Nurses Need Nutrition, Too

Shannan Needleman and her daughter Taylor

Alumna Shannan Needleman and her daughter Taylor

Whether as a nursing student, professor, school nurse, floor nurse or research nurse, at one time or another we’ve all had to eat on the go. There never seems to be enough time in the day to sit down and enjoy a meal. We’re always looking forward to the next class, next patient or next task at hand.

Some nurses work nights adding to their dietary disorder. We, as nurses, stress the importance of good nutrition with our patients, but when it comes to nourishing ourselves, nurses are just as guilty of turning to empty calories or skipping meals all together.

This post is a gentle reminder that nurses should take time to grab a healthy snack and seek nutritious meals.

Surprisingly, the hospital cafeteria is not always the best model for nutrition. Often they grill frozen processed hamburgers and chicken breasts and offer high-calorie, sugary, carbonated drinks. In most hospitals, the cafeteria is rarely open at night or serves a limited menu of junk food items, such as microwaveable sandwiches and burritos.

Patients’ families are typically quite generous, especially around the holidays, and love to spoil the nursing staff with sweets and desserts. These are just a few of the contributing factors to poor nurse nutrition, lethargy and weight gain.

Although you might think that bad eating habits don’t affect your job performance, the headache, lack of energy, and grogginess you feel after your 44-oz. soda rush leaves you mentally and physically challenged for the remainder of your shift. You may also find that those extra pounds hiding around your waistline make it harder to move patients. Without a doubt, your nutrition affects your overall wellness and your ability to think on the job.

OK, so maybe nutrition is important even for the most physically fit and brightest nurses, but with all these roadblocks how can nurses motivate themselves? Little things make a big difference; first explore new foods.

There is always something exciting about opening up your lunchbox and finding a food you’ve never tasted. Even the most diversified eater can find something in a farmers’ market or health food store they have never tried before. You may find you hate certain flavors and textures, but at the very least you will expand your palate.

Dr. Seuss promoted this concept in his beloved book Green Eggs and Ham.

You do not like them so you say.
Try them, try them, and you may!
Try them and you may, I say.
Sam, if you would let me be,
I will try them, and you will see.
Say!
I like green eggs and ham!
I do!! I like them, Sam-I-am!

Speaking of lunchboxes, treat yourself to a sassy new lunch carrier. Gone are the days of metal lunch pails displaying your favorite Muppet character. Today you can find shabby chic, contemporary and useful containers to store your meals. My personal favorite is Vera Bradley. Although on the pricier side, I have found the quality of these lunch carriers to be impeccable.

The Container Store has unique items to store lunch, from trendy thermal lunch sacks to stackable bento boxes, the options are endless. And don’t forget to add a fun matching tumbler or travel mug, which often can be personalized. Do you have a favorite lunch container idea or brand you love? Please share your favorites in the comments section below.

Thinking outside the (lunch) box brings some excitement back into your meals. Try packing your favorite granola cereal, milk and yogurt for your night shift. Some of my favorite meals involve creatively mixing things I love, such as sandwiches made of peanut butter, honey and apples on toast, and Nutella and bananas on raisin cinnamon bread.

Another favorite is ham, cheese and mayo sandwiches served on King Hawaiian original sweet bread buns with salt and vinegar chips. Consider tortillas, pita bread and crackers combined with sandwich items or dips like sun-dried tomato hummus or pesto.

Pinterest and the internet are filled with ideas for creative lunches and snacks. Spend a day surfing and finding new ideas that appeal to you. This small effort will make a difference and light that spark of inspiration, which hopefully will encourage you to think about nutrition in 2014.

Most importantly work for a balanced diet. Try filling your lunchbox with all the food groups, including grains, fruits, dairy, vegetables, and a good source of protein.

Here are some helpful links:

Container Store

Vera Bradley

Thirty-One

Lunchbox.com

Lunch Ideas

Awesome Lunches to Bring to Work

7 Easy, Speedy Lunches

85 Snack Ideas for Kids & Adults

Let Me Give You Some Advice

Graduate coordinators for the UT Austin School of Nursing

Tracy Demchuk and Rudy Ortiz, Graduate Coordinators

The job of a graduate coordinator goes far beyond advising students. They must be effective advocates for graduate students and graduate causes for the School of Nursing. In addition to being accessible to students, the graduate coordinator role involves:

  • Providing an effective liaison between students and the graduate advisor, the graduate program, and the graduate school
  • Having the ability to carry out administrative tasks
  • Anticipating problems and resolving issues effectively
  • Having great communication and organizational skills
  • Having the ability to promote efficient and effective administration of the graduate programs

In this session of “Let Me Give You Some Advice,” we meet Tracy Demchuk and Rudy Ortiz, graduate coordinators for the School of Nursing.

Why is advising important?

