Vital Record » Nursing Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:58:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Health Science Center offers new programs to increase the diversity of the health care workforce in Texas Wed, 08 Apr 2015 13:24:02 +0000 College of Medicine and College of Nursing start new programs with the help of grants from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board]]>

Having a more diverse health care workforce isn’t just a lofty goal. Numerous studies – including one by the Institute of Medicine – have documented that patients from minority communities do better when they are treated by health care professionals with similar backgrounds.

photo of minority student

The Texas A&M College of Medicine and College of Nursing have both started new programs designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented communities who apply to medical and nursing school.

That is why the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and College of Nursing have both started new programs they hope will help increase the diversity of the health care workforce in Texas. Both programs have been funded by grants from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

The College of Medicine has started a three-part program it calls the Aggie Doctor Initiative. This initiative is designed to help prospective medical students at key stages in their academic careers: their first year of college, the medical school application process, and their first year of medical school.

The initiative launched last fall with the selection of 25 first-year undergraduate students at Texas A&M University who are participating in an existing program called the FOCUS Learning Community, which is designed to help support low-income students or those who are the first in their families to attend college.

Each of these students was paired with a current Texas A&M medical student who has a similar background. In the fall, the students all took the same chemistry class as well as a common seminar class to help them prepare for exams. The program has also made science tutors and supplemental instruction available for those who want them.

“First-year undergraduate students on a pre-med track face a schedule packed with classes such as chemistry, biology and statistics,” said David McIntosh, assistant dean for diversity at the College of Medicine and director of the Aggie Doctor Initiative. “We lose so many students in that first year.”

After just one semester, McIntosh said the benefits were clear as the program’s inaugural students performed much better in their first semester than pre-med students have done in the past.

“We even had two students earn a 4.0 grade point average,” he said, also noting that the group of students has formed a unique bond, which should provide support as they continue their undergraduate education.

This spring, McIntosh began offering some medically relevant experiences for the undergraduates, such as a suture clinic taught by medical school students. Participants also are shadowing physicians at Health for All, a nonprofit medical clinic in Bryan, and have had the opportunity to work with Mark Sicilio, M.D., a practicing pediatrician and the interim chair of the Humanities Department in the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

“We hope some of these students will attend the Texas A&M College of Medicine, but we will be happy to see them attend any medical school,” McIntosh said. “Some of them will be highly sought after.”

While the first year of college is a pivotal time for all students, sophomores and juniors interested in entering into medicine can still benefit from the Aggie Doctor Initiative through a program called Pre-Med Fellows, which accepted its first 10 participants last fall.

The Pre-Med Fellows program also provides mentoring, as well as an MCAT prep course, a seminar on preparing medical school applications, and the opportunity to sit in on some classes at the College of Medicine. Students who complete the Pre-Med Fellows program and earn a score of 27 on the MCAT will be guaranteed admission into the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

Finally, for students entering their first year of medical school, the initiative is launching MedCamp, which will welcome its first 25 participants this summer. These participants will be selected from among applicants who have expressed an interest in remediating healthcare disparities in Texas. These students will have the opportunity to arrive on campus a month early so they can participate in a variety of social and academic activities designed to acclimatize them to life as a medical student.

“In medical school, students have tests every two weeks that cover about as much material as they would have had in a whole semester as undergraduates,” McIntosh said. “Even students who have been high-achieving their entire lives sometimes hit a bump in the road when they get here.”

Students participating in MedCamp will be connected with four mentors to help them as they start medical school – a staff mentor, a clinical faculty mentor, a science faculty member and a mentor who is a second-year medical student.

The College of Medicine received funding from the THECB to run the Aggie Doctor Initiative for two years. After that, McIntosh hopes to secure additional funds to keep the program going and make it available to even more students.

The College of Nursing is using the grant it received from the THECB to develop a program to recruit and retain more nurses from South Texas, specifically Hidalgo County, which is the poorest county in the United States. The goal of the program is to expand the Hispanic nurse workforce, since this is the most underrepresented racial/ethnic group among the registered nurses, with only about 6 percent nationwide.

The college is partnering with South Texas College, the South Texas Health System and the McAllen Independent School District to identify potential candidates beginning as early as middle school who have an interest in the field of nursing. The program, which will leverage the college’s presence at the Texas A&M Health Science Center McAllen campus, will include workshops to talk about careers in nursing and offer application assistance to prospective students.

