Vol. 12 No. 8 - March, 2010

Student Profile

student profile
Robert Carlin Photography
Shirley Tierney

Shirley Tierney
GSN PhD candidate
Director of Nursing Informatics, UMass Memorial Medical Center


It seems as though my career progression can be measured in decades. My first decade was spent as a staff nurse, where I obtained my BSN while working in the operating room. The next decade found me in various management positions in the perioperative arena, necessitating a return to school for a master’s degree in nursing administration.

My third decade started with a career change to nursing informatics. I had become fascinated with the intricacies of implementing an O.R. management information system and started to teach myself about databases and queries and report-writing software. As much as I loved being in the perioperative environment, when the opportunity came to join the Nursing Informatics Department, I could not pass it up. However, I soon realized there was much more to informatics than database management, and so it was back to school again. This time it was to earn a post-graduate certificate in nursing informatics via a distance learning program at Duke University. This was one of the most demanding programs I had ever encountered, but so rewarding and well-worth the sacrifice of trading post-workday relaxation for all-night study sessions online with colleagues across the country.

My work in informatics stimulated a growing interest in research. And so as I enter my fourth decade as a nurse, I find myself once again back in school. And while online education had been a positive experience, I knew the intensity of obtaining a PhD required me to be in a live classroom interacting with professors and fellow students. I loved the atmosphere I encountered at the GSN from the moment I entered. The class sizes are small, giving students the ability to intensely share and explore knowledge and learning opportunities. The faculty are sincere and caring mentors who want nothing more than to help their students succeed. The program emphasis on research, rigor and ethics underscores for me every day that I made the right choice.

My area of interest is in nursing administration research. In my current position, I analyze large datasets and have the opportunity to create various tools for our nurse managers and administrators who  ultimately turn all of that data into information that can be effectively incorporated into their practice. My dissertation research involves examining relationships between patient acuity and patient turnover with worked hours per patient day, a common measure of nursing workload. I’d like to develop a staffing model that incorporates patient acuity and turnover to support the nurse managers’ efforts to more accurately predict the nursing resources required to deliver care to our patients.

My husband once told me that I am never really happy unless I am in school. I guess he should know after 34 years!