University graduates first gerontological nurse practitioner

Posted on
East Greenwich resident completes master’s degree

KINGSTON, R.I. – February 8, 2007 – During two-plus decades as a nurse, Donna Rondeau-Marzullo was learning on the job.

But when the University of Rhode Island introduced a new master’s program to prepare nurses as gerontological nurse practitioners, she jumped right in.

Last December, the East Greenwich resident became the first graduate of the 42-credit program.

The wife and mother of three teen-agers and full-time nurse at Roger Williams Medical Center said the two-and-half-year commitment was worth it. “It was my time to pursue this,” she said. “I wanted to become a nurse practitioner because I believed I could do a better job for the hospital.”

The University’s College of Nursing was awarded a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and launched the program in the fall of 2005. The timing could not have been better for Rondeau-Marzullo, who earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from URI in 1983.

She was already enrolled in URI’s family nurse practitioner program when the new program was announced.

“I call this serendipity because it is just what I wanted,” said the former Pawtucket resident who graduated from Tolman High School. “I was just starting my clinical rotations when the new program started.”

A nurse educator at Roger Williams while completing her degree requirements, she said the master’s degree would help her move beyond hospital work into long-term care.

She said she pursued the gerontological nursing master’s degree because her parents faced serious long-term care issues before they died.

“Older people are not a priority in this state or country, but the elderly are a great group of people. They have unique needs, and many have a list of medications and conditions a mile long.”

Whether Rhode Island likes it or not, older adults are going to become a priority. The state ranks sixth nationwide for the percentage of adults over 65 and fourth nationally for the percentage of individuals 80 and older. Until Rondeau-Marzullo earned her degree, there were just 10 gerontological nurse practitioners licensed in the state.

“Nurse practitioners have a positive impact on health care overall because they provide a comprehensive level of care that focuses on each individual,” said, Denise Coppa, URI associate professor of nursing and director of the nurse practitioner program.

Associate Nursing Dean Paula Viau said nurse practitioners provide care at the bedside and they educate. “The nurse practitioners and nurses are the ones who ensure continuity of care in long-term scenarios because the physicians and pharmacists aren’t always available. The nurse practitioner helps prevent admissions to the hospital from an extended care facility.”

Students in the program at URI get intensive instruction on geriatric assessment, diagnosis and pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment of acute and chronic health problems experienced by older adults. They also add to their nursing knowledge of nutrition, functional status, spirituality, sexuality, skin and wound care, mobility and cognitive functioning.

“It’s amazing, the breadth of this program,” Rondeau-Marzullo said. “When I went through this, I often said to myself, “I wish I knew that way back when.”

She said the program and faculty are outstanding. “I leave the program with a much better understanding of theory and practice, as well as clinical science.

This is a difficult program and you have to do a lot on your own,” she added.

Lorraine Schwartz, the lead faculty member of the program, said she is proud of Rondeau-Marzullo. “She is mature and self-motivated, and she worked very hard. She showed great determination, and studied on nights and weekends.”

Pictured above

PROUD FACULTY: University of Rhode Island College of Nursing faculty, standing, pose with Donna Rondeau-Marzullo, seated, of East Greenwich. Rondeau-Marzullo is the first graduate of URI’s nurse practitioner master’s program that focuses on gerontology. Standing from left are Associate Nursing Dean Paula Viau, Lorraine Schwartz, the lead faculty member of the program, and Associate Professor of Nursing Denise Coppa, director of the nurse practitioner program. URI News Bureau photo by Michael Salerno Photography.