URI graduates first class from acute care nurse practitioner program

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KINGSTON, R.I. – January 23, 2012 – Debora Durkin, Kathleen Fava, Jennifer Ann Thiesen and Leigh Whoriskey already held master’s degrees in nursing and had extensive clinical, administrative and teaching experience.

So why were they so eager to complete the new acute care nurse practitioner post-master’s certification at the University of Rhode Island?

All four said the program has given them new skills in an increasingly complex health care environment, an additional credential for advancement and nurse management opportunities, and greater knowledge of a discipline that deals with the sickest patients.

“URI has offered the nurse practitioner program since 1975, and it only makes sense to return to URI, which has the expertise to educate and develop advanced practice nurses,” said Whoriskey, an East Providence resident who earned her master’s degree from URI in nursing administration and is part of the first cohort to complete the advanced acute care program.”

“The acute care nurse practitioner is qualified to manage a patient’s case from admission to discharge and beyond, and with this specialty, our new graduates are now equipped with advanced skills to deal with emergency and critical care,” said Denise Coppa, associate professor of nursing and director of the nurse practitioner program.

Because they already possessed master’s degrees and were certified family nurse practitioners, the four graduates only had to complete 28 credits for their certification. However, students who seek the master’s degree in the acute care program, including nine new students, must complete 43 credits. Under state law, nurse practitioners are autonomous health care professionals who provide physical assessments (checkups), diagnosis, case management, including medication management, and patient education. They are authorized to write prescriptions.

Whoriskey, who works at the Rhode Island Hospital Emergency Department, said the new URI program made perfect sense for her. “This can open more doors for me, and of course there is a great deal of satisfaction in completing something that will make me a more valuable asset in my department and in the health care arena in general. Caring for patients in an intensive care unit was a new area for me.”

Fava, a clinical specialist at Kent Hospital, previously earned her master of science in nursing education from URI.

“What attracted me to this new program was that it would allow me to have autonomy in my own practice, and be able to use my knowledge to treat patients in a comprehensive manner,” said the East Greenwich resident.

Thiesen, a resident of Portsmouth, completed her post-master’s certificate as a family nurse practitioner at URI just a year before earning the new acute care certification.

“When I went through the family nurse practitioner program, it opened my eyes to the role of advanced practice nurses in delivering individualized, caring treatment,” Thiesen said. “I had a chance to speak with so many people directly under my care. The critical care program helped us make the connection between health education and critical care.”

Rebecca Carley, clinical assistant professor of nursing, said acute care nurse practitioners have a broad spectrum of responsibilities and that national studies have shown the effectiveness of the model.

“Research shows that when acute care nurse practitioners manage patient care, there are fewer injuries and need for re-admission after patients are initially discharged,” Carley said.

Durkin, a resident of Peace Dale and a nurse practitioner who works in the internal medicine inpatient service at Rhode Island Hospital, said the program helped build her range of skills.

“If, as we expect, there is a national trend toward using certified nurse practitioners for primary care in acute care settings, it will be important to have the appropriate credentials,” she said.

“It was worth it, and we were always learning something new,” Durkin said of the URI program. “The time commitment was challenging, but it is certainly doable. I did clinical work in an emergency room, and it was eye opening since I have never provided care in such an environment.”

Durkin said all of her URI nursing experiences have been excellent, including earning her bachelor’s degree.

“The undergraduate education that I got gave me a solid base with which to start my practice,” Durkin said. “It’s a tough program, and still is. I teach an undergraduate class now and you see the young students struggling with the challenges and that is good. I know in the end their efforts will pay off.”

All of the graduates agreed that the URI acute care program provides benefits that extend well beyond the clinical aspects of patient care.

“All of the faculty are willing to mentor the students,” Fava said. “Because the URI faculty is so committed to our success, I believe I will be supported in this role forever. They are all professionals with their own practices. When you mention their names on a unit, you immediately learn how much respect they command.”

“The faculty members really respected all of our experiences and expertise,” Thiesen said.

Director Coppa said such an approach is only natural for faculty who view collaboration and lifelong learning as central parts of their mission.

“Why wouldn’t we want to learn from our students because we all benefit when we share our knowledge? In addition, we expect these new graduates to serve as mentors to new candidates. By modeling that behavior, we demonstrate the importance of collaboration in professional development and most importantly, improved patient care.”

John Kenna, URI clinical assistant nursing professor and coordinator of the acute care option within the nurse practitioner program, who is also an acute care nurse practitioner in the neurological intensive care unit at Rhode Island Hospital, said if he were ill or injured, he would want to be treated by the four new graduates.

“They have great preparation, and I know they are going to be leaders in acute health care,” Kenna said.

He said acute care is an umbrella term for a wide range of health care. It includes emergency practice, intensive care, sub-acute care, cardiac catheterization and surgery.

“John has already been preparing us to educate the next generation of acute care nurse practitioners,” Thiesen said. “He is helping us mentor and support them.”

Pictured above

CELEBRATING SUCCESS: Denise Coppa, associate professor of nursing and director of the nurse practitioner program at the University of Rhode Island, at left, John Kenna, URI clinical assistant nursing professor and coordinator of the acute care option within the nurse practitioner program, pose with recent graduates of the program from left, Leigh Whoriskey, Kathleen Fava and Jennifer Ann Thiesen. Fellow graduate Debora Durkin was unavailable for the photo. URI Photo by Michael Salerno.