A convergence of expertise, commitment and experience, the online UNH Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Scholarly Project is the catalyst for creating a powerful team of professionals. Developing and implementing their own quality improvement plan based on real-life objectives, each student must present a publishable scholarly paper to nursing faculty and clinical partners.
"As a bridge between academic studies and professional life, mentorship brings together collective skills and mutual objectives while tapping into the soft skills of collaboration and mutual respect," says Pamela Kallmerten, clinical assistant professor and direct entry master's in nursing program director.
A nurse practitioner with Riverwoods Exeter, a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) for New Hampshire seniors, DNP graduate Emily Stewart '21 had no shortage of ideas for her project.
"I sketched out a number of broad-sweeping ideas but Dr. Kallmerten helped me narrow them down to one concept and develop a model with quantifiable steps from start to finish," says Stewart. "Her strong background in healthcare technology inspired me to create an internet-accessible dashboard intended to educate and track the residents’ shingles vaccine rate, one of the most important vaccines recommended for seniors."
"As a bridge between academic studies and professional life, mentorship brings together collective skills and mutual objectives while tapping into the soft skills of collaboration and mutual respect."
Stewart earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in psychology from UNH. Her interest in neurological degenerative diseases was the inspiration to enroll in the nurse practitioner program at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute of Health Professions and subsequently become board-certified as a dual adult-geriatric primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP). Emily completed a DNP degree with UNH in 2021, leveraging this juncture of psychology, nursing and leadership in her work at Riverwoods.
DNP students use the SQUIRE (Standards for QUality Improvement Reporting Excellence) 2.0 guidelines which provide a structure to divide the project into detailed subsections for sequential work progression and build a timeline for deliverable goals based on due dates. Familiar with this process from her own DNP and Ph.D. projects, Kallmerten provided the scaffolding for Stewart to find solid ground.
"Experience shows that teams are most successful in a collaboration where the student is open to an exchange of constructive critique," Kallmerten says. "Emily quickly recognized the need to select one achievable goal and divide the work into manageable chunks tied to deadlines. It was important that she learn advocacy skills to capture stakeholder support among competing Riverwoods priorities but the most critical element for Emily’s health technology goal was to incorporate the patient perspective."
Stewart collaborated with representatives from software company Viibrant to build on Riverwood Exeter’s new resident portal by adding a new Wellness section encapsulating the span of medical services with staff photos and biographies, locations and hours. Emily focused on the shingles vaccine while keeping her eye on the overarching goal of evaluating user perceptions of the portal’s ease of use, efficacy and security. Riverwoods residents invited Stewart to speak at internal council meetings and Mary Flanagan, manager of wellness clinics, provided critical internal support during project implementation.
"I discovered that the senior population at Riverwoods Exeter is remarkably tech savvy. My survey shows that 77.8% of all residents used the internet to search for healthcare information the previous year; this number increased to 92.5% for those between the ages of 65 and 79," Stewart says. "The resident council was instrumental in spreading the word about the healthcare dashboard and expressed interest in the vaccine benefits."
Stewart used her survey as a vehicle to evaluate the shingles vaccine rate among residents and assess their motivators and barriers surrounding vaccination. Although her project coincided with the onset of a public health crisis and its subsequent shift in focus toward the COVID-19 vaccine, Emily is pleased with the healthcare technology concept. Buoyed by Riverwoods Exeter’s support, she has subsequently added COVID-19 and influenza vaccination information to the dashboard.
"I cannot overstate the importance of a point person to guide me through the project process. Dr. Kallmerten’s support and expertise were integral not only to my quality improvement initiative but also to my own professional and personal growth as a provider, communicator and advocate."
Hoping that other retirement communities will embrace the healthcare portal concept, the faculty/graduate team is collaborating to submit the project paper for publication. Kallmerten admits this process can be lengthy and “intimidating” but points out that publication often leads to new professional opportunities for graduates.
In Kallmerten’s eyes, there are two basic contributors to good mentorship: organizational guidance for planning a large quality improvement project and ongoing encouragement to overcome obstacles and stay on target. Supported by this two-pronged team approach, Stewart successfully completed her studies and delivered her scholarly project at the height of the pandemic.
"I cannot overstate the importance of a point person to guide me through the project process. Dr. Kallmerten’s support and expertise were integral not only to my quality improvement initiative but also to my own professional and personal growth as a provider, communicator and advocate," Stewart says.
To encapsulate what makes the mentoring partnership such a rewarding experience, Kallmerten quotes another graduate who won an award for her final project and said, "My eyes are now open to all the available possibilities in nursing scholarship.”
(Designed to meet the growing demand for nursing leaders, the UNH Doctor of Nursing Practice program is overseen by Program Director Cathleen Colleran. Visit the UNH Online DNP program page to learn more.)