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GRU Explains the Confederate Flag debate

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The South Carolina legislature convened Monday to debate proposals to remove the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds.

Dr. John Hayes, an assistant professor of History at Georgia Regents University, teaches courses on the American South. In a new video, he discusses history’s role in the current controversy.

“The removal of the flag from Statehouse grounds in South Carolina would be symbolically very powerful,” Hayes said. “It’s a way of saying we’re coming to terms with a certain commemoration of the past that spoke for only half – maybe not even half – of the people of South Carolina and, as we confront that commemoration, this has no place going forward. Does that mean South Carolina has all of a sudden turned a corner and become a radically different state? By no means. But I think it’s an important small step in charting a better future, a future that includes all South Carolinians rather than only some.”

A rising scholar in Southern history, Hayes’ research focuses on religion in the late 19th and 20th century South. He has published chapters in edited collections, including Big River: Johnny Cash and the Currents of History; The Christ-Haunted South: Contextualizing Flannery O’Connor, and journal articles, such as The Evangelical Ethos and the Spirit of Capitalism; Recovering the Class-Conscious New South; From Christ-Haunted Region to Anomic Anyplace.

Finalist Named for Georgia Regents University Presidency

Dr. Brooks KeelBoard of Regents Chair Neil Pruitt and University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby have announced a sole finalist for the Georgia Regents University (GRU) presidency, Dr. Brooks Keel.

Keel is currently the president of Georgia Southern University (GSU) in Statesboro. He began as the 12th president of GSU in January 2010.

“It’s an honor to be considered for the role of President of Georgia Regents University,” said Keel. “I love the Eagle Nation and am proud of all we’ve accomplished together. If fortunate to be selected by the Board of Regents, this would be a unique opportunity to return to both of my alma maters that now comprise GRU.”

Georgia Southern is a regional university in the University System of Georgia that educates more than 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students at the university’s eight colleges.

Prior to joining Georgia Southern, Keel served as vice chancellor for research and economic development and professor of biological sciences at Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge).

As president of Georgia Southern, Keel has focused on expanding undergraduate and graduate education through research and community experience. He has also worked to raise the national profile of Georgia Southern academically and athletically.

Under his leadership, GSU has launched the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Information Technology and the Institute for Interdisciplinary STEM Education. GSU also manages the Herty Advances Materials Development Center, which was transferred to the institution by the state of Georgia.

At Georgia Southern, he also serves on the board of directors of the Georgia Southern University Research and Service Foundation, board of trustees of the Georgia Southern University Foundation and board of directors of the Georgia Southern University Housing Foundation.

Civically, Keel serves as the chair of the board of directors of the American Board of Bioanalysis. Some of the other boards he serves on include the Scientific Advisory Board of the AAB Proficiency Testing Program, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the board of trustees of the East Georgia Regional Medical Center.

Among other academic appointments, he has served as associate vice president for research, vice president of the research foundation and professor of biomedical sciences at Florida State University (Tallahassee).

Keel received a Bachelor of Science in biology/chemistry from Augusta College (now Georgia Regents University), a doctorate in reproductive endocrinology from the Medical College of Georgia (now Georgia Regents University) and completed post-doctoral work at the University of Texas Health Science Center (Houston) and University of South Dakota School of Medicine (Vermillion).

The Board of Regents will take action on the selection of the next president of GRU at a specially called board meeting at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 8, 2015.


5 questions about hand sanitizer answered

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Hand sanitizers are more popular than ever – and so are myths about the products.

We get a lot of questions about hand sanitizers and their uses. Are they safe? Are they effective?” said Dr. Stephen Hsu, a Georgia Regents University researcher with a growing line of green tea products.

His start-up biotechnology and drug development company Camellix, LLC, uses green tea-derived technologies to treat dry mouth, dandruff, and cold sores with natural ingredients. Now, Hsu has turned his attention to creating a better hand sanitizer and lotion using compounds derived from green tea.