Ortiz: Faculty advisors help graduate students navigate the system by assisting students in completing their program requirements for their MSN, post-MSN (certification) or PhD program and developing career goals. Graduate advisors and the graduate program coordinators also assist with The University of Texas at Austin and the School of Nursing policy and procedures, along with administrative duties submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies or Graduate and International Admissions Center.

Demchuk: Advising at the graduate level is two-fold. All graduate students have a faculty advisor who they officially meet twice a year to ensure that they are meeting course requirements for the concentration area in which they are enrolled. As a graduate coordinator, I support the faculty advisor by having a strong working knowledge of the academic policies as well as understanding each program of work, which also ensures that the student meets all course requirements and that all policies of the graduate school are being followed.

Graduate coordinators for the UT Austin School of Nursing

Graduate coordinators Tracy Demchuk and Rudy Ortiz review graduate programs

What is a typical day like for you?

Demchuk: It would depend on the semester and time of year. October through February, my typical day involves working on admissions and communicating with prospective students and the admissions team. A month or so of every semester, a typical day is preparing and coordinating advising. During the beginning of each semester, it’s dealing with registration issues or questions. No matter what time of year, a big part of most days is communication with students, prospective graduate students, and assisting graduate deans and faculty with data and questions. In addition, I need to be available at a moment’s notice to complete important time-sensitive tasks, which is an integral part of any process that ensures student success at the graduate level.

Ortiz: Answering 75 plus emails the first thing in the morning, returning several phone calls, being available for walk-ins during business hours, and working on several projects as we prepare for the next business cycle; for example, admissions, registration, prospective students, recruiting, advising, current student assistance, graduation. The list goes on!

What’s a typical question you get?

Demchuk: There are several. When is the last day to drop a course with a refund? Can I take this course credit/co-credit? Can you help me register for this course? Can I use this course for my support course?

Ortiz: Does the School of Nursing offer graduate online degree programs? Are there scholarships for me? How much scholarship funding may I expect to receive?

What are some of your job duties other than meeting one-on-one with students?

Demchuk: Speaking with prospective students, facilitating information sessions for the AE-MSN program, gathering graduate data for the School of Nursing and the university, managing admissions for the AE-MSN and AE-PhD program, coordinating and managing, advising internal transfers, keeping all documents and information current, managing graduate fellowships processes, assisting with compliance, assisting with School of Nursing alumni needs, and being part of team with all of the other School of Nursing departments.

Ortiz: Recruiting in the Texas area, certifying graduation, and assisting with graduation ceremony are some of the fun duties.

What do you consider the most important part of your job?

Demchuk: Being a liaison for School of Nursing graduate students and the university; which means I’m available to assist, direct and support each student to ensure that they are successful.

Ortiz: Being available to assist current students, faculty and prospective applicants in understanding the policies and procedures in order to achieve their educational goals.

What’s been one of the more difficult questions you’ve had to answer or situations you’ve had to deal with?

Demchuk: I don’t think any question or situation is too difficult to answer or deal with but the ones that tug on my heart are situations that are personal (loss, illness, etc.) and that are affecting or inhibiting student success.

Ortiz: Why hasn’t the School of Nursing started the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program since it is mandatory by 2015? This is a topic that applicants hear in chat rooms, that it will be mandatory for all nursing programs in the U.S. to establish a DNP program by 2015 and eliminate the traditional MSN nurse practitioner programs. THe DNP is not a mandatory requirement. It is a recommendation by the accrediting board for nursing programs to consider. The School of Nursing is currently exploring the possibility of starting the DNP program, but doesn’t have plans to dissolve the traditional MSN nurse practitioner programs.

What should students understand about the services you offer before they come to see you? How should they prepare?

Demchuk: A graduate coordinator can answer questions or point a student in the right direction, and we are here to help. But I like to instill a sense of responsibility in students by asking them to, at minimum, search for information prior to coming to my office. The School of Nursing and UT websites hold a wealth of information, and it just takes a SEARCH to find answers.

Ortiz: Students should understand that our office is available to assist them with their academic goals as they pursue their MSN or PhD degree. We provide the tools and resources needed to complete the necessary paperwork required by the university and the School of Nursing. Our goal is make life easier and less stressful so the students can focus on their studies.

Anything else you’d like to share about the job or about working with students?

Demchuk: I have worked in many roles in post-secondary admissions and student affairs for over 13 years, and my favorite aspect of every position has been the opportunity to work with students and watch each one succeed and GRADUATE! Being a small part of a student’s reaching the finishing line through graduation is very fulfilling.

Ortiz: It is one of the best jobs on campus. I have the opportunity to see students earn their degree (graduate) and walk the stage (commencement). That is the greatest joy, plus all the thank you’s we receive for doing our job. That’s rewarding to me … to see so many smiling faces of success.

A Day in the Life of a Nursing Student

Editor’s note: Last year we heard from junior Clay Clark about what a typical day for a nursing student looked like. In this post, you’ll meet senior Yu-Chi Chen and see what an average day is like for her at the UT Austin School of Nursing.