Jodie Gary, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nursing who is directing the initiative, said the college hopes to double its enrollment of Hispanic students within the next two years. Gary thinks one program that might be particularly appealing to students in the area is the college’s R.N. to B.S.N. program that can be completed online.

“South Texas has fewer nurses with bachelor’s degrees than other parts of the state,” Gary said. “Studies have shown a positive correlation between level of education and patient outcomes, so this is something we can do that will really make an impact in that area.”

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Health Science Center announces 2015 Commencement ceremonies, speakers Tue, 07 Apr 2015 19:19:38 +0000 State and national healthcare leaders will address students graduating in medicine, nursing, public health, pharmacy and dentistry]]>

The Texas A&M Health Science Center will host its 2015 commencement ceremonies in May at locations across the state.14335732762_d3357a9745_k

The first ceremony will take place on Friday, May 8, when the College of Nursing holds its commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. in Rudder Auditorium on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station. The featured speaker will be Janelle Shepard, B.S.N., M.B.A., senior director of care transitions for the Texas Health Alliance and a member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Commencement ceremonies for the College of Medicine and the School of Public Health will be held in Rudder Auditorium on Saturday, May 9. The ceremony for School of Public Health graduates will begin at 9 a.m. and will feature James F. Sallis, Ph.D., distinguished professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego and director of Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Sallis is one of the world’s most cited authors in the social sciences, and has been featured in Time magazine as one of the four most effective scientists currently working to address America’s obesity problem.

The ceremony for College of Medicine graduates will begin at 2 p.m. and will feature Geoffrey Ling, M.D., Ph.D., founding director of the Biological Technologies Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Ling has launched several well-publicized projects at DARPA, including the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, which is trying to develop a robotic human arm, and the PREVENT program, which focuses on blast-induced traumatic brain injury (TBI). Prior to joining DARPA, Ling was an Army doctor and a professor of neurology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He is considered to be the Army’s premier subject matter expert on TBI and was one of the doctors who treated U.S. Sen. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in 2011.

Thomas Menighan, Sc.D., MBA, executive vice president and CEO of the American Pharmacists Association, will be the featured speaker at the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy’s commencement ceremony, which will be held on Saturday, May 23, at 2 p.m. in the Steinke Physical Education Center in Kingsville. Menighan has founded several pharmacy-related companies, including SynTegra Solutions Inc., SymRx Inc., and©.

Maxine Fienberg, D.D.S., president of the American Dental Association, will be the featured speaker at the commencement ceremony for the Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry, which will be held on Wednesday, May 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.

Admission to all commencement ceremonies is free and does not require a ticket. For additional information, visit the Texas A&M University commencement website.

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The pressure is on: Disaster Day teaches students how to work together in an emergency Mon, 30 Mar 2015 19:57:02 +0000 More than 400 students from colleges throughout the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Blinn College participated in the 2015 edition of Disaster Day, an annual exercise designed to give future health care professionals experience working together in an emergency]]>

A rapidly moving wildfire had been making its way toward Bryan/College Station and finally hit around 2 a.m. It came from the south and engulfed two out of the three hospitals in the area. To make matters worse, winds sparked a fire in a gas tanker that was filling up a local gas station, causing a massive explosion that struck unsuspecting students standing outside a nearby high school.

Fortunately, at a local church, a team of about 200 medical professionals is standing by to help.


More than 400 future health care professionals participated in the 2015 Disaster Day.

This was the scenario as students from colleges throughout the Texas A&M Health Science Center prepared to take part in the 2015 edition of Disaster Day, an annual exercise designed to give future health care professionals experience working together in an emergency. The event – which is one of the largest disaster simulations in the country – is planned and executed by students in the Texas A&M College of Nursing, with guidance from faculty members. The scenario was replayed in both the morning and afternoon to give as many students as possible the opportunity to participate.

In all, more than 400 future health care professionals participated in the event this year, including students from the Texas A&M College of Medicine, College of Nursing, School of Public Health and Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, as well as nursing and radiology students from Blinn College. Approximately 700 community volunteers also participated, including about 200 high school students from Bryan and College Station.

The students gathered at Central Baptist Church in College Station, which in real life has been designated as an emergency relief center for Brazos County in the event of an emergency. Inside the church’s auxiliary building, rows of cots were neatly arranged in lettered rows and a pharmacy station was set up in the middle.

