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DNP candidates submit final projects; work on front lines amid pandemic

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

May 12, 2020

Thirty-nine students from the Graduate School of Nursing Class of 2020 at UMass Medical School wrapped up their Doctor of Nursing Practice project presentations at the end of April. It’s the final step before they graduate on May 31 in a virtual commencement celebration.

The projects can take years to complete, and like many other events at UMMS and across the country, the presentations took place via Zoom to allow participants to abide by social distancing guidelines.

Nicole Parker presents her final DNP project on Zoom.

“It is disappointing, but everyone understands this is the best we can do in this situation. The show must go on,” said Nicole Parker, MS, FNP-BC, and a DNP candidate in the GSN Class of ‘20. She conducted her project on obesity medicine education for outpatient practices.

Parker is one of several advanced practice nurses transitioning between health care systems due to the virus. She was deployed from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to the COVID-19 unit at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

“This is the behavior of nurses,” she said. “We want to get to the front lines of any situation and do what we can to assist our patients with grace. I feel so privileged to help people as my career.”

“We are taking it day by day. We’re working way more hours than usual,” said classmate Brigid Koenen, MS, FNP-BC. Koenen’s DNP project was focused on exercise counseling for people with prediabetes and diabetes.

While finishing her project in the winter, she was moved to the ICU at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in the wake of COVID-19.

“I am very happy to go to work and do my part, it is my job. It can be scary, but at the same time I really want to be there,” she said.

Catherine Whitaker speaks during Heywood Medical Group’s daily online COVID-19 update.

DNP classmate Catherine Whitaker, MS, AGPCNP-BC, based her project on advanced directives for end of life decisions in a primary care setting.

“It definitely did not feel real, presenting my hard work through a screen,” she said. “But we made the most of it. There are certainly more important things going on right now that require our focus.”

Whitaker works as a nurse practitioner in occupational health at Heywood Medical Group and Hospital. She’s taken on a stronger leadership role since COVID-19 spread to Massachusetts.

“It was just a few months ago that I was an ICU nurse, and now I’m helping make policy decisions in my office,” she said. “I do feel like my education at UMass has helped me in this position. I’ve had to expect the unexpected, which is what a nursing professional does.”

The DNP project is a pivotal accomplishment for nurses, tackling real world problems based on their own clinical experience.

“They have to define a problem, and drill it down so it’s measurable,” said Susan Feeney, DNP, FNP-BC, assistant professor of nursing and family nurse practitioner program coordinator. “They come up with a project to describe that problem or implement an intervention that might change it, and then evaluate it.”

Dr. Feeney said the DNP students are committed to the profession.

“Our students are bright, adaptable and they care about nursing and patient care,” said Feeney. “They have taken on so many challenges, and I can’t help but think to myself that we are in good hands. These people are the future of our profession.”