A nursing student’s life can be exciting and very different from that of other college students. We experience very different — and sometimes difficult — things.

Our clinical rotations teach us how to deal with a diverse population, personalities and situations. Some of us have dealt with end-of-life care and some with violent, aggressive patients. Nevertheless, the desire to bring comfort to patients is what drives us to keep going regardless of how tough some days might be.

Every day is unique and every semester is different. I am a second semester senior and have to say that each semester of nursing school revolves around different challenges and stress.

Here is my day as a nursing student.

students in nursing school

Disaster drill preparation

Meeting for an 8 o’clock class is not unusual for nursing students.

Today we’re participating in a mock disaster drill.

The training is from 8 a.m. to noon, and the actual drill is from 1 to 3 p.m.

 

 

beanie babies for disaster drill

We have the cutest patients!

This is our triage practice. (We have the cutest patients!)

 

 

 

 

Everyone is trying to find their group! The drill includes second semester seniors and Alternate-Entry nursing students and social work students who have to work together and prepare each other on how to respond to a disaster.

Rec center is scene of disaster drill

Hurricane hits WalMart

The Rec Centre has been transformed into a WalMart that was just hit by a hurricane!

Nursing students and disaster drill actors

My team with our awesome actors!

 

 

 

 

 

My team takes time to pose with some of the awesome actors after the drill.

By the way, the dead guy on the floor was such a good actor that I thought as I treated him, “I didn’t know our nursing school had such realistic mannequins. They must have spent a lot of money on him!”

 

 

Even though this was the end of our school day, my day was just beginning …

Assignment book

This is my to-do list?!

Here’s my to-do list:

1. Finish online application to graduate nurse residency program

2. Prepare for interview questions

3. Contact professors for recommendation letters

4. Worry about what to wear for “professional dress” day!

Clothes for interview

Putting together a professional outfit for mock interviews

Speaking of professional dress day, I don’t have anything to wear! I have a dress shirt, but the black pants aren’t the right material, and I don’t have a suit jacket.

I feel like an elementary school kid who can’t find her uniform on the first day of school.

 

NCLEX book

How I transport my NCLEX book

It took a while, but I finally realized that I’m not going anywhere with this huge NCLEX book. I wish I had a USB port in my head so I could just input all the information from the book to my brain.

Well, that’s not going to happen. I better try something else: Yes! I dissected it to make it easier to carry. I also feel like I actually accomplished something when I finish studying one section at a time.

Plate of food

Surf and turf for dinner!

Stress is building up. Best way to relieve that is to eat a good meal with friends and then go exercise. Incidentally, I’ve lived in Jester Hall for all four years of my college life.

I love Jester because when I get stressed — and if I get lucky — I get to eat a delicious meal like this sirloin with grilled shrimp and asparagus.

And tonight, I get a rose on top!

 

Kendo exhibition

Nothing relieves stress like swinging a sword!

Exercise is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress. Here’s my unique way of de-stressing: I scream at the top of my lungs and beat people with a bamboo stick!

Just kidding.

This is Kendo, which means the way of the sword that includes integrity, respect and sportsmanship. I also see it as a discipline.

When I do kendo, I block out everything. I’m not worried about interviews, what to wear for my professional dress day at the School of Nursing, how studying for the NCLEX is going.

 

Qu-Chi Chen doing Kendo

That’s me!

I focus all my attention on my opponent and on my practice. This is my way of respecting Kendo, my fellow swordsmen and myself.

(Photo courtesy of Longhorn Taikai, Kendo tournament)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group of three friends

Clay, Yu-Chi and Kristin

Last but not least, a week after I wrote this blog, I did get clothes for my mock interview.

Here I am at the career fair with my friends Clay Clark and Kristin Ramsey.

Special thanks to Mickey Gonzales, my intrepid advisor at the School of Nursing, who went through a lot of trouble taking this picture! ;)

Participants of Kendo tournament

Smile if you love Kendo!

—Yu-Chi Chen

Meeting the Challenges and Complexities of Today’s Health Care System

School of Nursing faculty in skills lab with IPE students

Dr. Gayle Timmerman

It isn’t often one gets a chance to make major social and public health policy changes — such as transforming the U.S. health care system — but at The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing, faculty, students and interprofessional partners across campus are doing just that.

As the U.S. population ages and more Americans are living with chronic illnesses, a more collaborative, team-based health care approach is needed to improve patient outcomes. By incorporating interprofessional education (IPE) into its curriculum, the School of Nursing is establishing a method for students and professionals involved in providing social services and health care opportunities to learn together and from each other in order to cultivate collaborative practice for providing evidence-based, patient-centered, team-based care.

The National Institutes of Health have stated that collaboration and teamwork among health professionals are vital aspects to the successful delivery of high-quality patient care, and a landmark report recently published by the Institute of Medicine emphasized that efforts to improve health care delivery will need to incorporate IPE in health care workforce education and training.

