|NEWSRoom | Source: Anne Baublitz|
From Nurse Practitioner Education to Animal Research Education: Teaching Across the Field
Like so many of her colleagues, Yolanda Lang, MSN, CRNP, Dr. PH, decided to become a nurse practitioner because she wanted to be directly involved with patients. Knowing the importance of face-to-face contact and the difference it can make in a person’s recovery, she also wanted to have the time to listen and educate not only her patients, but their families as well. Today, Yolanda accomplishes these goals not only through her hands-on work as an NP, but also in the classroom and in the clinical setting as a nursing instructor. Sharing her knowledge and experience with her patients, students and colleagues, Yolanda experiences the best of both the clinical and the educational worlds.
Yolanda divides her time between her patients and her students. She has worked as a Nurse Practitioner at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for over 20 years and, for the past three years, has been an instructor in the Acute and Tertiary Care department, where she teaches clinical sophomore students. Additionally, Yolanda is also an instructor in Waynesburg College’s RN to BSN and RN to MSN programs where she teaches physical assessment, community nursing, theory and reasoning, advanced pathophysiology and pharmacology.
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Yolanda also assists with the enrollment and monitoring of employees associated with research animal use. “As an NP, I currently am responsible for the preventative and accident care of the researchers who are involved in active animal research,” she explains.
Yolanda first became involved in animal research approximately three years ago. After the September 11th attacks, research programs were examined to make sure programs were in place to evaluate and protect the employees involved in research. Yolanda was asked to work with the University of Pittsburgh to formalize their program. Explaining that she was “recruited” into the program, Yolanda is excited about being part of a field that is growing so rapidly.
The Animal Surveillance Program was developed jointly with the University of Pittsburgh to ensure all employees with potential animal exposure receive medical evaluation by Yolanda and are not placed into an environment that may negatively impact the employee. The program investigates the employee’s previous history of animal research and any allergic symptoms as well as his or her vaccination history and knowledge and usage of Personal Protective Equipment. Currently, the program has more than 5,000 employees, and it is constantly expanding to include new members.
Yolanda is also actively involved in the evaluation and treatment of each exposure. If an employee receives a scratch, bite or mucous membrane exposure from any research animal, he or she must report to Yolanda’s office for basic wound and injury treatment as well as serum and wound-site collections. Depending on the wound and the animal, the evaluation may also require follow-up evaluation and treatment. Among the most common injuries she sees are bites from lab mice and scratches from the primates.
Although Yolanda is not involved in any research of her own at this moment, she is in the process of sending follow-up questionnaires to employees who initially indicated allergy related symptoms, possibly from their exposure to the research animals, but who still work with the animals every day. She explains that she is not sure exactly what direction this new endeavor will take yet, but is sure it will be exciting and challenging.
As the field of animal research continues to expand and grow, Yolanda is always available to answer questions and consult with other animal research centers. “Our program is one of only a few in the United States, and we have over twenty different species of animals,” she says. Yolanda is also excited about the opening of another Bio Science Center tower at the University of Pittsburgh. The new facility, The Thomas Starzl Tower, which opened in May, will allow the animal research program to grow and accommodate several different state-of-the-art projects and animal species. The tower will increase the number of projects as well as the number of employees who will need to be enrolled in the Animal Surveillance Program.
According to Yolanda, one the most challenging aspects of her role involves working with the many different scientists and physicians who develop new research avenues using a wide variety of different organisms and species. “I constantly do research to investigate if something can be passed to humans from animals and visa versa,” she says, “and I need to know how to protect both the employees and the animals.” She explains that exchange of information can sometimes be difficult due to a language barrier between the employees and herself. The language barrier makes it difficult to determine if the employees understand the work environment and possible exposure information she is teaching.
In addition to the barriers Yolanda encounters, she confronts challenges in the classroom as a nursing instructor. Like any other teacher, her goal is to convey the required course information to her students in the most interesting ways possible. “The biggest challenges are to make the courses needed for BSN and MSN exciting to nurses and to make sure the adult students understand the need for the courses that do not have a major emphasis on nursing,” she says.
Although finding the most pertinent information and presenting it in such a way that her students are eager to learn can sometimes be challenging, Yolanda knows how great the rewards are when students become enthusiastic about learning. She explains, “The young students are so impressionable that when a new procedure is completed or when a patient responds to an intervention, they are amazed.” For Yolanda, seeing their reactions and fielding their questions is one of the best parts of her job.
After twenty years of working as a nurse practitioner, Yolanda has witnessed several dramatic changes in the field of nursing, and especially in the occupational health field. Saying that the field has changed a great deal since when she first began, she observes, “As healthcare and medicine change, so has the role of the NP.” One change she notes involves the shifting trend from a doctor providing all of a patient’s care to nurse practitioners gaining greater involvement. “I have observed the NP becoming the primary caregiver in many situations which in the past would have been reserved for a physician,” she says. “Today, the NP takes care of admitting patients, maintaining his or her own caseload of inpatients in acute hospitals and cares for patients in extended care facilities.”
Although Yolanda believes each of these changes has been positive and lead toward greater autonomy, responsibility and independence for nurse practitioners, she also notes one disconcerting trend that accompanies the changing NP role. “I have observed one change that has made me a little apprehensive,” she says, “and that is the acceptance of RNs into the MSN program to become NPs without the clinical background I believe is necessary to make independent and correct decisions regarding a patient’s care.” Yolanda explains that because of this change, she has altered some of her teaching strategies and the material she includes in her classes. “My concern has made me change my teaching of students, whether freshmen or RNs working towards their Master’s, to include more patient scenarios and to ask constantly, ‘if you were the person in charge of this patient’s care, what would you order or prescribe?’” she says.
Fearing less practical, hands-on education, she works towards developing critical thinking skills in her students, regardless of their current educational endeavors. “The limitations of clinical practice sites during the educational process are a concern,” she says. “The current NP students must compete with residents, interns, medical students and others for the one-on-one clinical practicum which is so vital to the feeling of confidence and ability to practice autonomously.”
Driven by her desire to see nurses and nurse practitioners at all levels achieve greater successes in both classrooms and in clinical settings, Yolanda remains excited about her career and is eager to pass her enthusiasm on to others. And, as she continues to be involved in not only the educational process, but in the research and hands-on aspects of nursing as well, she hopes to continue to see steady growth and development in all aspects of the field not only today, but well into the future.
Yolanda C. Lang, MSN, CRNP, Dr. PH, received her degree in nursing from Shadyside Hospital School of Nursing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She then went on to earn her BSN from La Roche College in Pittsburgh and her MSN–CRNP as an Adult Nurse Practitioner from the University of Pittsburgh. She also received her MeD in Adult Education from Pennsylvania State University and her Dr. PH in Health Service Administration from the University of Pittsburgh. Today, she works as an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, teaching clinical freshman students, and at Waynesburg College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, teaching in both the RN to BSN and RN to MSN nursing programs.
Anne Baublitz is a freelance writer from Glen Rock, Pennsylvania. She is on the editorial staff of NEWS-Line for Nurse Practitioners.
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