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Regents' Professor blends clinical practice with research

Colleen Keller
February 15, 2012

Editor's Note: This professor profile is part of a series that looks at the achievements of seven outstanding faculty members who were named ASU Regents' Professors in 2011.

Colleen Keller has been honored for her many career accomplishments as a nursing educator and researcher. Among other honors, she has been elected as a fellow to the prestigious American Academy of Nursing and the National Academies of Practice. Her most recent honor – being named the first ASU Regents’ Professor from ASU's College of Nursing and Health Innovation – is perhaps the most satisfying, because the recognition comes from her alma mater.

The first Foundation Professor in Women’s Health (2008) and director of both the Hartford Center of Geriatric Nursing Excellence and the Center for Healthy Outcomes in Aging, Keller is among the leaders who research geriatric and racial disparities linked to specific health outcomes, such as cardiovascular health, based on evidence obtained in her clinical practice. She is an expert clinician and nationally recognized scholar who is among the few researchers whose work is being translated into the clinical setting to improve health solutions.

Keller is one of the first researchers in the nation to research health promotion among minority women. She identified the need to develop culturally appropriate interventions that are contextually based, and she devised a social support model that has been used in community interventions across the United States. She currently is principal investigator and co-investigator on two NIH R01 studies.

In reflecting on her career, Keller says that becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) after 18 years as a critical care nurse (CCRN) has been significant to her research.

“It enabled me to ‘marry’ clinical practice with my research,” she says. “I moonlighted at community health clinics for 15 years after I was certified as a NP and currently work one day each week at Maricopa Integrated Health System Women’s Health Center.”

The patients she serves at the Maricopa Integrated Health System Women’s Health Center are primarily younger Hispanic mothers to whom she provides family care, family planning and prenatal care. The new Regents’ Professor feels that the practice links to her research since Hispanic mothers are not as likely to focus on their own health after having their first baby.

“My practice is closely linked to a primary goal of my research to strengthen ethnic and racially diverse women’s decision-making about their own health,” Keller says. “Minority women with health disparities that put them at greater risk for metabolic disease, and who lack access to health care, have an inner core strength that they need to be helped to recognize.”

A nursing graduate of ASU, Keller is on her second tour of duty at ASU. She first served on the ASU nursing faculty from 1988 to 1994 before joining the School of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“I returned to ASU because the university recognizes nursing as a science and has earned a transdisciplinary reputation nationally,” she explains. “I also wanted to work with former dean Bernadette Melnyk, who made the college a trendsetter and who understood that our science goes beyond diagnosis. Now, our challenge is to make the products of our research sustainable.”

True to her nature of being different to make a difference, Keller has her own definition of geriatrics – an area in which she is dedicated to finding better health outcomes in aging as well as building geriatric nursing educator capacity through the Hartford Center of Geriatric Nursing Excellence at ASU.

“Geriatrics isn’t an age,” she says. “It is a process in the care and research that we provide to influence healthy aging behaviors across the lifespan.”

Teri Pipe, newly appointed dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, says she appreciates the difference that Keller has made at ASU.

“It is an honor and a joy to have Colleen Keller as a leader and senior faculty in the college,” Pipe says. “She is a pillar of strength on which we plan to build future research initiatives.”

Keller does not see being named a Regents’ Professor as changing her work. She plans to keep doing what she has done for 20 years: combining her clinical practice and research.

“The real value of the honor is that it opens the door for my colleagues to do the same, just as former ASU faculty Nancy Melvin and Patricia Moore did for me.”

Terry Olbrysh
Health Solutions