, DNP ’14

When Rita Armstrong started researching online Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, she did not see herself in Sweden presenting work on diabetic education and self-management to a global audience. “Never in my years did I think I’d be doing that,” she laughs.

Nor did she expect to be speaking at the same conference in Amsterdam in 2018, but she will. Those are just a couple of twists her life has taken since earning her DNP from Chatham in 2014.

Dr. Armstrong started her nursing career in 1994. She received her BSN in 2009, her MSN in 2013—and decided to continue her education. “I knew I didn’t want to do a PhD. I wanted something more in line with evidence-based training,” she says. “That’s the direction healthcare was moving in. I found Chatham online, and decided to apply.”

Dr. Armstrong enrolled in Chatham’s DNP program in January 2014 and graduated in December of that same year, studying full time and working full time.

“I really enjoyed it,” she says. “The first semester was a little strenuous, because I was getting used to studying and working full time, but I liked the way it was structured. It took you through the material in steps, so you weren’t trying to do everything at the last minute.” She has referred five people to the program.

The level of support from the faculty at Chatham really stuck out,” says Dr. Armstrong. “My instructors even initiated contact with me, just to make sure I was on the right track.”

Post-DNP, Dr. Armstrong was teaching nursing at a community college in San Antonia when she was approached to write a proposal for a nursing program at the University of Texas. While writing it, she accepted a position with the Dallas Nursing Institute, where she taught and served as the director of the RN to BSN program. Today, she is the Dean of Nursing at the Fortis College Nursing Program.

 

She has received the National Institute of Staff & Organizational Development (NISOD) for Excellence Award in Teaching. She is also the recipient of the Friends of Texas Award 2013 from Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society for her endless community service dedication and contributions.

In August, Dr. Armstrong spoke about communicating and interacting with people with dementia at the Geriatric Symposium in Austin, TX. “Nurses tend to be in a hurry a lot of the time—we’re very busy—but patients with dementia really need to take time to think about what we’re telling them or asking them. The way we present information really makes a difference,” she says.

In the future, she plans to start a free mobile clinic that will provide wellness checks to college students across Texas. “A lot of conditions like diabetes can be managed, but college students don’t always take care of themselves the way they should,” she says. “With some education and training, we can get them to pay more attention to their blood sugar and blood pressure.”

One of the things I love about having my DNP is that I get to see what’s out there in a way that I couldn’t with just my MSN, because I can teach in a graduate program. A DNP is also required for management positions. I consider myself a leader, very much so. Being able to do that, oh yes, that’s a plus.”

Chatham’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice degree is a 27-credit program offering meaningful, sequential courses that provide practical knowledge for the advanced practice RN. It’s one of the shortest-to-degree clinical doctorates in the market. 

Five Questions with Julie Slade

Name: Julie Slade
Title: RN-BSN Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Nursing
Joined Chatham: July 2010
Born & Raised: Born in Honolulu, Hawaii (my dad was in the military), I moved back to Pittsburgh, PA on my first birthday and have been here ever since
Interests: Nursing education, hospice/end-of-life nursing, spending time with my family and puppy, traveling

1.  How did you develop an interest in the field in which you teach?

When I was four, I told my mother that I wanted to be a nurse. To this day I don’t know where the idea came from, because neither I nor anyone in my family had been sick or in need of medical care. When I graduated from high school, I went straight into a 4-year program and earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. I worked in a few different intensive care units in local hospitals and eventually returned to school to earn my Master of Science in Nursing with a focus on nursing education and my Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Even after earning my DNP degree I wasn’t sure where I was going to take my career. I applied for a job at Chatham as a Clinical (Practice Experience) Coordinator and fell in love with nursing education. Nowhere in my life plans or on my career path did it ever occur to me that I wanted to teach nursing. Somehow I always knew that I wanted to be a nurse.

2. What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

One summer break in high school I worked a temporary job doing filing, mailing, and a small amount of data entry. Every day, I reported to a woman who gave me my assignments. On several occasions, I would do them, and when I returned for more she would say “Why are you working so fast? Take your time. You’ll make the rest of us look bad.” I remember feeling very uneasy at this. Why do a job when I’m not going to do it to the best of my ability? Why waste time doing purposefully slow work? I learned that any job worth doing was worth doing well, and that anything less than my best effort was not good enough for me.

3. What is your favorite thing about working with Chatham students?

I mostly work with RN-BSN students—working adults who have completed an Associate or Diploma program and are now working towards a Bachelor degree in nursing. My students, by far, are my favorite part of my job. They are bright, motivated individuals who are making a difference in the lives of their patients but they don’t always realize how far they can go as individuals or how far they can take the profession. During the program, I see students grow and develop in ways that they didn’t even know they could and, by the end of the program, many realize they are the leaders I knew they could be. Often students reach out to me after graduation and ask for letters of recommendation because they are going on to even higher levels of education. Or students will reach out and tell me about new positions they are taking or endeavors they are conquering. I couldn’t be more proud!

4. What is your passion?

That’s a really hard question, especially because I don’t have just one passion. In nursing, I’m passionate about nursing education and hospice/end-of-life nursing. As a nurse educator I don’t currently work clinically at bedside. I feel that my job right now is to nurse nurses. Through my students, I touch a myriad of patients and by helping nurses be the best nurses they can be, I am improving the care patients receive.