“It’s hard to change after years of doing things a certain way, but we’re deliberately moving away from our academic silos to provide students with the tools they need to work seamlessly in interprofessional teams,” said Gayle Timmerman, PhD, RN, CNS, FAAN and chair for the Dell Medical School IPE Subcommittee. “Health care is complex, and in order to achieve the best outcomes for patients, it’s necessary to bring each discipline’s unique perspective to the table.”

One very practical way the School of Nursing is promoting IPE is by initiating UT-IPE — a newly launched website providing a centralized location for IPE information.

The website offers opportunities to participate in IPE, resources that facilitate IPE, and information about the core Interprofessional Collaborative Practice Competencies for preceptors, faculty, and students in the health professions through videos and links.

The goal in launching the website is to help remove a variety of communication barriers that arise when busy providers, students, faculty and preceptors try to coordinate with each other by providing a convenient clearinghouse for IPE information and strategies, explained Dr. Timmerman.

Earlier this year an IPE event sponsored by the Office of Institutional Accreditation and Program Assessment titled “Assessing Student Outcomes in the Health Professions: An Inter-professional Public Responsibility” brought together about 90 representatives from the Dell Medical School, the School of Nursing, the College of Pharmacy and the School of Social Work to address the assessment of student outcomes within the different health professional schools and colleges, among other objectives.

“As a health care team member and faculty, I was delighted to listen to the commonalities of the interprofessional team roles in both the clinical and educational setting. Each profession presented how its unique skill contributed to improved health and educational outcomes,” said Carol Delville, assistant professor of clinical nursing, who attended. “This discussion extended to the complexities of student evaluation and the strategies used by the different professional educators, from screening applicants, to student feedback in both formal and informal settings throughout the curriculum.

“The most interesting part of the day was the breakout sessions during which participants had opportunities to discuss management of high-risk and difficult situations with other health care professional educators. Sharing these ‘educational pearls’ during the debriefing session provided concrete examples to apply to classroom and clinical settings this semester,” Dr. Delville added.

student in skills lab

IPE teams comprise student nurses, social workers, pharmacists and biomedical engineering

IPE and team building are becoming essential parts of preparing tomorrow’s health care professionals. The Dell Medical School, scheduled to open on the UT Austin campus in 2016, has stated a commitment to “improving human health through excellence in interprofessional and trans-disciplinary education, research, health care and community involvement.” The new medical school will be unique in taking this foundational approach to IPE.

The School of Nursing’s integration of IPE into its curriculum was advanced last summer by a $1 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Initial funding for the website was made possible by the grant.

UT Austin departments, colleges, and organizations that host events, lectureships, and opportunities related to IPE are encouraged to submit events to the website calendar.

For more information about upcoming events and links to resources, be sure to visit UT-IPE.

Photos by Brian Birzer, Birzer Photography

A Closer Look at Health Care Rationing

Dr. Terry Jones

Dr. Terry Jones

Health care rationing is a politically charged issue that evokes deep emotional reactions from a variety of individuals and institutions: politicians, patients, payors and providers. Despite widespread agreement that resources to sustain current trends in health care spending are inadequate, the role of rationing in U.S. health care reform remains polarizing.

But what exactly  is health care rationing?

Rationing is a term used to describe allocation of resources in the context of scarcity, which exists in health care when the need for services exceeds the resources to provide services. Thus, health care rationing involves decisions to withhold beneficial services for reasons associated with inadequate resources.

Rationing is best discussed in the context of health-care decision making, which is made at multiple levels within the system:

•    the macro level, where policy is established by governments, health authorities, insurance plans, etc.;

•    the meso level, where organizational budgets are established by organizational administrators; and

•    the micro level, where care is delivered by clinicians.

Macro- and meso-level decisions are most commonly made by administrative authorities in the form of explicit policies and fixed budgetary allowances. Such policies are typically rule based and broadly applied. Decisions of this form that result in withholding health care are administrative and/or political in nature and are considered a form of explicit rationing.

In contrast, decisions about withholding care at the micro level are typically applied to specific patients and contexts based on the judgment of frontline clinicians. Decisions of this form are clinical and discretionary in nature and are considered a form of implicit rationing, also known as bedside rationing.

Most of the political rhetoric and media attention about health care rationing has centered on explicit rationing, while implicit rationing has received comparatively little attention. This is not surprising since policymaking is more visible to the public than bedside clinical decision making. Consequently, implicit rationing has been characterized as a form of hidden rationing that remains largely invisible to the public and possibly to patients themselves.

In essence, cost containment strategies shift the burden of responsibility for rationing decisions from policymakers to clinicians. Additionally, the decision-making process is shifted underground from the visible world of policymaking to the invisible world of clinical-decision making. Invisible decisions are inherently more difficult to measure and evaluate and invisible decision makers more difficult to hold accountable.