“People have come to expect that they can use a hand sanitizer to help protect themselves during cold and flu season,” said Hsu, Professor of Oral Biology, Oral Health & Diagnostic Sciences in the GRU College of Dental Medicine. “That’s true, but in reality, hand sanitizers have so much more potential.”

Hsu’s ProtecTeaV® EGCG Hand Sanitizer and EGCG Skin Lotion use a modified epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) compound derived from green tea because it’s got the potential to protect against an extensive range of deadly or debilitating viruses. The new hand sanitizer and lotion are available in pharmacies and online starting this summer. Here, Hsu tackles five common myths about hand sanitizers:

Myth #1: Hand sanitizers only prevent colds.

“Studies in a number of research journals show us that EGCG protects human cells from infection of HIV, herpes, norovirus, hepatitis B and C viruses, human papilloma virus, even Ebola, according to recently published antiviral research by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases ,” said Hsu, a recipient of the 2015 Georgia Bio Innovation Award. “The significance of this technology is the potential to save thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lives from a variety of viral infections.”

As a result of the research, Camellix plans to donate shipments of its new EGCG sanitizer and lotion to military personnel fighting the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

Myth #2: Hand sanitizers replace hand washing.

“Soap and water are still the best way to clean the skin. When they’re not available, hand sanitizers are a great option,” Hsu said. “Sanitizers work best when your hands aren’t overly dirty or greasy, so if it’s possible, you always want to wash or wipe down your hands first to remove visible grime.”

Myth # 3: All hand sanitizers are created equally.

Most sanitizers kill bacteria and some viruses with alcohol, which evaporates in about 20 seconds. “This is fine for immediate cleansing if applied correctly, but it is temporary,” Hsu said. “The key is to provide a long-lasting barrier against viruses. The unique ProtecTeaV® formulation provides a 2-hour barrier by combining alcohol with lipophilic EGCG, a compound patented by Georgia Regents University.”

Myth # 4: Sanitizers kill all bacteria and viruses.

Most bacteria can be killed by alcohol-based sanitizers, but in order to effectively kill viruses, the concentration of alcohol must be very high, or about 90 percent,, which is dangerously flammable.

“With norovirus, for example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water frequently to prevent infection instead of relying solely on alcohol-based sanitizers,” Hsu said. “The rabies and polio viruses are also resistant to alcohol. Compounds to kill these alcohol-resistant viruses are urgently needed. We believe EGCG, especially lipophilic EGCG, is an excellent candidate.”

Myth #5: There is no wrong way to use hand sanitizer.

“The sanitizer can’t do its job if it isn’t applied properly,” Hsu said. “Put a nickel-sized dollop of the product in the palm of one hand and rub hands together, until the surface of your hands and fingers are coated. Keep rubbing until dry. For the best results, wash and dry your hands before using hand sanitizer, then follow with lotion.”

About Dr. Stephen Hsu

Dr. Stephen Hsu, Professor of Oral Biology, Oral Health & Diagnostic Sciences in the College of Dental Medicine at Georgia Regents University, earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Wuhan University after a six-year forced labor experience in a rural farm in China.

After moving to the United States, he earned a Master of Arts degree in molecular biology from Montclair State University in New Jersey and a Ph.D. in cell biology and anatomy from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Hsu is founder of Camellix, LLC, which develops and markets products using green tea-derived technologies to treat dry mouth, dandruff, cold sores, and viral infections with natural ingredients. The products were developed and patented in the Georgia Regents University Life Sciences Business Development Center in the Office of Innovation Commercialization. Hsu joined GRU 1999 and serves as Course Director for both Nutrition and Biochemistry courses. He has joint appointments in the Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics, GRU Cancer Center, and VA Medical Center Augusta.

More information

Learn more about ProtecTeaV® EGCG Hand Sanitizer and Skin Lotion at www.camellix.com or the GRU Office of Innovation Commercialization at www.gru.edu/oic.




Free mobile game brings awareness to cystic fibrosis

AUGUSTA, Ga. – If you are a fan of Fruit Ninja or Super Mario, the latest app developed by Georgia Regents University and local fifth-graders is a must-have.