At the beginning of the exercise, the students all lined up against the walls to hear the scenario. Then they divided into teams and went to work treating volunteers who served as patients, all of whom were realistically made up to appear injured. Some patients were so convincing it was hard to tell it was just an exercise.

In Pod 1, first-year nursing student Micah Rimmer was part of a team that headed first to attend to a middle-aged woman who was having trouble breathing. Rimmer checked her pulse, while other members of the team took the woman’s blood pressure and temperature and checked her heart. The team administered oxygen to the woman and asked if there was anyone they could call for her.

On the next bed, a woman was lying down and holding her head as she screamed in pain. Her face was covered in soot. The team decided to order an EKG and gave her some Tylenol to help with the pain.

Suddenly, over in Pod 3 came a cry of “Code Blue,” one of five life-or-death cases the team working in that area had to deal with right off the bat, in addition to a woman giving birth. Despite performing CPR on the patient for 15 minutes, they lost him.

“He had intestinal bleeding and needed surgery, which we couldn’t provide,” explained Laurelyn Kramer, a senior nursing student who was taking part in her second Disaster Day exercise.

After administering CPR to the bleeding patient, Kramer’s team turned its attention to a firefighter who had come in with burns on his arm and was dizzy and weak. His blood pressure was low and his eyes had black circles under them from lack of sleep. The team also put him on oxygen and gave him some Tylenol.

On the next row over, a young girl was sitting on a cot with a fractured ankle. Kramer put her ankle in a splint and told the girl to go home, elevate the leg, and put ice on it. She told the girl she will need to go get a cast on the ankle in a few days once the crisis has passed. Kramer found some crutches for the girl and made sure she knew how to use them before she was discharged.

No sooner had the girl hobbled away on crutches than a woman with a burned hand walked in crying and in a panic because her friend was missing. A nursing student poured alcohol onto a gauze bandage and wrapped the hand, while another student went to try and find the woman’s friend.

The exercise went on for an hour and a half, during which each team had the opportunity to treat at least three patients. By the end of the exercise, trashcans scattered around the room were overflowing with gloves, used paper sheets and bandage packaging.

“This was a great experience,” said Micah Rimmer, the first-year nursing student who was working in Pod 1. Rimmer admitted to being anxious at the beginning of the exercise, but said it should help him when he gets to his coursework on acute care.

“No one died in our pod, so I couldn’t have done too badly,” he said.

Francis Onyebuchi, a third-year medical student who worked in Pod 3, said the exercise showed him how mentally prepared medical professionals need to be to work in such a crisis situation. “I was so stressed it was hard to think,” he said.

Onyebuchi said the exercise helped him learn the importance of communication and teamwork.

“Team management is what keeps patients alive,” he said.


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From emergency room to courtroom: Meeting the need for forensic nurses in Texas Thu, 05 Feb 2015 17:59:51 +0000 As first responders to victims of interpersonal violence, including sexual abuse, domestic violence and child and elder abuse, forensic nurses provide specialized care and consolation, collect and preserve evidence and give testimony that can be used in a court of law to convict perpetrators. Ultimately, forensic nurses bridge the gap between medicine and the administration of justice. But despite their important role and the high rates of rape and domestic violence in Texas, there is a shortage of forensic nurses]]>
woman with a black eye crying

In Texas, the bridge between health care and the criminal justice system is being built by nurses.

“I’ll go, if you go.”

And just like that, five words forever changed Trisha Sheridan’s mission in life. Sheridan, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing and one of the few practicing certified forensic nurses in the Brazos Valley, started her nursing career working as a women’s health nurse practitioner in a small clinic in Washington. The patient that uttered those five simple, yet life-changing, words was a victim of rape and asked that Sheridan accompany her to the hospital for a medical examination.

“I can still vividly remember arriving to the emergency room with the patient to find that there was no forensic nurse on staff; and while there was a nurse who had been trained to collect a ‘rape kit,’ she had not been trained to do the pelvic exam,” Sheridan said. “I was horrified. It was then that I realized that my true calling in life was to make a difference in the lives of such victims of abuse.”

Now Sheridan and others at the Texas A&M College of Nursing are looking to change the lives of countless patients and future nurses through a first-of-its kind Department of Forensic Nursing in Texas. As first responders to victims of interpersonal violence, including sexual abuse, domestic violence and child and elder abuse, forensic nurses provide specialized care and consolation, collect and preserve evidence and give testimony that can be used in a court of law to convict perpetrators. Ultimately, forensic nurses bridge the gap between medicine and the administration of justice.