As prescribers of medical care, physicians are often viewed as gatekeepers for access to health care. However, health care extends beyond medicine to include multiple clinical disciplines, and access to medical care requires more than a physician prescription. Although medical care may be prescribed by physicians, it is largely accomplished through the interdependent and collaborative efforts of other disciplines, particularly nursing.

For example, physicians may prescribe medications, diets and procedures, but it is the nurse that must administer them. When the volume of care prescribed exceeds the available time among the nursing staff on duty, decisions must be made about which elements of care are completed and which are delayed or left undone. This might mean that, in order to administer all prescribed medications on time, a nurse may cut back on the amount of teaching provided, limit the frequency in which patients are assisted to the bathroom or skip a scheduled blood pressure assessment.

The frequency and patterns of implicit rationing of nursing care in the U.S. are not known. Furthermore, the practice of implicit rationing may not be generalizable across countries due to the variability in systems of health care delivery, health care reimbursement and nursing education. Given the U.S aversion to explicit rationing and the prevalence of cost containment initiatives among U.S. health care organizations, it is imperative that implicit rationing practices be more thoroughly explored and evaluated.

A study I recently completed provides evidence that implicit rationing may be a routine component of clinical decision making among medical-surgical nurses in at least one U.S. state. Moreover, it suggests that, when faced with time scarcity, medical-surgical nurses may favor completion of activities to address direct and immediate physiological health needs over psychological and future health needs.

The documented presence of implicit rationing of nursing care in the U.S. health care system has important implications for research, practice and education. Research is needed to determine if the relationships documented in other countries between implicit rationing and adverse patient outcomes are also present in the U.S. If these relationships are supported, then implicit rationing may serve as an important quality indicator.

A better understanding of the decision-making process is needed to guide quality assessment of rationing preference patterns and develop strategies to support “good” rationing decisions. Nurse leaders must create opportunities to learn more about the underlying rationale for rationing preferences and what information is considered when deciding among choice options.

Finally, more research is needed to assess relationships between specific preferences patterns; for example, completion of direct and immediate physiologic care activities and patient outcomes to support value judgments about the quality of rationing decisions.

Armed with this information, educators can better guide clinicians toward choice options associated with favorable risk-benefit profiles.

—Terry Jones, RN, PhD, assistant professor

________________________________________

Jones, Terry. (2014). Validation of the perceived implicit rationing of nursing care (PIRNCA) instrument. Nursing Forum, (early release online January 8, 2014). Doi:10.1111/nuf.12076

Jones, T. (in press). A descriptive analysis of implicit rationing of nursing care: frequency & patterns in Texas. Nursing Economic$

Meet the Staff: Kevin Machate

In addition to working part-time for the School of Nursing, Kevin Machate attends The University of Texas at Austin and was recently named one of the most impressive students on campus by Business Insider. We caught up with him between studies and work duties and sat down to talk about film making, weight lifting and future plans.

Where are you from? How did you wind up in Austin?

man at desk looking at computer

Kevin Machate in his office at the School of Nursing

I was born in Austin at Bergstrom Air Force Base. Being a military brat, it’s hard to nail down a hometown, but Waco is probably the best qualifier since that’s where I finished high school and where my parents still live. I transferred to The University of Texas at Austin in 2012 after graduating with honors from McLennan Community College in Waco.

When did you first get interested in acting and filmmaking?

I wanted to be an actor early on. I performed in a few plays over the years, but it wasn’t until 2010 when I worked as an extra in the film “Sironia” that I really started pursuing it. I was an extra for about nine months and finally decided that I wanted to try speaking roles, so I took some professional acting classes. I started producing when I realized that my experience in management was useful and have since produced five short films (four of which I also directed) and a play.

Which of your films won an award?

“Love, Simple” won a Silver Remi Award at Worldfest Houston International Film Festival in 2013. It has since been ‘retired’ but is available online. Most films spend about a year or two in the festival circuit before they are released to the public.

How do you handle negative criticism?

I’m a pretty good judge of how good it really is before I show anyone else. Generally I know where the ‘problems’ are and whether I can fix them or not. I have a few friends and mentors who I know I can trust to give me an honest opinion before the real critics see it, so that helps prepare me for anything negative that someone might say. It’s rare that I get upset about it, although it did happen once last year, but we attributed it to the critic just having a bad day. I’m very picky and have high standards, so anything someone says about one of my films I have probably already said myself.

How do you raise funds for your films?

Fundraising is the most difficult part of making a film. I invest at least half of the overall cost/budget myself, but I have used Kickstarter/Indiegogo campaigns in the past as well. Those are a tough sell because there is so much competition and most of the funders are in similar positions as me. Sometimes an “angel investor” will come along simply because they like someone in the cast or crew, but that’s rare. My most recent film, “#RIP,” was partially funded by other producers who realized it was a great project and wanted to get their names attached to it as well.

What are you working on now?