Battle Bacteria is educational, fun, and free to download.​

The main goal of the game is to bring awareness to cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects about 30,000 people in the U.S. and 70,000 worldwide.

Fifth-grade students at Chukker Creek Elementary in Aiken, S.C., came up with the initial concept and design for the characters in the game, said Jeff Mastromonico, director of the instructional design and development department at GRU.

Fifth-graders at Chukker Creek Elementary in Aiken, S.C., designed all characters of Bacteria Battle and researched all the facts about cystic fibrosis displayed in the game.
Fifth-graders at Chukker Creek Elementary in Aiken, S.C., designed all characters of Bacteria Battle and researched all the facts about cystic fibrosis displayed in the game.

“I developed the gameplay and design, getting regular feedback from the students as well as meeting with them on campus to discuss the game and answer any question they had about the process,” he said.

In the game, players become aware of what cystic fibrosis is, what causes it and what the symptoms and treatments are.

“The students were responsible for researching the cystic fibrosis facts and information that are supplied in the game,” Mastromonico said.

The idea for the app

The idea to create the game came from Alecia Kinard, whose daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, Mastromonico said.

Kinard wanted to educate children and parents about the disorder and wanted fifth graders at Chukker Creek Elementary involved in the project.

After seeing an app that GRU helped create to teach children with diabetes about making good food choices, Kinard approached Mastromonico with her idea.

“This seemed a perfect fit with some of the work that we have been doing lately with the Children’s Hospital of Georgia developing games for them to utilize with patients,” Mastromonico said. “The added benefit of working with young students and educating them about careers in app, web, and game development also felt like the perfect opportunity to make ourselves available as a resource to the community.”

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disorder caused by a defective, recessive gene.

This gene makes body fluids such as mucus and digestive juices thicker and stickier. In turn, these fluids lose their lubricant properties, causing them to accumulate in the lungs and the digestive tract.

This build-up may lead to serious lung infections and life-threatening damage to the pancreas and other organs of the digestive system.

​There is no known cure for the disorder.

Playing Battle Bacteria

In this military-style game, you are the antibiotic and your mission is to kill the different bacteria that are in the lungs and pancreas of a person with cystic fibrosis.

In the first level, you have to slice and kill the bacteria in the lungs and be careful not to burst the oxygen bubbles in the same way you would cut fruits in Fruit Ninja and avoid exploding bombs.

The second level is similar to Super Mario in that you have to jump on the enemies to destroy them. Just be careful not to touch the enzymes, which could kill you.

Battle Bacteria has had about 700 downloads since its launch in March. It is available for Android and iOS platforms, and you can download it for free on Google Play or iTunes.

Gene found that is essential to maintaining breast and cancer stem cells

The gene and hormone soup that enables women to breastfeed their newborns also can be a recipe for breast cancer, particularly when the first pregnancy is after age 30.

Researchers have now found that the gene DNMT1 is essential to maintaining breast, or mammary,  stem cells, that enable normal rapid growth of the breasts during pregnancy, as well as the cancer stem cells that may enable breast cancer. They’ve learned that the DNMT1 gene also is highly expressed in the most common types of breast cancer.

Conversely, ISL1 gene, a tumor suppressor and natural control mechanism for stem cells, is nearly silent in the breasts during pregnancy as well as cancer, said Dr. Muthusamy Thangaraju, biochemist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University and corresponding author of the study in the journal Nature Communications.

“DNMT1 directly regulates ISL1,” Thangaraju said. “If the DNMT1 expression is high, this ISL1 gene is low.” They first made the connection when they knocked out DNMT1 in a mouse and noted the increase in ISL1. Then they got busy looking at what happened in human breast cancer cells.

They found ISL1 is silent in most human breast cancers and that restoring higher levels to the human breast cancer cells dramatically reduces the stem cell populations and the resulting cell growth and spread that are hallmarks of cancer.

