May 16, 2008

Graduation 2008: Distance no obstacle for VUSN Founder’s medalist

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Dean Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., right, presents the school’s Founder’s Medal to Jane Zielinski-Carter. (photo by Neil Brake)

Graduation 2008: Distance no obstacle for VUSN Founder’s medalist

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing awarded its Founder's Medal to Jane Zielinski-Carter, who earned her degree through one of the school's newest e-Learning programs — Health Systems Management.

Zielinski-Carter has been a critical care nurse at a Level One Trauma Unit in Rockford, Ill., for more than 25 years. A single parent, her now adult son grew up with several neurological issues and in 2000, a tragic accident rendered him a paraplegic.

“When I was up there getting the award I was thinking about my son,” said Zielinski-Carter. “He inspires me every day and really was the driving force for me earning my advanced degree. We decided together that we can't do much to change his condition, but hopefully I can be an instrument for helping others.”

Zielinski-Carter continued working while earning her Master's of Science degree and was able to develop school projects geared toward what she was seeing as a nurse at St. Anthony's Medical Center and Rockford Memorial Hospital — particularly in the area of patients and alcohol use. As a nurse, she saw the effects alcohol use had on patients and thought to herself, “There's got to be a better way.”

Her capstone clinical project for St. Anthony's included developing a comprehensive approach to identifying the estimated 20 percent of hospital patients who are alcohol dependent, to help assuage medical consequences related to alcohol use. At Rockford Memorial, Zielinski-Carter focused on interventions for risky or harmful drinkers, which can represent up to 50 percent of emergency room visits related to trauma.

Zielinski-Carter viewed the online format's asynchronous scheduling as an “unexpected gift.”

She admits that she had plenty of nights where she did her homework in the middle of the night, but believes that distance learning is the only way she could have earned her degree at a high-caliber institution like Vanderbilt.

“I've had wonderful professors who set the bar very high and classmates who have enriched my learning experience,” said Zielinski-Carter.

“It's probably the hardest thing I've ever done and definitely is a life-altering experience.”

Zielinski-Carter is continuing her work at both hospitals and is pursuing opportunities in nurse management in roles that can help her enhance patient care as well as take on a larger role as a nurse advocate. In her spare time, she is a faithful audience member for her son's wheelchair basketball team.

“Earning this degree has made me excited about being a nurse again,” she said. “I just want to give back.”