Unfortunately, as Sheridan learned all too well, there are simply not enough forensic nurses to address patient needs when, for example, Texas has some of the highest rates of child abuse and sexual assault in the country. In fact, statewide statistics in the areas directly impacted by forensic nurses are absolutely staggering:

  • One rape is committed each hour in Texas with over 8,000 per year reported.  The reported rate was 35.3 sexual assaults for every 100,000 Texans with an underreported rate of 50 percent.
  • Each year more than 65,000 cases of child abuse are confirmed in Texas. The state’s proximity to the border also increases its rate of victims of sex trafficking.

That’s why Texas A&M Health Science Center is seeking state support to advance efforts that would bring more forensic nurses to Texas. The college’s long-term vision includes providing specialized training of nurses on sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, elder mistreatment, death investigation, corrections, and nursing in the aftermath of mass disasters.

The college currently offers an online forensic nursing course, but plans to expand its offerings to include a post-baccalaureate certification in forensic nursing, as well as continuing education to help S.A.N.E. nurses keep their certification. Additionally, the college plans to add a unique master’s degree that would focus on four areas of study: sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and elder mistreatment.

“Nurses may offer the only opportunity some victims have to escape violent situations,” said Nora Montalvo-Liendo, an assistant professor who will lead the domestic violence component of the new degree program. “By educating our students, we are equipping communities with health care professionals prepared to not only to recognize signs of violence, but help victims seek help in meaningful, effective ways.”

Currently, no such program exists in Texas and there are only about a dozen such programs in the country.

“Forensic nursing is a powerful resource for anti-violence efforts,” said Sharon Wilkerson, Ph.D., RN, CNE, ANEF, dean of the Texas A&M College of Nursing. “Not only are we seeking to educate our students about data collection and preservation of evidence, we want to prepare nurses to treat the physical and mental trauma associated with victims of violence, and communicate their experiences as expert medical witnesses. There are simply not enough forensic nurses in this state, and we want to change that.”

As part of its 2016-2017 appropriations request to the Texas Legislature, the health science center is requesting funding to develop a comprehensive statewide initiative that – in addition to advancing forensic nursing degree offerings – would drive a continuing education program for all Emergency Department nurses as mandated by Texas law. Additionally, the initiative would include a program to work with community partners, such as law enforcement, educators, medical professionals, and advocates, to recognize at-risk populations and provide educational opportunities to stop the cycle of violence. The requested appropriations would support training programs, outreach to remote locations, web-based training modules, specialized diagnostic equipment, and support personnel to advance the initiative.

Creation of a statewide forensic nursing department is of particular interest to Texas A&M Health Science Center Chief Executive Officer Brett P. Giroir, M.D., who began his career as a pediatric critical care specialist, and frequently treated cases of severe child abuse that often led to permanent disability or even death.

“Emergency rooms and pediatric intensive care units across the country treat a staggering number of young abuse victims,” Giroir said. “As physicians, our primary focus must be stabilizing the patient, but we are all keenly aware that the damage done is not limited to physical issues. The nurses on our health care team serve as an invaluable resource to these patients, their loved ones, and officials investigating the case by offering unparalleled care, support, guidance, and information from the moment the patient arrived until the case is resolved.”

While a comprehensive department of forensic nursing is the end goal, Sheridan and Giroir’s experiences confirm the urgent need for additional forensic nurses on the frontlines. Therefore, faculty members in the College of Nursing have already started developing curriculum for the new academic programs to present to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“One of the tenants of Texas A&M Health Science Center is to train the highest quality, most compassionate health care providers in the nation, who in addition are leaders within their professions,” Giroir said. “I couldn’t think of a more appropriate description for future graduates of these forensic nurse programs – compassionate leaders.”

Wilkerson said the college’s goal in this area is simple, yet profound: to provide compassionate patient-centered care and give law enforcement accurate information to pursue perpetrators.

“It is this crossroads of health and justice where forensic nurses can make a difference,” Wilkerson said. “We want to equip the state with advocates against violence and agents of care – that’s an invaluable resource for all Texans.”

Find out what forensic nursing is all about in this short Q&A.

View our infographic about the forensic nursing profession.

