UofL’s first doctoral nursing practice class marks transition to advanced clinical care at white coat ceremony

    Heather Raley, left, receives her white coat from Sara Robertson, director of the University of Louisville doctor of nursing practice program, during a ceremony on Aug. 16 at the UofL Health Sciences Center.
    Heather Raley, left, receives her white coat from Sara Robertson, director of the University of Louisville doctor of nursing practice program, during a ceremony on Aug. 16 at the UofL Health Sciences Center.

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – This year, Kennetha Porter will lead a project aimed at bolstering the self-esteem of girls receiving psychiatric care in a Louisville residential treatment facility, children who have experienced abuse or neglect.

    Porter is a student in the University of Louisville’s first doctor of nursing practice (D.N.P.) class, which will graduate in August 2019. On Aug. 16, D.N.P. students participated in a white coat ceremony marking their advancement from didactic courses to patient-focused clinical care and the beginning of their yearlong graduate projects.

    After graduation, the 36 students in the program will become nurse practitioners, an advanced practice credential and training for registered nurses who have gained expert knowledge, complex decision-making skills and clinical competencies for expanded practice.

    The doctoral program, designed for students with a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in nursing, focuses on creation and implementation of evidence-based care, management of care, leadership in health care organizations and development of health policy.

    Porter’s degree concentration is psychiatric-mental health nursing. She works at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center in La Grange, part of the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, where she provides nursing care to those facing felony charges.

    Her D.N.P. project is a group-based self-esteem enhancement program for girls in an inpatient treatment facility, a group at high risk for engaging in unsafe sex, substance use and delinquency.

    “I thought this would be a good population to focus on because they do not get a lot of attention,” Porter said. “Some have been suspended from school, in the juvenile court system or have gone through foster care. If we can intervene now, then hopefully we can give them skills to maintain self-esteem throughout their lives. Increased self-esteem has been found to decrease involvement in high-risk behaviors.” 

    Eventually, she would like to work with children who have chronic or terminal health conditions that affect the mental health of them and their families.

    “There’s a need for more mental health practitioners,” Porter said. “The UofL D.N.P. program was a great fit for me because a lot of other programs don’t offer the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner specialty for those with only a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This is the best way for me to increase access to care and help others.”

    Other advanced practice nursing specialties at UofL include adult-gerontology primary care, adult-gerontology acute care, family medicine and neonatal care.

    Education at the doctoral instead of master’s level for nurses pursuing advanced practice is increasingly becoming the norm.

    The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has pushed for this change, pointing to several reasons, including the rapid expansion of knowledge underlying practice, increased complexity of patient care and national concerns about quality of care and patient safety. Also, there are shortages of nursing leaders who can assess, design and evaluate care and quality indicators.

    UofL phased out its master’s degree nurse practitioner program and transitioned to the doctor of nursing practice in 2016.

    “D.N.P. students will graduate to become advanced practice nursing leaders who will help shape health care and health systems,” said Sara Robertson, director of the D.N.P. program and assistant professor at the UofL School of Nursing. “They are prepared to transform health care by applying the latest in evidence-based research into practice. This will improve population health and health care delivery.”

    Heather Raley, a D.N.P. student in the family nurse practitioner concentration, pursued the degree to challenge herself in advancing the nursing profession and provide evidenced-based health care to independently diagnose, treat and manage care for patients with acute and chronic illnesses.

    Raley’s graduate project will focus on impacting clinical nursing research on excessive gestational weight gain in pregnant women. She will implement an expedited and individualized education counseling intervention to promote appropriate maternal gestational weight gain through the use of patient risk assessments.

    “I hope to increase the discussion of patient-specific needs and addressing potential risk factors for inappropriate weight gain during pregnancy to improve immediate and long-term health outcomes for both mother and infant,” said Raley, a critical care float nurse at Norton Children’s Hospital.

    A native of Henderson, Ky., Raley wants to eventually return to a rural town in the western part of the state to practice in primary care with patients across the lifespan.

    “My professional interests have taken shape primarily in caring for and empowering children and families,” Raley said. “I believe health care professionals are in a unique position to influence entire family units by promoting the development of lifelong healthy habits.”