I have a buddy comedy, which I produced and co-starred in, called “Living with Joban” in the festival circuit. “#RIP” is my biggest film to date and stars Naomi Grossman (best known as “Pepper” from “American Horror Story: Asylum”), the voice of Marilyn Ghigliotti (Veronica from “Clerks”) and features Missi Pyle (“Galaxy Quest,” “Dodgeball” and “Big Fish”). It’s in the final stages of post production and should be completed next month. We’re anticipating a festival premiere in April or May, 2014.

How long have you worked at the School of Nursing?

Man and woman looking at computer in office

Kevin with School of Nursing colleague Marissa Alviar

I’ve been at the school for just over a year. I work in the administrative hall, generally running errands, delivering campus mail and assisting the admin staff. I do a little of everything, though. On occasion, I relieve our security guard Jimmy Eaddy for lunch, move furniture, make copies and generally make sure the admin hall has what they need. I do the simpler tasks that ensure that the staff can keep working on their primary functions.

What are your plans?

I graduate from UT Austin in December with a bachelor’s in American studies and a minor in history and plan to begin working on a master’s in spring 2015. I hope to eventually complete a PhD in American studies.

You’re also a Guinness world record holder. Tell us about that.

From the time I could read the Guinness Book of World Records, I wanted to have a record of my own listed. I had been a power lifter and fitness junkie for several years, so it seemed like the most logical way of attaining a childhood dream. Guinness has a long process for setting a record. They prefer that you set it up in advance so that they can approve it beforehand — not all proposed records are approved — and give you the criteria and rules to follow. A few days before you are to attempt the record, they give you a link to their website so that you can get the most updated info about the current record: How much, how long, how high, etc. It’s not required that you have a GWR judge on hand, but if you don’t, you have to use experts in that field (I used certified personal trainers as my judges) or well-respected people who have no affiliation with you personally.

For more information about his films, visit Kevin’s IMDB page (an online source for movie, TV and celebrity content). His professional reel can be viewed here.

A Letter to Incoming Freshmen

Shannan Needleman and her daughter Taylor

Alumna Shannan Needleman and her daughter Taylor

I met a wonderful young lady the other night while watching the Longhorns play in the Alamo Bowl at a local Dallas restaurant. It is common practice at these gatherings to meet with alumni, engage in conversations and tell stories about your years on the 40 acres.

Both of her parents were UT graduates, and she desperately wants to attend Texas in the fall. She is a walking book of sports statistics and is looking for a career in communications as a television sports reporter.

I was instantly attracted by her tenacity and determination; she reminded me of myself at her age. Her story is probably far more common than you might suspect: She is in the top 12 percent of her class, has made well over the required 1,000 SAT score and is a straight A student in a very competitive school district. You would think she would be a shoe-in at UT.

Not true, especially these days. We spent well over an hour talking about her goals, and I offered her advice and inspiration to follow her dreams. I hope she walked away from the encounter with a new found sense of motivation and drive.

I applied to college in the 90’s when the requirements were strenuous. Today, the entrance requirements are even more daunting. The 1998 HB 588 (commonly referred to as the “Top 10 Percent Rule”) remains in effect, which automatically accepts all top 10 percent of Texas high school graduates. The law was designed to help increase diversity at UT Austin, but doesn’t help those students in highly competitive, large school districts.

Furthermore this required influx of Top 10 percent student admissions has forced UT to reevaluate the provisional summer and fall acceptance program. There are simply not enough “spots” to accommodate all the applicants.

As of January 2013, the new Coordinated Admissions Program (CAP) encourages those students not accepted into UT Austin their freshman year to attend any of the other eight UT component institutions. After enrolling in 30 hours and maintaining a 3.2 GPA or better, the participants are guaranteed an unconditional transfer into Undergraduate Studies, Liberal Arts, or Natural Sciences at UT Austin.

Although CAP participants will only be accepted into one of these three programs,  these students can then compete with other transfer students for admission into UT’s other major programs. For more detailed information concerning the CAP program, please visit: www.utexas.edu/student/admissions/research/CAPreport-CAP10.pdf.

To complicate matters, today students have to weigh the benefits of taking advanced placement classes over gifted and talented/honor (GT) courses. GT classes carry a weighted grade, meaning if a student does well in a GT course they can earn extra points towards their GPA. Unfortunately since collegiate entrance is so heavily determined by GPA, high school students are deciding not to push themselves academically for fear it will affect their GPA and potentially their admittance into a flagship institution.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals website has opened the discussion for further debate on this topic and offers suggestions for improving the system using UT Austin as an example in their statistics: www.nassp.org/Content.aspx?topic=61042

Talking with the eager high school student that night brought  memories of my applying to college rushing back. I, too, had been in the top 10 percent of my class and a mostly A student, but I suffered from the SAT blues. When I applied to UT it felt like a pipe dream to me. My best friend attended UT, and I desperately wanted to be her roommate. We would spend the summers and holiday breaks talking about our dorm room and envisioning our college life together.

