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UK nursing leaders and alumnae honored for excellence

Current and retired faculty members and distinguished alumnae in the UK College of Nursing have been honored by a number of organizations for their work in the fields of teaching and health care.

Carolyn Williams, dean emeritus of the UK College of Nursing and former president of the American Academy of Nursing, was one of five nurse leaders to receive the academy’s designation of Living Legend, the organization’s highest honor, at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 5.

The Academy recognizes a small number of fellows as Living Legends each year. To be eligible, the Living Legend must have been an academy fellow for at least 15 years and have demonstrated extraordinary, sustained contributions to nursing and healthcare.

Williams was honored for her work in public health epidemiology and nursing education. Her groundbreaking work advocates for community health through population-focused research and care. She was actively involved in efforts that led to the creation of the National Institute for Nursing Research. As dean of the UK College of Nursing, she launched the nation’s first doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program. As president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, she pressed for development of the DNP nationally.

Janie Heath, current dean of the UK College of Nursing, was recognized as a distinguished alumna by her alma mater, the University of Oklahoma College of Nursing on Oct. 27. The award was established by the college and the Alumni Board of Directors to recognize graduates who demonstrate “outstanding leadership related to the field of nursing or healthcare” and who have made “significant clinical, academic, research or other contributions to nursing or health care on a local, state, national or international level.”

In addition, the UK College of Nursing honored five new inductees in its Hall of Fame on Nov. 10 at 21C Hotel in Lexington. The honorees are:

  • Karen S. Hill ’87, chief operating officer/chief nursing officer for Baptist Health in Lexington.
  • Sheila H. Ridner ’78, director at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.
  • Marcia K. Stanhope ’67, former director of Good Samaritan.
  • Colleen H. Swartz ’87 DNP ’11, chief nurse executive/chief administrative officer at UK HealthCare.
  • Gail A. Wolf ’78, former chief nursing officer, University of Pittsburgh Health Care System.

Established in 2006, the College of Nursing Hall of Fame identifies distinguished graduates and their extraordinary contributions to the nursing profession.

“Drs. Hill, Ridner, Stanhope, Swartz and Wolf are pioneers who truly embody the Wildcat spirit – a spirit of curiosity and determination,” said Heath. “One that impacts nursing practice through teaching with excellence, advancing scholarly practice, generating nursing science and embracing differences.”


Next steps:

UK HealthCare takes proactive approach to nurse recruitment

Kentucky, like most states nationwide, is experiencing a shortage of qualified nurses. For UK HealthCare, which sees some of the sickest and most severely injured patients in the Commonwealth, this presents a particular problem. But UK HealthCare is working to combat the shortage by offering a wide variety of recruitment incentives and professional development opportunities.

A shortage of registered nurses, whether they are in hospital or clinic setting, is a multifaceted dilemma. The aging “baby boomer” population places a strain on healthcare resources, and the expansion of the Affordable Care Act means that more people are seeking treatment. The high number of Kentuckians with diabetes, cancer, heart disease and strokes also increases the demand for trained nurses.

“We have some serious health issues in our state,” said Colleen Swartz, chief nurse executive and chief administrative officer of UK HealthCare. “It’s no longer, ‘I have a fractured hip,’ it’s ‘I have a fractured hip and I’m a diabetic and I have congestive heart failure. That has created care that is very complex.”

Educational incentives

To address both the shortage and the complex health issues with which nurses must contend, UK HealthCare and the College of Nursing have instituted education incentives designed to attract new nurses and provide current UK nurses with opportunities for professional development. These incentives include tuition assistance, loan-repayment programs and continuing education programs.

One such program is Nursing Professional Advancement, which rewards nurses with pay differentials added to their base pay for participating in development opportunities. The nurse residency program for new graduate nurses is a one-year educational and support program that provides regular contact with experts and mentors to help with the transition from student to professional.

“We try to provide students with the best learning environment we possibly can,” said Swartz.

The UK College of Nursing awards over 300 undergraduate and graduate degrees each year. The PhD program is ranked among the top eight programs in the U.S. by the National Research Council, and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) was the first of its kind the U.S. Online continuing education programs are available, as well as a number of graduate certificates geared toward preparing advanced practice registered nurses for national certification eligibility and licensure in a new or additional specialty area.

Expanding skills

“The registered nurse of today is not the registered nurse of a decade ago,” said Swartz. “There is an increase in demand on their performances and their understanding of complexities.”

While other healthcare centers offer monetary incentives, such as sign-on bonuses for new hires, UK focuses on recruiting nurses looking to expand their skill set or to advance their careers.

The hospital’s reputation is a factor as well. UK HealthCare was named the best hospital in Kentucky by the U.S. News & World Report, and has achieved top 50 rankings in cancer treatment, neurology, geriatrics, and diabetes and endocrinology.

“[Another benefit] is the culture of the environment such as hospitals with magnet status that treat employees with respect,” said Janie Heath, dean of the College of Nursing. “We recognize and promote their outstanding efforts to meet the mission of care delivery excellence.”


Next steps:

colleen swartz hall of fame

UK HealthCare’s Dr. Colleen Swartz inducted into College of Nursing Hall of Fame

Dr. Colleen Swartz

Dr. Colleen Swartz

Congratulations to Dr. Colleen Swartz, the chief nurse executive and chief administrative officer at UK HealthCare, for her recent induction into the UK College of Nursing Hall of Fame!

Dr. Swartz earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1987 and her doctoral degree in nursing practice in 2011 from the UK College of Nursing. Established in 2006, the UK College of Nursing Hall of Fame identifies distinguished graduates and their extraordinary contributions to the nursing profession.