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Planning Disaster Day gives students a chance to learn valuable leadership skills Fri, 16 Jan 2015 14:03:52 +0000 Disaster Day prepares students for a challenge they may encounter during their health careers, teaching them how to handle a high volume of patients and communicate effectively in a high-stakes environment

Disaster Day prepares students for a challenge they may encounter during their health careers, teaching them how to handle a high volume of patients and communicate effectively in a high-stakes environment.

Organizing an event with 800 participants is a monumental fete. But it’s even more of a fete for seniors in the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing who are balancing lectures, exams and clinical hours, all while planning Disaster Day, one of the largest disaster simulations in the country.

Now in its eighth year, Disaster Day is a completely student-run and organized event. The College of Nursing created the event to help students gain hands-on experience responding to a mass casualty disaster. Each year, a new scenario is chosen to enable students to test their emergency response skills outside the classroom. The scenario is kept secret until the day of the event in order to provide a more realistic simulation. The 2015 Disaster Day has been set for March 26.

With 300 students from across the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Blinn College, and more than 500 patient volunteers, Disaster Day is an enormous undertaking from start to finish and an invaluable learning experience for the future health care providers of Texas. The interdisciplinary nature of the event provides TAMHSC and Blinn students the opportunity to practice working together across medical specialties to develop appropriate role expectations, respect and teamwork.

“In a leadership role, you can’t be nervous about giving out ideas or delegating roles to others, which is something that you need to be able to do to be an effective nurse on the floor,” said Elizabeth Kniffin, co-chair of the Disaster Day Volunteer Committee. “It is also great for teaching time management, since we are leading and organizing Disaster Day on top of our studies and our clinical schedules.” Kniffin is a traditional Bachelor of Science senior and will graduate in May.

Students at the Texas A&M College of Nursing work together every year with students from the Texas A&M colleges of medicine, veterinary medicine and pharmacy, as well as Blinn College’s nursing, radiology and EMS students, to create and manage this enormous event. Five committees do the bulk of the organizing and preparation: Fundraising, Supplies, Case Studies, Volunteer, and Moulage, which is the art of applying mock injuries for training purposes. Each committee is led by a student chair or two co-chairs who each apply for the leadership positions. Incident commanders, appointed by College of Nursing faculty, help run the actual simulation.

Disaster Day is in late March of every year, but planning begins in the fall semester. Now in January, with less than three months until the big day, there is still a great deal of work left to be done.

“I have learned that there is a lot more that goes into the planning of Disaster Day than I ever imagined,” Kniffin said. “The success of Disaster Day is not based on just a few people, but many different disciplines, faculty members and students. Even though it is student run, we could not even think about having a functional Disaster Day without the support we get from our faculty and all the other disciplines.”

The hands-on approach of Disaster Day offers students of all medical disciplines the ultimate in simulation experiences as a means of honing their emergency management, clinical and interpersonal skills.

“I wholeheartedly believe that everyone who attends Disaster Day leaves a better person and a better professional,” said Halye Vessell, a senior Bachelor of Science major who is co-chair for the Volunteer Committee. “It enhances nurses in a way that makes them more confident in their skills and teaches them the value of working on a team. Additionally, they finally get to see everything we have learned in action! It is an unbeatable feeling.”

The entire Disaster Day runs on donations from the community and event collaborators, and as the event increases in size and scope, the fundraising efforts for Disaster Day must also increase.

“We are working very hard to get money for this event,” said Gayle Kuizon, a senior who is co-chair of the Fundraising Committee. “It means the world to us for people to give us support – whether that’s one cent or a hundred dollars, we appreciate everything. It gives our committee an additional set of professional skills to collaborate with community members and businesses to make both Disaster Day and our futures successful.”

Senior Alexis Cooper is one of five incident commanders who oversee the planning and production of Disaster Day. For her, it’s all about time management.

“I’ve learned a lot about management of time, people and organizations,” Cooper said. “It is actually very hard when you have multiple people working on multiple projects, along with managing your own classes, studies and clinicals. There is a lot of decision making, communication and record keeping that we must manage. I don’t think we would get this experience any other way.”

Disaster Day is a crucial learning experience for all its participants, but perhaps its student leaders get the most education. All the incident commanders and committee chairs emphasize a very serious, common thread to Disaster Day: teamwork.

“I’ve never been part of a team this size for such a monumental event, but we really are one big team,” Cooper said. “And what makes this team so special is that we come together to help each other out in the midst of completing our own tasks. With my fellow students and our faculty leaders I know that we will plan this Disaster Day successfully, together.”