She invited me to visit one weekend, and I participated in the Longhorn Band sideline crew, ate in the dorm cafeteria, spent the night in the dorm and followed her around to all her classes. When I left, I cried. I did not want to return to high school, and I certainly could not picture my life the following year at anywhere but Texas.

And so the anxiety ensued.

Would I be able to get into the University of Texas? The uncertainty and apprehension was  almost crippling. Thankfully I woke up one morning and decided I was not going to sit by idly and wait for my rejection letter. I knew I did not meet the criteria, so I began exploring other avenues for acceptance.

Unlike many freshmen today, I was in the unique situation of knowing exactly what I wanted to accomplish at UT. I wanted to gain my prerequisites and apply to the School of Nursing. I decided to interview my parents’ large pool of friends, teachers and neighbors for UT graduates. Soon I discovered that my brother’s best friend’s mom was a UT Nursing School graduate.

I called her on the phone and explained my intense motivation to attend UT. This generous woman, Ann Shopoff, offered to write a referral letter on my behalf. The skies began to part, and I had real hope that UT might be within my grasp. I sent her recommendation letter in a sealed envelope with a handwritten letter stating my goals and why a college education at The University of Texas was so important to me.

And then I waited ….

I remember holding the letter in my hand, the letter that would determine where I would spend my freshman year. I could open the envelope, and it may read “Thank you for applying once again, but after further review you have been denied acceptance,” OR, as in my case, the letter read:

“Shannan Willman, you have been selected to attend the University of Texas at Austin under academic probation for the fall 1990 academic semester. Provided you enroll in a minimum of 12 hours of college coursework and maintain a 2.75 GPA or better your first semester, you will be eligible to enroll in the spring 1991 semester as a regularly admitted freshman.”

The sense of euphoria and relief was overwhelming! I took advantage of this opportunity! I quickly learned what prerequisite courses I could successfully complete at UT and what courses I would benefit from taking at a junior college and then transferring the credits to UT. This strategic planning insured my admittance into the UT Austin School of Nursing and graduating with a comprehensive GPA of 3.5 and even higher in my nursing courses.

It was a life lesson in perseverance, determination and faith. My take-home lesson to incoming freshmen is: Don’t give up on your dreams. Do what it takes to make them happen. Nothing worth achieving just falls into your lap.

Your college choice affects so many things, such as whom you will marry and what career path you will take. I can’t think of a more defining moment that helped to determine my path in life than my choice of college.

In addition, it kept me here in Texas!

“Thankful for …”

Dean of the UT Austin School of Nursing

Dean Alexa Stuifbergen

For some of us, the holiday season is a traditional time to reflect on our blessings. I count my role as dean of the UT Austin School of Nursing among mine. In thinking about all of the many things to be thankful for, I’d like to share a few with you.

I am grateful for our students. They continually amaze me with their dedication, curiosity and drive to excel. I am thankful that they represent the School so well across the state, the nation and the world. Students such as Clay Clark and Brittany Castaneda, both in our BSN program, who have been selected as inaugural participants in the Longhorn Center for Civic Engagement – City Hall Fellows program.

I am grateful for our faculty. The teaching and research team assembled at the School of Nursing is professional, committed to excellence and truly cares about our students. Their awards and accolades are too numerous to mention! I encourage you to visit here to learn more about their incredible achievements.

I am grateful for our staff. They serve our students, keep things running smoothly, and take care of the many details related to the “business” and “operations” of running a top-notch academic unit. Whether it’s a friendly greeting provided by front desk guard Jimmy Eaddy or librarian Mandy Deen lending assistance to a student in our Learning Center, I know all of our staff have the best interest of our students at heart and a true desire to help them succeed — no matter the role each may play in the overall success of the School.

I am grateful for our donors. They support us consistently and generously. When we share a need, they respond. In difficult economic times, our donors have shared their resources with us to create graduate fellowships, a new student travel fund, and provide us with gifts, which enable us to deliver a high-quality education to our students.

I am grateful for our alumni who represent us, advocate for us and make us proud. They serve in varied roles from clinical educators to directors of major government agencies. They provide care overseas in military hospitals, in rural community clinics and in elementary schools. They teach future generations of nurses and create innovative interventions to make life better for patients.

I am thankful for … a lot!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from the School of Nursing!

A Path Less Taken

USAF Captain

Retired USAF Capt. Shannan Needleman

Each Veterans Day I have a renewed sense of patriotism and pride in having served my country. I served eight years in the United States Air Force and left the military in 1999 as a captain. Today I believe my decision to serve in the military was one of the best decisions I ever made. But truth be told, the decision to enlist was a bit whimsical.

As graduation from The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing approached, I was more than prepared to enter the workforce but lacked the self-confidence to believe in my skills. Austin was saturated with nurses, and finding a job in my desired specialty — the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) — would be difficult, if not impossible. The thought of moving to a new location and starting over was daunting, so I called a U.S. Air Force recruiter and left a message requesting more information on the nursing program.