When they eliminated the DNMT1 gene in a breast-cancer mouse model, “The breast won’t develop as well,” Thangaraju said, but neither would about 80 percent of breast tumors. The deletion even impacted super-aggressive, triple-negative breast cancer.

The findings point toward new therapeutic targets for breast cancer and potentially using blood levels of ISL1 as a way to diagnose early breast cancer, the researchers report. In fact, they’ve found that the anti-seizure medication valproic acid, already used in combination with chemotherapy to treat breast cancer, appears to increase ISL1 expression, which may help explain why the drug works for these patients, he said. The scientists are screening other small molecules that might work as well or better.

Mammary stem cells help maintain the breasts during puberty as well as pregnancy, both periods of dynamic breast cell growth. During pregnancy, breasts may generate 300 times more cells as they prepare for milk production. This mass production may also include tumor cells, a mutation that seems to increase with age, Thangaraju said. When the fetus is lost before term, immature cells that were destined to become breast cells, can more easily become cancer, said Rajneesh Pathania, a GRU graduate student and the study’s first author.

DNMT1 is essential for maintaining a variety of stem cell types, such as hematopoietic stem cells, which produce all types of blood cells. But, its role in regulating the stem cells that make breast tissue and enable breast cancer has not been studied, the scientists write.

While the exact reasons remain unclear, there is an increased risk of breast cancer if the first pregnancy occurs after age 30 as well as in women who lose their baby during pregnancy or have an abortion. Women who never have children also are at increased risk, while multiple term pregnancies further decrease the risk, according to the American Cancer Society.

Theories include that the hormone-induced maturation of breast cells that occurs during pregnancy may increase the potential for breast cancer cells to be made as well. Also, most breast cancers thrive on estrogen and progesterone, which are both highly expressed during pregnancy and also help fuel stem cell growth.

During pregnancy, stem cells also make more of themselves so their population increases about five times. DNMT1 levels experience a similar increase.

In five different types of human breast cancer, researchers found high levels of DNMT1 and ISL1 turned off. Even in a laboratory dish, when they put the ISL1 gene back, human breast cancer cells and stem cell activity were much reduced, Thangaraju said.

Read: Recognize signs of alcohol problem

U.S. News & World Report: May 5, 2015

More than 17 million Americans suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. But not everyone can tell when heavy drinking crosses the line to alcoholism.

To help people identify when drinking becomes a problem, Dr. William Jacobs, chief of addiction medicine at Georgia Regents University’s Medical College of Georgia, outlined five major signs of alcohol abuse or dependence:

One is a high tolerance for alcohol, which means a person drinks increasing amounts of alcohol. Someone with a high tolerance may drink more than others without showing obvious signs of intoxication.

Read full story: Learn to recognize the signs of an alcohol problem

GRU diversity expert available for National Nurses Week

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Nursing student diversity is on the rise, says Dr. Faye Hargrove, chair of the College of Nursing Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee at Georgia Regents University.

A diverse nursing workforce is key to providing culturally sensitive patient care. It’s why the GRU College of Nursing Dean Lucy Marion and Multicultural Affairs Coordinator Melissa Johnson-Bates recruited a dedicated committee to advise college leadership on how to best attract and retain students, faculty, and staff from under-represented groups in nursing. Hargrove, Chief Development Officer at the Family YMCA of Greater Augusta, brings expert leadership to the team.

Since its inception in February 2014, the college’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee has reviewed a five-year diversity and inclusion plan, participated in and promoted training, analyzed student and employee demographic data, and made recommendations for recruitment, programming, and processes. This year, one of their most significant contributions has been to propose guidelines for a nursing curriculum that includes cultural competency development for all new nursing students.

“Our diverse community deserves the best caregivers we can provide, ” Hargrove said. “Real information about diversity and inclusion isn’t always intuitive. You have to educate yourself and make the effort, which is what the College of Nursing is doing. We’re looking at everything. It’s not just race and ethnicity. It’s age and gender and religion and lifestyle and so many other things that make the difference in providing quality patient care.”

