Early in 2015, UAA made available a doctoral degree enabling nurse practitioners not only to provide better care for patients but to grow leadership roles in system-wide health-care decisions.
Four women became the first students accepted into UAA’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program and, 15 months later, accepted diplomas at UAA’s fall commencement last month.
“Even in 2005 when I started getting my master’s, there was discussion in the literature about the DNP being required for entry into advanced practice,” said Robin Bassett, who, along with Leigh Keefer, Jill Rife and Jyll Green, was one of those inaugural four UAA DNP graduates.
Leigh Keefer grew up in “outer Wasilla”, the daughter of parents who raised her in a subsistence lifestyle—they lived in a cabin and had to haul water, caught and ate their own salmon, and grew their own vegetables to sell at Anchorage’s Saturday market.
Sports and activity have always played a key role in Keefer’s life. She played volleyball and basketball for Palmer High School and later played volleyball for UAA while completing her undergraduate studies. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing science in 2004 and focused her master’s thesis on the nurse practitioner’s role in the management of pediatric obesity; she earned her master’s degree in 2011.
Helping people lead healthy lives is the key to providing quality health care at a reasonable cost, Keefer said. Someone who exercises regularly and eats proper amounts of nutritious foods is better able to handle stress and less likely to visit a doctor or emergency room for preventable ailments.
Her DNP research focused on how to implement and evaluate a prescribed exercise program.
Jill Rife received her bachelor’s degree in nursing science at Colorado Mesa University before earning her M.S. in nursing at UAA. She worked as a family nurse practitioner for six years, at a Soldotna physician’s practice, before seeking her DNP at UAA. Her DNP research focused on implementing shared medical appointments (SMAs) as a more cost-effective and productive way of managing cardiovascular disease risk in patients with metabolic syndrome. SMAs include a one-on-one examination from a health-care provider and a group session in which participants help and support each other in achieving health goals.
Jyll Green obtained her bachelor’s degree in nursing at the Mennonite College of Nursing in Bloomington, Ill., before moving to San Francisco and then to Alaska to work as a traveling nurse with Providence Alaska Medical Center and in the emergency rooms and intensive care units of Providence and Alaska Regional Hospital. She also worked as a flight nurse for LifeFlight and Aeromed.
In 2004, Green earned a UAA M.S. in nursing, becoming a family nurse practitioner after conducting research into the outcomes of gastric bypass surgery.
“Going to school at UAA and meeting the instructors there really tapped me into the community of nursing and health care in Alaska,” Green said, in a previous interview. “Oddly a lot of the people who did my clinical rotations have retired and it’s amazing to see that they’re referring their clients back to see me—their student from 2002.”
Two years later, Green opened myHealth Clinic.
“I looked back on my essay for why I was going to UAA and I had written that I really wanted to work with an underserved population,” she said in a previous interview about myHealth Clinic, which provides care to more than 7,500 patients. Green’s clinical interests are family practice and immediate care, with a special focus on hypertension, diabetes management and travel medicine.
A key aspect of Green’s DNP work involved studying how to reduce recidivism in Alaska through early access to extended-release injectable Naltrexone—a drug also known as Vivitrol. A monthly injection of the drug stops a person’s cravings for opioids and alcohol, and a person who uses opioids or liquor while on the drug will not get high.
Back in 1987, Robin Bassett was paying her way through college. Going into her senior year, she needed help with tuition.
“I had to come up with $400 a quarter; you pay more often and it’s a little bit more of a pain because you had a shorter time frame,” she said. “I went to a beauty pageant (in Georgia). This was the land of hair and makeup and beauty queens—I just wanted to be a nurse! But I won, and got my tuition paid for.”
She married an Army officer and moved all over the country before settling in Alaska, earning her master’s degree in nursing and becoming a nurse practitioner and public health officer for the Alaska Native Medical Center.
Doctors she used to work for, in a matter of a couple of years were asking her advice on nephrology, protecting people’s kidneys.
“Which was Twilight Zone-ish!” she said. “You know you arrived when doctors call to get your advice. Along the way, I would have doctors that would have read my notes, told me my notes were the most complete, most helpful, and I really credit UAA for that.”
For years, Bassett talked to new nurse practitioner students about their chosen profession.
“I’d explain why I wanted UAA to create this DNP program,” she said. “This is the way health care is going. Everyone is needing advanced degrees. In the future, everyone who participates on your health-care team is going to have doctorates. I want to be on par with all my colleagues who are caring for patients. When they came out with the DNP program, I thought, heck, how can I not jump at the chance to be in the first class when I’ve been the poster child for UAA getting this done.”
Bassett’s DNP research highlighted a continuous quality-improvement project for systems change in the treatment of acute kidney injuries.
“The improvement of kidney care, the development of tools people could use to identify and treat acute kidney disease—I wouldn’t have done it if not for the push of the program to organize what I wanted to do, write it up, implement it.”
Written by Tracy Kalytiak, University of Alaska Anchorage