To my surprise, no one returned my calls — even after three messages — so I drove to the local recruiting station. I sat with a number of young boys who did not look old enough to enlist. I remember thinking, “What am I doing here? Am I crazy? The military can’t be for me!”

Just as I stood up to walk out, I was called for an interview. I have to give the recruiter credit, he made the military for medical people sound like Club Med with his many promises: The military would move me and provide a housing allowance; I could live off base, receive 30 days paid leave, free travel via “Space-A” on military aircraft, the chance to travel internationally; I’d get free health care and opportunities for additional education. The list seemed endless.

Most importantly, I could enlist as an officer with officer pay grade status. The salary was competitive with beginning hospital packages and the additional perks were enticing. Towards the end of our conversation I wanted to blurt out, “Where do I sign up?”

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all I had learned, however, I decided to go home and sift through the information. After all, I had not even talked this idea over with my parents. Of four children, I was the only daughter and knew for certain my mom would require some gentle convincing. Yet, I walked out of the recruiting office with a sense of purpose, direction and excitement.

In reality the military is by no means Club Med. The nursing program was laborious and challenging. Initially I was not placed in a NICU specialty,  and although I received 30 days of vacation each year, it was not necessarily at the times I requested. I missed funerals and family weddings because I was essential active duty personnel and could not leave my duty responsibilities.

I had to work days and then nights on an alternating schedule every six weeks, which was a difficult lifestyle to adjust to. I had to learn military jargon and acronyms as well as military weaponry and be taught how to shoot a gun. I had to dress in full uniform each and every day and follow the rank protocols and chain of command when working and submit to annual physical tests.

No, certainly the military was not Club Med, but the experience was invaluable. Getting saluted each day as I entered the base was definitely a great way to start a shift. While there, I worked with the best medical staff in the world. We shared a bond and sense of camaraderie and teamwork that is unparalleled in the civilian world. I was exposed to medical challenges and cases that are rarely seen and given responsibilities far above my pay-grade.

I have since left the military and transitioned to the civilian job force, but it is my personal mission each year to attend my daughters’ school’s Veterans Day program in full dress uniform to show the boys and girls that women can serve key roles in the military, whether as a nurse or a soldier, airman or marine. More times than not, I am the only female sitting with a group of men.

I was fortunate never to be deployed or see the battlefield, but that doesn’t make my service any less meaningful. I was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and that realization changed me as a person. Every member of the military is a key piece to our success as a nation, whether male or female. The military was a crucial part of my nursing career and gave me the confidence, knowledge and ability to be the best nurse possible.

Interested in learning more about a military nursing career? I encourage you to talk with a medical military recruiter. You may be surprised to find this career choice is designed for you. Afraid to take that leap? Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.

retired USAF Capt. Shannan Needleman

Meet the Staff: Jane Keller

Welcome to another in the series “Meet the Staff,” in which we showcase some of the School of Nursing’s long-time (and often unsung) staff members. Jane Keller has served as executive assistant to the dean for eleven years.

Dean's executive assistant

Jane Keller, executive assistant to the dean of the School of Nursing

On Working at the School of Nursing:

I have always thought nursing was one of the noblest professions. Working around a school full of nurses and students desiring to be has given me an even deeper appreciation for those who are. I really do love my job because I like to stay busy. I enjoy the variety of activities in the dean’s office and have yet to experience a boring day. I’m good behind the scenes.

On Her Most Important Life Lesson:

I learned from my dad to treat people the same, regardless of what their position was. That was driven home to me. Whether you are dealing with the president of a corporation or an ambassador or a janitor, there should be no difference in the way you treat people. It’s something I’ve always tried to carry through.

On Growing Up in Travis Heights in Austin:

It was a beautiful neighborhood with lots of gorgeous trees. We kids would be gone all day and would come home for dinner — then we would stay out late into the night. We would go to the creek and climb trees and swimming at Deep Eddy and Barton Springs. My daddy would take us there, and we had picnics. All those simple kind of things. It was a great time to grow up. Kids are indoors more these days, it seems to me.

On People Who Inspired Her:

My Great Aunt Addison was the most fascinating woman I had ever known. She lived in Winchester, Texas. She was postmistress in her little town. She could do anything. She was fearless, loving, kind. Everyone respected her. She was just her own person. She never married. She had lots of nieces and nephews. I was named after her — my middle name.

On Her Favorite American:

I’ve read many books on Abraham Lincoln. He was such an amazing man. He experienced one failure after another and he never gave up. He had unbelievable things said about him. He had a lot of strife in his life. And he persevered. He knew who he was and he pressed on. If other people would have had the chance to walk in his shoes, they probably would have given up!

On Her Favorite Pastimes:

Gardening is at the top of my list — it’s my therapy. I also love to cook, read and consider myself an amateur decorator.

Contributed by Michelle Voss