Kuizon said Disaster Day pushed her to work with many different people to achieve one goal. “If you think about it, it’s what nurses do every day,” she said. “Their goal is to get their patients to their best level of health and to do that you work with physicians, technicians, physical therapists, speech therapists, etc. in order to attain that goal.”

Story written by Katie Hancock

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Holiday stress: How to keep the joy alive during the holidays Fri, 12 Dec 2014 20:23:31 +0000 The weather is cooler, the scents of pine and cinnamon fill the air and holiday music has begun its annual takeover of radio stations. Holidays are a joyous time, meant to remind us of the vital importance of family and friends. However, with all the ... ]]>

The weather is cooler, the scents of pine and cinnamon fill the air and holiday music has begun its annual takeover of radio stations. Holidays are a joyous time, meant to remind us of the vital importance of family and friends. However, with all the hustle and bustle, it’s easy for the joy of the season to turn into stress.

Christmas_stress_iStock_000021828585Large“Sometimes we get so caught up in the traditions of the season that it detracts from the true meaning of the holidays,” says Willa Decker, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing.

“In the long run, stress can have a debilitating effect on our overall health,” Decker, a mental health expert, noted. “Around 75 to 95 percent of people in hospitals are admitted due to stress related symptoms.”

We sat down with Decker to discuss ways to minimize the stress and maximize the joy this holiday season:

1. Make a list

Holidays are the time for lists: to do lists, shopping lists, grocery lists that reach the floor and more! But making a list of annual Yuletide anxiety inducers can help you keep your peace of mind. “Part of dealing with stress is acknowledging what causes it,” Decker said. Compiling a list of certain activities or traditions that bring you stress during the holiday season can help you focus on ways to relax.

“Identify what was stressful last holiday season, or maybe even this holiday season as you progress through it, and think of one or two possible solutions for each stressor you think of,” Decker advised. “Even if only a few solutions work, you can use them next year and focus on finding ways to alleviate the stress brought on by other activities.”

2. Let it go

When it comes to family gatherings, old feuds can be hard to overcome, but the best way to lessen the stress of the season is to let them go. “Try and find some way to resolve the friction for the holidays. This doesn’t mean you have to become best friends, but try to make the situation neutral,” Decker suggested.

3. Saying “no” doesn’t make you a Grinch

“We tend to overextend ourselves during the holiday season,” Decker noted. Instead of trying to do everything, try to limit your commitments to a more reasonable range.

If it’s hard for you to say no to people, but can’t devote the time for the task they ask of you, consider asking them for time to reevaluate your schedule. This strategy will bide time to brainstorm ways to gently turn them down.

Holidays don’t have to be stressful, but taking on more responsibilities than you can handle is a sure-fire way to turn you into a grumpy Santa’s little helper.

4. Break out the calendar

Sure, December is the last page of your calendar, but it doesn’t mean you should just ignore it. And just because it’s the busiest time of the year with gift giving and party planning, doesn’t mean that those everyday tasks disappear. Decker suggests using your calendar to help you keep track of events and daily tasks that you need to complete throughout the month. This will help you visualize what you need to get done and will help you from overcommitting this season.

5. Utilize your senses

If the flurry of activities and responsibilities are catching up to you, light a soothing candle or listen to your favorite holiday song. Our senses play a large part in developing our overall mood. Decker proposes trying to soothe all of our senses to help us relax – whether that means making your house smell like gingerbread or lowering the wattage of your lights to take some stress off of your eyes.

6. Reduce the clutter to a room

There are few things that can cause as much stress than feeling like Santa set up shop in every room of your house. As the old adage goes: A clean home is a happy home. Keeping the mayhem of the holidays from taking over your home may help you relax and enjoy the season.

“The clutter and mess of gifts and wrapping paper can really contribute undue stress,” Decker said. “Limiting the chaos to a single room can help ease tension.”

7. Take a step back

When you feel like your drowning in a sea of wrapping paper and ornaments, try to come up for air. “Our thoughts have a tremendous impact on how we respond to situations. Taking a step back and evaluating how we perceive a situation can help us change how we react to it,” Decker mentioned.

If the stress just becomes too much to handle, take a downbeat. “You can’t give what you don’t have, so it’s important to take care of yourself too,” Decker said.

8. Challenge traditions

Every family has their own Yuletide traditions; but if the tradition is something that only gives you a headache every year, maybe it’s time to rethink the necessity of it. Do you have to send holiday cards to that twice-removed, distant cousin, whom you’ve never met before?

