Only one percent of the nation’s nurses earn such a degree, yet this year a record four nurses at Memorial Sloan Kettering reached this highest level of educational achievement.
Research and clinical trials are key to patient care, and Dennis Graham, a nurse practitioner and Clinical Program Director, has long worked with Memorial Sloan Kettering physicians and nurses to improve safety for patients undergoing surgery and other treatments for many types of cancer. This spring he further enhanced his research credentials by earning a Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc) degree from Columbia University. “The training focused on clinical rather than theoretical issues, and it’s helped me think about better ways to gather evidence that will improve patient care,” he said. In August, Dr. Graham traveled to an international conference on cancer nursing in Singapore to present the results of a study measuring quality of life after gastric cancer surgery on which he was the principal investigator. “A doctorate is not a requirement for being a principal investigator, but it certainly helps,” he explained.
Nurses with doctoral degrees are still relatively rare, and at Memorial Sloan Kettering four nurses achieved this educational milestone in 2008. That raises the number of nurses with doctorates to ten, out of nearly 1,700 nurses on staff. Their achievement reflects the growing need for nurses with the most advanced degrees, who will be able to move the profession forward in step with technological and scientific advances such as complex drug regimens, stem cell transplants, and the ongoing care of cancer survivors. “This is all about raising the bar in nursing care,” said Elizabeth McCormick, Executive Director of Nursing at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “These nurses will play leadership roles in growing the profession.”
David Rice, for example, Clinical Program Manager for bone marrow transplant services, wanted to expand his role as a research nurse practitioner focused on patients undergoing stem cell transplants. He chose the PhD program at the University of Utah College of Nursing because it is the only school to offer a nursing doctorate in cancer research. Classes are conducted via live teleconferencing, which allowed Dr. Rice to remain in New York during most of his studies. His dissertation, on the role of immune system proteins in transplants of a patient’s own stem cells, dovetailed with his role at Memorial Sloan Kettering. “My training, coupled with my current position, will now allow me to contribute even more in the realms of quality assessment and performance improvement in the care of transplant patients,” he observed.
The goal of Pamela Ginex, a clinical research nurse in ambulatory thoracic surgery, is to further the education of nurses. That interest led her to Teachers College at Columbia University, which offers the only Doctor of Education (EdD) degree in Nursing in the US. “I plan to teach one day and was impressed with the combination of research focus and a strong educational component at Teachers College,” she said. Dr. Ginex’s dissertation focused on smoking cessation. Since receiving her degree she has applied for a grant to do research in cancer survivorship.
In 2008, Ambulatory Nurse Leader Lorraine McEvoy earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. For her dissertation, Dr. McEvoy developed an educational methodology that applies deliberate practice theory to advancing clinical nursing expertise in the care and management of oncology patients. (Deliberate practice theory holds that the development of an expert in any field requires consistent practice.) In March, as part of her dissertation, Dr. McEvoy presented a three-day program at the Memorial Sloan Kettering called “Advancing Expertise in the Care of Elderly Cancer Patients.” The program — a pilot study to measure the effectiveness of the teaching methodology — had 15 enrollees and was repeated in September, with 25 nurses. “Because the nursing workforce is aging, we will lose experienced nurses to retirement over the next 15 years,” Dr. McEvoy elaborated. “I’m working to develop methods to train novice nurses for a time when there will be fewer experienced nurses available to help them achieve a high level of expertise.”
“The advancement of nursing education is essential for the delivery of healthcare now and in the future,” concluded Dr. Rice, “and Memorial Sloan Kettering has a long history of support for both continuing nursing education and formal education in matriculated programs. By providing tuition reimbursement, mentorship, and flexible work schedules, the Center demonstrates its ongoing commitment to advancing nursing care through nursing science.”