Many people are afraid of death, understandably so, but I see death as a special time in life that none of us can avoid. I don’t believe anything will ever eliminate a person’s fear of death but, with proper care, the dying process can be greatly improved. Our country has a far way to go in making this a universal idea. I spend time learning about improvements in end-of-life care and sharing the knowledge I have in an effort to benefit patients and families facing end-of-life situations.

Outside of nursing I also have many passions; my most intense is probably for my family. I believe everyone should be the best version of himself or herself and I try to always give my all to those I love and care about.

5. What one individual had the greatest impact on you and how?

I don’t know that I could identify one individual that had the greatest impact on me. My father taught me the value of hard work and providing for your family. My mother taught me to be a strong woman and that anything is possible. My colleagues teach me how to continuously improve my teaching skills. My students are a constant source of inspiration. I truly can’t identify one individual as the most influential in my life.

Julie Slade is program coordinator and an assistant professor in Chatham’s Master of Science in Nursing Program. You may find her changing a tire on the weekends when she serves as her husband’s dirt track racing pit crew.

disaster relief in nepal

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of the Recorder.

It  can be hard to access healthcare in Nepal, says Chatham nursing student, Devin Corboy ‘18. “It’s one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s mostly rural, so access is limited by time and terrain. And if it’s not free or almost free, clients just don’t have the resources to pay.” Devin also points to a shortage of providers (“Doctors aren’t well paid—it’s not as prestigious there as it is here. They work around the clock and it’s often necessary for them to hold several positions”) and—literally—energy (“With rolling blackouts, they spend long periods of time without electricity—often 12-14 hours per day.”)

That’s in the best of times.

But on April 25, 2015, Devin woke to news of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal. Approximately 9,000 people were killed and more than 21,000 injured.  Devin and his wife had spent time there the previous fall, made friends, and fallen in love with the region. Devin—a student in Chatham’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and a nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC—knew that he had to help. Just over two weeks later, a second earthquake killed at least 153 people and injured more than 3,200.  That was the day Devin arrived in Nepal.

“In third-world trauma environments, scope of practice is directly proportional to your knowledge and level of comfort.”

His Nepali friends had told him the only way to reliably bring in supplies was to carry them in himself, so he showed up with over 100 pounds of medical supplies. “The airstrip was lined with cargo containers with food and other resources from countries who wanted to help,” he recalls. “But the government couldn’t release the supplies because of their regulation requirements. They had to register it. So much food sent over there never made it to anyone because it went bad.”

“When I arrived, my friend drove me to a community health clinic, where I saw people lined up out the door. Suturing and setting broken bones and dislocated limbs aren’t typical nursing practices in the US, but in third-world trauma environments, your scope of practice is directly proportional to your knowledge and level of comfort,” Devin says. “We worked with the highest degree of sterility possible using the supplies I carried from the US. We worked in the street, day and night, through heat and rain, under temporary tarps and in tents because damage to the hospital made it unsafe. Patients arrived on overcrowded buses. Three people per seat wasn’t infrequent, and you’d see men, women, and children hanging off the roofs.” It wasn’t uncommon for patients to arrive in need of critical treatment due to accidents caused by this method of travel that was both unsafe and unavoidable.

tents

After a couple of weeks, Devin and a guide loaded up five yaks with life-saving provisions and set forth to Thame, a village in the Everest mountain region that had been all but wiped out. They made what was normally a five-day trek to the village in two days, hiking 12-hour days carrying 50-60 pounds of supplies.

loading up yaks

When they arrived, they saw that one building was left standing, the medical clinic was gone, and people were living openly on the streets. “It was the monsoon season, cold and rainy,” says Devin. “No one had tents. We spent much of our time passing out temporary shelters and tarps.”

Nepal, Take 2

Devin returned home after just over three weeks, but in November, he and his wife returned to contribute through the All Hands disaster response effort. They were there for almost two months. “I had to delay my entry into the BSN program,” said Devin, “but Chatham said no problem, we’ll contact all your instructors, and we’ll figure it out.”

Much of the work in Devin’s second trip focused on demolition and rebuilding efforts, but it wasn’t long before his medical skills were called into action. The Project Director created the position of First Aid and Medical Curriculum Coordinator for him, and among his initiatives was to bring in anti-venom medicine. In the eight months since the earthquake, snakes—most of which were poisonous—had made their homes in all the debris. “There was a high probability that someone would get bitten and die,” Devin said. He coordinated with project partners in the UK to get the anti-venom. “It took about two and a half weeks for it to get here,” he says. “Meanwhile, we were seeing about six baby snakes each day, and thinking ‘oh boy, where’s Mama?’”

Eventually, Devin wants to open a community health clinic in West Africa. He envisions a solar-powered clinic focused on sustainable community health and education that can also provide emergency medical capabilities. He views his experiences in Nepal as simultaneously good training and a valuable expansion of perspective.

“I saw how spoiled we are,” he says. “I was able to bring over pre-sterilized gauze pads and Nepali healthcare providers couldn’t believe how easy they were to use. The way they’d do it is to cut a piece of gauze, heat it to a temperature that kills bacteria, maybe rest it on dirty pants to fold it, tape it to the wound, if they even had tape. In the U.S., we have all these supplies that don’t even exist in Nepal, and we toss them into the garbage when they fall on the floor or the package doesn’t look right. We treated at least 300 people with supplies equivalent to two days worth of what we throw away here. And the mentality of receiving healthcare here is so different,” Devin continues. “They were so appreciative of every single thing we were able to do. In their eyes, it’s not our duty, and it’s not their right.”

Eye care in the Pediatric emergency room