“Sometimes we don’t challenge traditions enough. If it’s something that doesn’t bring you joy, you don’t have to carry out the tradition for tradition’s sake,” Decker advised.

9. Find your sense of humor

“There are great physiological benefits to humor: Over time it helps reduce our blood pressure, it massages our internal organs, it releases endorphins which make us feel better. Even forced humor can cause these benefits,” Decker said.

Decker also issued the caveat of knowing when humor is appropriate. If someone associates the holidays with a time of loss, or some other form of grief, a joke may not be the best way to relieve stress. It’s important to stay mindful of people’s feelings.

10. Identify and magnify your strengths

Maybe you’re a wizard in the kitchen, or happen to be fantastic at papier-mâché—what ever your strength is, capitalize on it. Offer to help cook at family gatherings if it’s something you enjoy, or lend a helping hand in decorations.

“People feel better when they are able to help with something they’re good at,” Decker said. Sticking to your strengths can help you contribute in a more meaningful way and feel better about it.

No matter how you celebrate the holidays, remember to take the time to relax and enjoy this holiday season!

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What is forensic nursing? Wed, 12 Nov 2014 20:28:49 +0000 Abuse victims need the assistance of health care professionals trained in trauma treatment such as sexual assault, partner violence, neglect, or other forms of intentional injury. By collecting evidence and providing testimony for use in a court of law, forensic nurses assist in the apprehension and prosecution of these criminals]]>

Learn more about forensic nursing.

Infographic on forensic nursing

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Q&A: What is Forensic Nursing? Mon, 10 Nov 2014 23:05:45 +0000 In Texas, the bridge between health care and the criminal justice system is being built by nurses. ]]>

Last year, Texans experienced one violent crime every five minutes. Due to the growing incidence of abuse and violence, the war on crime has expanded to encompass much more than just law enforcement.

Nurses caring for an emergency care patient.

In Texas, the bridge between health care and the criminal justice system is being built by nurses.

In Texas, the bridge between health care and the criminal justice system is being built by nurses. Optimizing on the caregiving role of the nursing profession, forensic nurses are uniquely qualified to observe, recognize, collect and preserve evidence from perpetrators and survivors of violent crime. We sat down with Trisha Sheridan M.S.N., RN, WHNP-BC, SANE-A, CFN assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing, forensic nurse program coordinator at Baylor Scott & White Hospital in College Station and the only practicing certified forensic nurse in the Brazos Valley, to find out more on how forensic nurses are helping victims recover from their injuries and seek justice.

Q: What is a forensic nurse?

A: Forensic nurses provide specialized health care and consultation for victims of violence and abuse. We are nurses trained to meet the patient’s medical needs while providing the specialized skills of injury identification, evaluation and documentation. We collect evidence, consult with legal authorities and give testimony in court. All interpersonal violence is aided by forensic nursing, including sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse.

Q: Where do forensic nurses practice?

A: Forensic nurses are frequently found in hospitals and child advocacy centers, but can also be found in community anti-violence programs, coroner’s and medical examiners offices, correctional facilities and psychiatric hospitals.  Forensic nurses may also be called on in mass disasters or community crisis situations. Currently, there simply are not enough forensic nurses in this state, and we want to change that.

Q: What does a typical ‘day in the life’ of a forensic nurse look like?

A: There really is not a “typical day” for a forensic nurse. Every day varies, every patient is different and in this community a great amount of time is spent on education and training future certified forensic nurses.

Q:Are there enough practicing forensic nurses?

A:It’s a small, specialized field, and there are not many in Texas – and that’s something we hope to change in the future. There is a great need for nurses with these skills. Until this year, I was the only certified forensic nurse in our area and now we have a team of five nurses who are all working toward their national certification in forensics.

Q: What are the steps to becoming a forensic nurse?

A: Forensic nurses are nurses first; we are registered nurses with specialized training, education and certification. So, if someone wanted to become a forensic nurse, they’d have to become a registered nurse first, and then become certified in forensics.

Q: How do forensic nurses help victims of violent crime and abuse?

A: By thinking ‘forensically’ and clinically, forensic nurses are holistically prepared to identify criminalized acts resulting in harm and help the legal system conduct investigations. We are uniquely suited to care for the survivor throughout the entire process; it takes forensics far beyond data collection and preservation.

Q: How do forensic nurses impact the war on violence?

