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A deeper understanding of health care

May 4, 2016

Heather Ross, receiving 2nd doctorate at ASU, seeks ways to integrate the field's clinical, social and psychological sides

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Heather Ross will be the center of a flurry of hoodingHooding at graduation recognizes success in completing a doctoral degree. The graduate has the ceremonial hood placed over the head by a faculty mentor. activity at the Arizona State University Graduate Commencement on May 9. As she receives her second doctorateRoss earned a DNP from the ASU nursing college in 2010 and joined their faculty as a clinical instructor., a PhD from ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Ross will then hood four students she mentored, each graduating with their Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) from the College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

With rapid changes in the field of health care presenting a challenge for nurses in particular, Ross seeks ways to integrate clinical, social and psychological perspectives into health care. Her research interests include implanted and wearable medical devices, person-centered care, biomedical technology innovation, and interdisciplinary teamwork in health care.

Heather Ross

Ross (left) answered a few questions about ways to empower patients and how a second doctorate has advanced her knowledge.

Question: Why did you choose ASU for your doctoral education?

Answer: Although I was born and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, I left for New England and the mid-AtlanticRoss received a bachelor’s degree at Yale and a master’s in nursing at Boston College. for 12 years and didn’t plan on returning. However, my husband joined a cardiology group in Arizona. I knew ASU had a strong nursing program, and I decided to take my nursing practice to a doctoral degree.

When I decided to get a PhD, I knew it had to be a field outside of nursing in order to answer the questions I had about policy and interdisciplinary research approaches. I really looked around at online PhDs or a program that I could commute to. Then I discovered that the Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology program was sitting here already at ASU and was exactly what I was looking for.

Q: What did you learn from your second doctoral degree?

A: Delivering health care and new health-care technologies are much more complex than our clinical experience alone allows us to examine. I want to be a bridge of communication so that people can connect fields of inquiry.

I learned to look at problems from multiple lenses — as a sociologist, as an anthropologist, an historian and as an economist. And I’m not saying that I became an expert in any one of those fields, but I learned to use those lenses to my advantage. You can’t bang on every question with the same hammer. So all of a sudden I had a whole bunch more hammers that I can use that look at the same problem from another perspective and get a really rich array of solutions.

My PhD has absolutely impacted my clinical practice in the way that I deliver health care and the way that I think about patients and their care.

For example, I did a study where patients used an app to monitor their own heart rhythm, and we found that patients did a really good job with that. Although the monitoring itself wasn’t burdensome and didn’t negatively impact their life, it didn’t actually improve on it either. We need to empower patients to act on monitored data.

Q: Is this why people wear Fitbits or other devices to track their progress?

A: Yes! A patient would never wear one if they didn’t have access to the data. One thing my research has shown is that simply monitoring and collecting data on patients does not empower them to act on the data and doesn’t provide the motivation to make lifestyle changes or improve their quality of life. As health-care providers we need to reframe our thinking. The patient is a member of the health-care team. We must act with patients, not on patients.

Q: What advice would you give someone going into the health-care field?

A: That it is incredibly complex. The policy context and the regulatory context for health-care delivery are in a state of incredible flux and transition right now. There is so much opportunity for creative thinking. For somebody who wants to become a health-care provider now, I would say that it’s no longer enough to just be good at taking care of patients. One has to be prepared to be a policy advocate and to manage complex systems and to be ready to embrace new technology. It’s exciting and challenging and it’s hard work, but there is no greater privilege than being allowed into someone’s life to help navigate the path to their best health.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would it be?

A: Forty million is not nearly enough to solve the problem of 21st-century education and living skills, but that is where I would put the money. Here’s why: In order to navigate the world, people need to be able to think in flexible ways. Our old way of education in basic subjects is no longer sufficient. The people who are going to be successful contributors to the world community are educated people who think in flexible ways.

I have been so inspired by my students. In the four years I’ve spent getting my PhD, this is the third group of students that I have hooded. It’s been such a privilege to be with these students and I am so inspired by their passion for the work that they do and the scholarly work that they have undertaken. (Some of her students have been involved in Project Honeybee, an experiment in testing wearable biosensors for clinical use before more expensive and invasive procedures become necessary.)

Q: If you have any spare time, how do you spend it?

A: I have three wonderful children who challenge me all the time, and I wish I had more time to spend with them. On the rare occasions when I have spare time, I enjoy watching people who are expert and passionate about what they do, whether it’s acting, stand-up comedy or concerts with really passionate performers.  I enjoy people engaged in their bliss.

Written by Michelle St George. Top photo: Heather Ross (center) with her DNP students at the spring 2015 Commencement. Photos courtesy of Heather Ross

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May 4, 2016

ASU grad Nate Beever finds true calling as a nurse after working in nuclear industry

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Nursing may seem like a 180-degree career change from the nuclear industry — but after pursuing a career as a quality-control specialist, ASU graduate Nate Beever reached a point where he wanted to retool. His aptitude tests showed STEMSTEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. areas were a good fit, so Beever entered nursing school in his 40s.

It does run in the family — Beever's grandmother was a nurse, and when he earned his associate’s degree, he wore her nursing pin as an homage.

“I have never felt so much job satisfaction or reward than from being a nurse. It’s phenomenal,” said Beever.

Beever will deliver the convocation speech representing Arizona State University's online RN-BSN program this spring. His daughter and wife will be on hand to celebrate as he graduates summa cum laude. But he admits, “Probably my biggest regret is that my parents aren’t alive to see it.” 

Although Beever is earning his bachelor’s degree in nursing, he has been a practicing registered nurse for well over a decade. He has worked in a number of clinical environments, but he feels most fulfilled working as a nationally certified hospice nurse, providing care to patients and their families at the end of life. 

The health-care industry has placed a great emphasis on the value of bachelor’s-prepared nurses. The American Nurses Association and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing agree that BSN nurses are better prepared to meet the demands placed on today’s nurse. Like many of his peers, returning to college as a mature adult was both challenging and rewarding for Beever.

“I was especially appreciative of those faculty who recognized that I was not a student in my 20s. My perspective was different. They welcomed my input,“ Beever said.

With the benefit of years of life experience, Beever was able to interpret his education from a broad base of real-world experience. In his classes, there were students who weren’t yet practicing nurses and others who had been practicing for many years. Beever found there were great opportunities for younger students to learn from those who had years of experience. He welcomed opportunities to share his experience and learn from others through discussions and assignments.

“It is challenging to develop relationships over seven weeks, but my hat is off to faculty who strive to create collaborative environments where students learn from each other and faculty,” he said. 

When asked about his plans after graduation, Beever said, “Nurses have to be effective teachers because this is what we do with our patients. I work in hospice care, and so much of what I do relates to educating family members about how to care for their loved ones. We are now seeing younger nurses in hospice. My hope is that I can be a resource to those nurses who are learning about their own mortality.”

Beever believes education is a personal responsibility and that anything worth doing is worth doing well. But that personal responsibility doesn’t mean going it alone. He identified some important axioms that served him well and may help others:

• Take advantage of available scholarship opportunities and investigate these resources. Surprisingly, few students pursue scholarships, and the opportunity is lost. The benefit is worth the effort.

• Reach out to your faculty. They are real people, just like you, and they truly want you to succeed.

• There will likely be a mix of experience and backgrounds among your classmates. Challenge and engage each other to hone your soft skills of collaboration and discussion. Do not be afraid to express a different opinion. Often, the voice of dissent has been the impetus for innovation.

Written by Beth Smith; top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now