From May 6-12, GRU and GRHealth will celebrate nurses as part of National Nurses Week. Events include a gala for nurses, and free webinars sponsored by the American Nurses Association and National Black Nurses Association. April is also Diversity Awareness Month at GRU. The month, designated by the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, encourages the exploration of cultures and differing perspectives.

Hargrove, a personal development coach and team trainer for corporations and clients across the United States, is a published author and civic leader active in various organizations. She is a founding member of Women in Philanthropy of the Central Savannah River Area and also serves on the Boards of Directors for the Community Foundation of the CSRA, the First Tee of Augusta, and the United Way of the CSRA.

Hargrove is an alumna of the University of Georgia. She has previously served as CEO of Hargrove Leadership Services, as a faculty member in the School of Business at Georgia College and State University, as the Head of the School of Business Administration and Economics at the University of South Carolina Aiken, and as Vice President for Student Development at Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

She periodically teaches non-profit management and strategic planning for non-profit organizations in the Masters in Public Administration program at GRU.

Hargrove is available to discuss diversity and inclusion in business, education, and leadership, and the need to attract students and faculty from under-represented groups in nursing. To schedule an interview prior to or during National Nurses Week, contact Kelly Jasper at 706-513-0719.

Faculty expert: Supreme Court hears oral arguments on same-sex marriage bans


 AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Supreme Court of the United States convened on Tuesday to weigh the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

Dr. Martha Ginn, an Associate Professor of Political Science, teaches Constitutional Law at Georgia Regents University. She is available for interviews after the court hears oral arguments in the four cases challenging state bans on same-sex marriage.

One of the nation’s leading scholars in judicial politics, Ginn’s research interests include judicial selection, Appellate courts decision-making, and public opinion, particularly of the judiciary. Her unique blend of legal expertise and analytical skill, coupled with a passion for the Constitution, make her an engaging professor for students on topics such as Constitutional law, the judicial process, political scandals and affairs, and public administration.

Ginn is available to discuss:

  • Background concerning the four cases in front of the Supreme Court
  • Potential impact for Georgians
  • Next steps following Tuesday’s oral arguments

To schedule interviews with Ginn, contact Kelly Jasper at 706-513-0719.

Adverse childhood events appear to increase the risk of being a hypertensive adult

Children who experience multiple traumatic events, from emotional and sexual abuse to neglect, have higher blood pressures as young adults than their peers, researchers report.

The difference of 10 points in the systolic pressure – the top number denoting pressure while the heart is contracting – by early adulthood puts these young people at higher risk for hypertension and coronary artery disease by middle and/or old age, said Dr. Shaoyong Su, genetic epidemiologist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.

As an example, comparing two white males in the study with the same body mass index, the one who reported no adverse childhood events, or ACEs, had a systolic pressure of 117. His peer with four or more ACEs had a top measure of 127.

“That is a big difference,” said Su, corresponding author of the study in the American Heart Association journal Circulation. “You can predict that five years later, these young people may be hypertensive.” He noted that an exponential increase in pressure correlated with an increasing number of bad events.

ACEs include emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; emotional and physical neglect; and household dysfunction, such as substance abuse or domestic violence. MCG researchers found the blood pressure increase resulting from experiencing multiple ACEs wasn’t fully explained by known concurrent risk factors such as being male, black, a low socioeconomic status, inactivity, obesity, and smoking.

“We hope these studies will reinforce the need to screen children and young adults for adverse childhood events so this increased risk can be identified early to enhance resiliency and recovery and lessen the burden of cardiovascular disease later in life,” said Su. “First we have to know and accept that these difficult problems occur to some extent in the majority of our children.”

The study looked at data collected from young people, now a mean age of 30, who are part of a long-term study at MCG’s Georgia Prevention Institute looking at cardiovascular risk factor development. ACEs were assessed in an equal number of males and females and blacks and whites, 213 and 181, respectively. Blood pressure was measured an average of 13 times over a 23-year period. Information about ACEs was gathered after study participants reached 18.