A: We provide patient-centered, evidence-based care to victims of violence. By setting a precedence of excellent care and evidence collection, we begin the process for a successful health outcome and effective investigation. We are trained to go to court to educate juries and judges on the evidence we find, and what that evidence means. We’re at the crossroads of health and justice; it’s a place where forensic nurses can make an enormous difference. We want to equip Texas with advocates against violence and agents of care – that’s a pretty exciting place to be.

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Harnessing Anxiety: Research looks for optimal performance in health care Wed, 05 Nov 2014 16:18:12 +0000 In a series of research studies, College of Nursing faculty members have teamed together to find out what can be done for nursing students to be at their best for optimal learning and performance. ]]>

Have you ever been really nervous for a test, a big game or a presentation at work? You’re not the only one. That nervousness you felt is performance anxiety – and medical professionals and students can feel it too.

Dr. Gosselin talking to nursing students in the hall of the Clinical Learning Resource Center.

“In short, we’re combining psychology and education with nursing in hopes of improving how our students learn, and in turn improving how they treat patients in practice,” Holland said.

Studies show that if this anxiety gets too high, it can hinder a person’s ability to perform skills at an effective level. Remember the last test you took? Did you panic? If so, chances are that panicked feeling may have caused you to miss a question or two. The Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing is looking at ways to combat performance anxiety and ensure that medical professionals and students perform their skills at the highest level possible.

In a series of research studies, College of Nursing faculty members have teamed together to find out what can be done for nursing students to be at their best for optimal learning and performance.

Angela Mountain, M.S., RN, CMSRN, clinical assistant professor; Brian Holland, Ph.D., M.S.N., RN, CCRN, assistant professor; Sara Williamson, B.S.N., RN, Clinical Teaching Coordinator; and Kevin Gosselin, Ph.D., M.Ed., M.S., associate professor and assistant dean for research and evidence based practice, examined performance psychological applications within the simulation experiences of the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s Clinical Learning Resource Center where health professions students learn and practice their skills with simulated patients.

“Previous studies have shown that many students experience high levels of anxiety that can interfere with learning and performance, which is completely contradictive to our goal of creating the best nurses, so we’re trying to help students find ways to control their anxiety levels,” Mountain said.
The goal was to find the best way to prepare students to learn and perform in their optimal performance zone.

“This does two things: ensures that students can learn more information at a more effective level, and that they can perform to their best possible abilities,” Williamson explained.

Assigned musical therapy, autogenic training, movement meditation and self-selected music therapy were all examined in this series of studies. These techniques are commonly used to reduce anxiety in the field of performance psychology. While these therapies have been applied to other fields, they have not been applied in nursing. Nursing’s unique holistic approach to patient treatment relies heavily on interpersonal relationships, which can be greatly influenced by performance anxiety.

“We wanted to look at real options for students and professionals – something they can use and see real, meaningful results,” Gosselin said. “We don’t want this to just be a study, we want the results we find to be used, and so the next step for our team is translation: how nurses can use this to perform at their best.”

The study, which is in its final phase, has shown that subjects’ anxiety levels are indicative of confidence and higher learning and performance.

So how exactly does this all work? Gosselin explained that anxiety is characterized by two different types of symptoms: cognitive (mental) and physical. The cognitive symptoms were measured through subject surveys before and after therapy, while physical symptoms were measured by changes in blood pressure and heart rate.
In both cases, the goal of the study was to find how to find the optimal level of anxiety prior to learning or performance evaluations. The various therapies being studied could be self-induced in practical application, which means that in the future, students and professionals can use these techniques themselves.

“In short, we’re combining psychology and education with nursing in hopes of improving how our students learn, and in turn improving how they treat patients in practice,” Holland said.

While the findings are still being collected and compared to see which therapy is the most effective, the College of Nursing is finding positive results so far. The team explained that an optimal performance zone exists with performance anxiety. Basically, too little or too much anxiety can hinder learning and performance, so they’re searching for that zone that offers the best level of anxiety that will create an atmosphere that promotes confidence.

Gosselin explained that this study is part of the College of Nursing’s larger goal of innovating health care education for all medical professionals.

“Because of the uniqueness of nursing and the emphasis on care, it allows us to explore educational research in ways that will translate directly to patient care,” Gosselin said. “Evidence-based practice is the heart of our mission here, and we’re excited to see these results translated into patient care across health care professions and all patient populations.”

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