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New VUSN students’ diverse backgrounds enhance learning

Aug. 20, 2015, 10:14 AM

From left, VUSN students Adam Stater, Seri Stoppenhagen, Lauren Thayer and Cassandra Thomas grab lunch in between sessions as part of last week’s PreSpecialty MSN orientation. (photo by Joe Howell)

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (VUSN) is welcoming 427 new students pursuing Master of Science in Nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice or Ph.D. degrees.

This year there are 140 new students who have degrees in fields other than nursing who are beginning their pursuit of an MSN degree to become an advanced practice nurse. The school admitted 13 nurses who have an associate degree in nursing to participate in the ASN to MSN program.

In addition, 164 students who have a BSN degree entered the Master of Science in Nursing program, along with 26 who already have an MSN degree and are starting post-master’s studies to add a new specialty credential. The Doctor of Nursing Program welcomed 78 new students, of whom 19 are combining their DNP studies with a post-master’s certificate. The Ph.D. program has six new incoming students.

“You each come from different backgrounds and life experiences that will enrich one another’s learning. You are making a smart investment in a nursing education and we want you to take advantage of every single class, every single clinical experience and get the most out of your program of study,” said Linda Norman, DSN, R.N., Valere Potter Menefee Professor of Nursing and dean of VUSN, to a packed audience of incoming students.

Each of the incoming students brings a unique background that will enrich the learning environment for all students, such as Alexandra Leddin, who is pursuing her MSN to become a Family Nurse Practitioner.

She has also been selected for the Vanderbilt Program in Interprofessional Learning (VPIL), where she will learn alongside medical, social work and pharmacy students.

Leddin earned a B.S. from Vanderbilt University in Human and Organizational Development in May, having also participated in the VUSN Pre-Nursing society. While an undergraduate, Leddin was selected as Ingram Scholar, a program that sponsors students who demonstrate a willingness and ability to find solutions to critical societal problems.

Chinassa Iwuoha is one of 140 VUSN students who began the school’s PreSpecialty program last week. (photo by Joe Howell)

“The Ingram Scholar program completely shaped my undergraduate experience. By working with the other students and doing 20 or more hours of community service each month, I became passionate about the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Nashville Mobile Market, so I focused my time there,” said Leddin.

During the 2014 summer break, Leddin was a Foundation for Sustainable Development intern, where she and her fellow interns worked for a local youth education and development non-governmental organization (NGO) in Udaipur, a rural area in northwest India.

“We went out into the villages with the help of a translator and surveyed local teenagers and developed a program based on the needs that they shared with us. Our goal was to do something feasible that could be sustained,” Leddin said.

The three-person team developed and co-authored a 12-month health and life curriculum for teenagers. They conducted a training seminar where they taught 32 people to teach the new curriculum. Leddin also taught English at an after-school center.

She is leaving her future plans wide open. She would like to work with uninsured individuals in a clinical setting and possibly pursue a DNP. For now, her focus is on the MSN course of study. “Vanderbilt School of Nursing is where I can thrive, not just learn.”

Yuki Fujimura ACNP, MSN, R.N., clinical manager for Thoratec Corp., a company that produces ventricular assist devices, is beginning the Doctor of Nursing Practice program. Based in Japan, she provides clinical support for the country’s 33 hospitals.

“In the past two years I have had the opportunity to experience two different cultures,” said Fujimura. “I have seen how systems, social health care, economy, cultural differences, mentality of a population can affect medicine, clinical practice and treatment of diseases from a much larger perspective. Furthering my education will allow me to become an agent of change.”

She graduated from VUSN with an MSN from the Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program. After that, she worked at Saint Thomas Heart for seven years focusing on heart failure and transplant patients as well as mechanical support of the failing heart. In June 2013, she re-located to Japan for her current position.

“My role models have inspired me to move beyond clinical practice to become an advocate for patient populations and a voice in the profession,” said Fujimura. “I want to showcase the profession of nurse practitioners in Japan and collaborate with the University of Tokyo and Vanderbilt to do a cross-cultural project.”

Fujimura is undaunted by living in Japan and attending school in Nashville. She will come to VUSN one week each semester, quite a commute.

“I chose VUSN because I was fortunate to know the best mentors at VUSN in my MSN program, and I did not want to miss the opportunity to work and learn with them again. I was also confident the school would provide me with technology that would allow me to do distant part-time learning without any problems.”

After earning a DNP, Fujimura would like to teach as well as encourage the Japanese government to bring the role of nurse practitioner to Japan.

Raymond Romano is pursuing a Ph.D. in Nursing Science at Vanderbilt to contribute to research into Alzheimer’s disease.

He has already won research awards and authored five manuscripts, including three published papers in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“The school being a member of the National Hartford Centers of Gerontological Nursing Excellence and its approach of only accepting Ph.D. applicants with specific research matches to school faculty were key factors for me coming to Vanderbilt. For me that means being mentored by Professors Lorraine Mion and Todd Monroe,” said Romano.

He first became interested in research as a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College in New York, working in a molecular biology lab. There, the work focused on the role of specific proteins on the nervous system. As a senior research student, he studied the link between insulin regulation and brain cells.

From there, Romano pursued his master’s degree in Public Health from Boston University to learn more about the role of primary care and preventive care in the U.S. health care delivery system. Upon graduation, he began a research analyst position working in the lab of Angela Jefferson, Ph.D., at Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

When Jefferson accepted a position at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Romano relocated to Nashville and continued working in Jefferson’s lab at the Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer’s Center. In this position, he contributed to the management of a large, NIH- and foundation-funded longitudinal research study.

He balanced working in the lab with pursuing his MSN in the Family Nurse Practitioner specialty via the Vanderbilt School of Nursing’s PreSpecialty component of the MSN program. He was selected to serve as a fellow for the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership, a group of students from Vanderbilt’s Divinity, Nursing, Law Schools and Peabody who work on social justice projects.

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