About 70 percent of the children from the Richmond County public school system reported at least one ACE; 18 percent reported more than three. About 30 percent of that 18 percent came from well-educated families with good incomes. In fact, in conflict with associations between ACEs and a lower socioeconomic status, the researchers found that 50 percent of their participants with a history of

childhood abuse and 40 percent who reported neglect came from medium or high income families. While the blood pressure of black males tended to run higher generally and blacks had slightly more exposure to ACEs, there was not a significant difference in the impact of ACEs on blood pressure between blacks and whites, the researchers found.

While many studies have looked at the impact of ACEs on health, prospective studies on the association with high blood pressure development are scarce, the researchers write, and the moderating effects of ethnicity and gender had not been examined.

The new study reemphasized that adverse events were common, and in keeping with previous studies, a greater number of ACEs resulted in an increase in both the top and bottom measure of blood pressure in young adults, suggesting a cumulative effect.

The Adverse Childhood Experience Study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego looked at more than 17,000 adults who also provided information about ACEs. While there have been more than 50 papers published on the findings, overall findings suggest that the experiences are risk factors for many of the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor life quality. About 12.5 percent of participants had experienced four or more ACEs.

A national study of nurses published in 2010 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found an association between childhood maltreatment and self-reported hypertension in middle-aged women. Those researchers noted that adverse childhood events may also trigger unhealthy habits such as smoking and inactivity that also can increase blood pressure. Gender and ethnicity, along with socioeconomic status, including parents’ educational level also could have an impact on overall health and well-being.

Su notes that percentages of children experiencing ACEs are similar whether looking across Georgia, the nation, or the world. His study participants were not asked how often or how long their bad experiences occurred, just whether they had one or more from the different categories.

Dream to Reality: Doctor of Nursing Practice Program celebrates 10 years

When it launched in 2005, the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at GRU’s College of Nursing was one of few in the nation—and hasn’t stopped innovating yet.

By Danielle Wong Moores

Many people dream about becoming nurses. But not Lindsay Moore.

Moore didn’t even take any science classes during her time at Georgia’s Toccoa Falls College, instead double majoring in business administration and counseling with a double minor in outdoor leadership and education and Biblical studies. Her heart was for mission work, but hearts can be funny things. After college graduation, she worked for a relief organization in Gabon, Africa, alongside physicians and advanced practice nurses, and suddenly her heart changed. “We had a lot of good conversations about what they do, and nursing just seemed to fit,” said Moore.

But then there were those science classes—and the fact that Moore was eager to get back to the mission field as a nurse, not in 10 or more years but as soon as possible. All of which brought her back to Georgia and to the Georgia Regents University College of Nursing.

GRU offers an accelerated 16-month Clinical Nurse Leader program designed specifically for professionals interested in nursing, but who, like Moore, earned their degree in another field. While Moore still had to brush up on a few prerequisite classes in chemistry and biology, she was accepted and enrolled in the CNL program in 2010.

But Moore was looking beyond that. Her ultimate goal was to then enter GRU’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program and its acute care nurse practitioner option immediately after graduating as a CNL.

Moore in fact would become the first GRU nursing student to go straight through from the CNL to the DNP program—heralding a sea change in how nursing education is being delivered at GRU and serving as a model for other nursing programs who are watching GRU’s innovations closely.

The DNP Difference

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the College of Nursing’s DNP program—which was one of just 10 in the nation when it launched in the summer of 2005. For nursing dean Dr. Lucy Marion, launching the program was a prerequisite of her accepting the dean’s position at GRU (then named the Medical College of Georgia).

“We knew it was going to be the future,” said Marion. She recently had served as president of the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, and the data crossing her desk revealed that nurse practitioner students were spending considerably more classroom and clinical hours to learn what they needed—approaching doctoral levels. “We saw that, and we said, ‘Something’s happening here,’” said Marion.

That “something” was a knowledge explosion in health care due to a rapidly changing health care environment, coupled with a growing nationwide shortage of primary care physicians and limits to resident physician hours. Nurse practitioners had been stepping up to fill the gap, providing primary care and ensuring care coordination and patient education, all while still holding the patient’s hand during tough times.

