Just two years ago, American Sentinel launched an innovative, online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree with a focus on executive leadership. Now we’re proud to announce that the students in our first cohort have graduated, on June 22. To earn the DNP, each student had to complete a Capstone project – an intensive, active learning project that demonstrates his or her ability to apply leadership, analytical, and interpretive skills to an area of their choosing. Because each project is tailored to the individual student’s professional goals, the results have been fascinating! Here are their stories.
Nursing background: An emphasis on patient care
Eddie Beard, DNP, MSN, RN, NEA-BC is currently working in an executive role as senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory, NC. He is also an appraiser for ANCC’s Magnet Recognition Program®. Not surprisingly, Eddie has a keen interest in providing high quality patient care, and he believes one way to do so is to promote high standards of professionalism in nursing.
This viewpoint has also influenced Eddie’s educational goals. “Philosophically, I believe the higher the nurse’s education, the greater the chance the care will be excellent,” he says. “In my organization, we push education, primarily getting nurses up to the baccalaureate degree. It’s hard to have that view and not apply it to myself.”
He says acquiring a doctoral degree has been a lifelong goal, one he hoped to accomplish by his fiftieth birthday, which he did. American Sentinel’s DNP program was a perfect fit for Eddie, because its focus on executive leadership was so applicable to his career and his current position. “This degree will not only allow me to be a better champion for both our patients and staff, but will help as I strive to drive health care innovations and influence policy,” he says, noting that the program stressed the critical thinking skills needed to shape evidence-based practice.
The Capstone: Shaping social media policy
American Sentinel’s DNP students are encouraged to custom-tailor a Capstone project that directly relates to their current career goals. In his executive position, Eddie was working to develop his hospital’s first policy regarding the use of social media in the workplace, and he decided to make that his Capstone focus.
Other hospital administrators, those not inclined to use social media themselves, had the attitude that social media should be completely prohibited. Yet Eddie wanted to approach the matter from an evidence-based perspective, so he began with a literature search. “There was very little information out there, and what did exist was mainly speculative or, worse yet, sensational news stories about staff posting radiology images online or causing other HIPAA violations,” he recounts.
For many people, that would have been the limits of the research, but Associate Dean for Graduate Studies Betty Nelson, Ph.D., RN, who served as the Capstone advisor for this project, challenged Eddie to create his own research instrument. That challenge was masterfully accepted. Eddie went on to develop a survey specifically designed to identify and describe registered nurses’ use of social networking media (SNM) and to study differences between personal and professional use of SNM.
“It was almost like doing two studies in one,” reflects Eddie on the process, which involved not only creating the survey, but finding ways to circulate it among a representative population, then analyzing the data he collected. After deciding to include both RNs and advanced practice nurses (APNs) and to limit his definition of SNM to include Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Twitter, Eddie designed a questionnaire that would let participants describe their attitudes toward social media and their patterns of use. He obtained nearly 350,000 email addresses from state boards of nursing and worked to refine his sample population based on U.S. Census Bureau regions. Finally, he sent the survey electronically to 120,000 nurses and was “absolutely thrilled” to receive 10,905 responses. “I have a lot of confidence that my sample is representative of the national population,” he says.
Conclusions: Leadership and best practices are key
In the end, Eddie found that more than 70 percent of the RNs and APNs in his survey are using social media, either personally or professionally, for various reasons and across various devices. Higher usage rates are correlated with younger age and higher levels of education. Direct care nurses and nurse educators use social media the most, while nurse managers use it the least. His research lead Eddie to conclude that ignoring or prohibiting SNM in the workplace is ineffective, and that SNM could be better utilized by nurses for professional purposes. In the “Conclusions” section of his thesis, he compellingly writes:
Hospitals who fail to develop strategies to effectively use social media may find themselves left behind, given that 60 million consumers now use social media methods to share their health experiences online, and another approximately 1,200 Facebook communities advocate for cures for chronic illnesses. If healthcare providers do not participate and help manage this, the danger is that it will be managed on their behalf, but potentially not to their benefit.
Although the Capstone may be finished, Eddie is now looking for ways to apply his new insights. “The hospital policy was just a tiny spark that made me start asking questions. My hope now that I’m finished with the research is to begin figuring out how nursing can integrate social media with practice. It’s a cultural shift – social media isn’t going away, and we can no longer bury our heads in the sand. So the question is, how do we start adapting?”
Eddie also points out that agencies like the CDC and JCAHO are already using social media to share information with their members or the greater community, and human resources departments are using it as a recruiting tool. “Hospitals were afraid to embrace social media because there were no set boundaries and it was coming from a grassroots level. Often change occurs from the top down, and this was coming from the bottom up – so it was a challenge to provide leadership for it.”
At his organization, Eddie hopes to provide just such leadership and innovation within the realm of social networking media, perhaps starting with a pilot project on one nursing unit. He’s started thinking about the ways nursing might also use SNM as a real-time communication tool, to share information with other nurses or connect with patients.
It’s just this kind of forward thinking that American Sentinel’s has hoped to foster with its DNP program, as nurse leaders are faced with ever-increasing complexities and unprecedented challenges. Congratulations, Eddie, on a job well done!