A handful of institutions, including Columbia University, were already responding to these changes with their own version of a DNP program, and Marion connected with all four. “That’s when I had an a-ha moment,” she said. “I went to a board meeting after that and said, ‘Folks, this is going to happen, and it’s going to happen big.”

Marion left that meeting with a commitment by the organization to support the development of DNP programs for advanced practice nurses—and three years later she was laying the groundwork for a new DNP program at GRU.

The program was launched after just nine months of planning under the leadership of Dr. Sandy Turner, FNP—“It was rough, very rough, but we pushed it through,” said Marion—with a first class made up entirely of GRU nursing faculty members. Fourteen in all, with 11 graduating, they would serve as a test class to help improve and refine the program.

Marguerite Murphy was one of those students. Then director of the RN to BSN program, Murphy would become director of the DNP program in 2008. “There’s a strong sense of history and a strong sense of pride in being part of the original class,” she said. “We were on the cutting-edge of this DNP movement, and to see where it’s gone and the difference that it has made—it’s been exciting.”

The program has changed rapidly over the past decade. Originally simply a post-masters DNP, acute care nurse practitioner was the first concentration added to the degree, followed by family nurse practitioner and pediatric nurse practitioner. By fall 2016, the plan is to add mental health, nurse anesthesia and nurse executive concentrations, and later, public health.

What hasn’t changed is how the DNP takes nursing to the next level. “To be effective moving forward, advanced practice nurses need to be able to look at the research and decide if they should use it to change their practice,” said Murphy. “They need to be able to understand health care policy and how policies impact care and care delivery to effectively advocate for their patients and for themselves.”

The DNP candidates get an early taste of how they can make a real difference—or as Murphy describes it, “have an equal seat at the table.” Each candidate must complete a final project, which gave Murphy, as a student, the opportunity to work alongside national nursing leaders to develop a multidisciplinary evidence-based guideline to prevent post-operative nausea and vomiting, while Moore proved the effectiveness of video discharge instructions for sickle cell patients—a program that is now being adopted in that clinic and others at GRHealth.

The Future of Advanced Practice Nursing

Marion’s prediction of DNP programs “happening big” was accurate. Today there are more than 250 DNP programs nationwide—and GRU’s program alone has graduated 143 DNPs since its inception, with another 10 expected this May.

But the program isn’t simply resting on its laurels. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine released a report—“The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health”—that, among other things, urged nursing schools to improve their educational systems so that nurses could achieve higher levels of training and education with seamless academic progression, not the least of which was to double the number of doctorally prepared nurses by 2020.

The IOM recommendations were groundbreaking. Nursing culture has always dictated that becoming an advanced practice nurse required earning a degree, stopping to get two or more years of experience, then going back for another degree and so on. The result is that advanced practice nurses are often in their 40s or 50s before they earn a doctoral degree—in contrast to physicians and other health care providers—and miss out on years of productivity where they could have advanced the practice of nursing as DNPs.

Under Marion’s leadership, the seamless transition of nurses from masters to doctorally prepared in about four years compared to 20 has long been another vision of the College of Nursing. It was achieved last year through Moore’s graduation from the DNP program, and about five other CNLs are set to do the same in the next three years, having entered the DNP program this past spring. “This year, the program reached the tipping point,” said Marion. “We know we’re there.”

For Moore, who graduated in May 2014 and is now a nationally certified Adult and Geriatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, her four years of study were challenging, informative, exhilarating and enlightening. During her DNP program, she worked as an ER nurse and is continuing to do so as a nurse practitioner, all while pursuing an international medicine fellowship before she returns to the mission field. “I wouldn’t have done it any other way,” she said.

Her DNP training is already helping her move the practice of nursing forward through evidence applied at the bedside—a skill she will rely on when she is overseas working to care for patients with limited resources. “Becoming a nurse … It was a good decision,” she said with a smile. “I love it, I really do; and I’m excited to finally be able to apply all this preparation, all this training for people who need urgent and emergent health care.”