Dr. Swartz became chief nurse executive for UK HealthCare in December 2008 and was appointed chief administrative officer in February 2017. Dr. Swartz oversees UK HealthCare’s more than 4,000 nursing service employees, which includes more than 2,000 full-time registered nurses. With the help of Dr. Swartz’ leadership and vision, our nurses play a vital role in enhancing our patients’ healing process and are instrumental in providing the world-class care available at UK HealthCare.

Among her many accomplishments at UK HealthCare, Dr. Swartz helped us earn Magnet recognition from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) in February 2016. Magnet status is the gold standard for nursing excellence, and out of nearly 6,000 healthcare organizations in the United States, fewer than 7 percent have achieved Magnet designation.

Her prior experience includes serving as chief nursing officer at a regional community hospital, director of emergency and trauma services, flight nursing and as director of the Capacity Command Center for UK HealthCare.

Congratulations on this awesome recognition, Dr. Swartz!


Next steps:

Get Fit and Quit

UK partnership helps women in recovery replace cigarettes with sweat

While managing her sobriety, returning to the workforce and enduring a grueling legal process to reunite with her children, Missy couldn’t imagine a day without cigarettes.

After finishing a six-year prison sentence in January, she was determined to get her life back in order. In the spring, she completed a substance abuse rehabilitation program at the Chrysalis House, a residential recovery center for women in Lexington. She got a job and started working through the legal process necessary to regain custody of her children. Smoking – a habit she picked up after prison – helped her cope with her emotions and the stress of court dates and legal battles.

“Quitting wasn’t a top priority because I was so stressed out with stuff going on with my kids,” Missy said. “I would push it to the back of my mind, like, ‘I am not even going to think about quitting smoking, this is calming me down.’”

Then she learned she was pregnant, and she set a quit date.

“It kind of seemed like it was impossible because there is so much going on,” she said. “But me finding out I was pregnant –that pushed me over the edge.”

During her stay at the Chrysalis House earlier this year, Missy signed up for the Get Fit and Quit Program (GFAQ), a community-based research partnership organized by health advocates at the UK College of Nursing, the Chrysalis House and the YMCA of Central Kentucky.

The program, which started in March, includes group tobacco treatment and physical activity sessions. About 14 Chrysalis House clients have enrolled and consistently participated. Through the program, women in recovery at the Chrysalis House are eligible to receive a free family YMCA membership, a free fitness-tracking device and other family health benefits.

Exposing women to physical activity

Enrolled Chrysalis House clients participate in 10 hour-and-a-half Get Fit and Quit sessions with 45 minutes of each session dedicated to group tobacco cessation content followed by 45 minutes of physical activity at the Northside YMCA. UK nurse interventionists Janine Barnett and Tisha Ducas facilitate the sessions.

The program exposes women and families to a range of physical activity, from cardiovascular group workouts like Zumba, to cycling, to yoga, to weight lifting as well as a day to choose a fitness activity on their own. Barnett said many women are learning to replace tobacco use with healthier activities for managing stress.

“The majority of our session content focuses on identifying smoking triggers and stress and discovering new ways to manage them,” Barnett said. “We hope that through exercise, the women will feel the benefits of endorphin release, they will begin to feel physically and mentally better, and then they will begin to naturally incorporate this healthy behavior into their everyday routine.”

Fighting back against stress

Stress is a well-known predictor of smoking. Beginning in 2015, Amanda Fallin-Bennett, a tobacco control researcher in the UK College of Nursing and a primary investigator on the GFAQ program, partnered with the Chrysalis House to conduct pilot research on the barriers to tobacco treatment and cessation specifically for women in addiction rehabilitation programs.

Based on results of individual interviews and focus groups with Chrysalis House residents and staff, GFAQ was designed for a group of women reporting high levels of stress. The program takes an integrative approach that includes a supportive peer network, organized group exercise classes, and access to tobacco treatment specialists and counseling.

The researchers then formed partnerships with staff at the Chrysalis House, as well as officials from the YMCA of Central Kentucky and the Kentucky Quit Line, which provides free nicotine replacement for women enrolled in GFAQ.

Tonya Jernigan, clinical director of the Chrysalis House, said the collaboration complements her organization’s holistic approach to recovery that addresses the physical, spiritual and mental state of addiction. The clients are provided with multiple tools and resources to succeed on their path to health and substance-free living. They also model healthy behaviors by seeing other families in the community enjoying the benefits of a YMCA membership.

“It’s planting a seed,” Jernigan said. “Part of that recovery process is being able to build a natural support system and being able to see what healthy families look like.”

Swapping smoking for sweat

Susan Sanders, a clinical nurse at the Chrysalis House, said the program provides a safe, non-judgmental and family-friendly outlet for clients to participate in physical activity. Importantly, Chrysalis House clients participating in the program are engaged in the community, which helps to normalize exercise and decrease access barriers to healthy activities.

“Just to feel like there’s folks at UK and folks at the Y who are willing to reach out to them — who care about them enough to put this program together— that’s inspiring to them as individuals,” Sanders said.

The clients, most importantly, are learning to swap out smoking for physical activity as a response to stress. In addition, their families are getting plugged into their local community and experiencing the joy of exercise.

“And I am in the best shape of my life thanks to this program,” said one participant, whose identity is protected. “I have been getting compliments almost daily, and the YMCA has been my and the kids’ second home. I feel this program will change lives and its changed mine for the better.”

Missy admits she’s never been enthusiastic about working out in the past, but she’s learned to appreciate exercise and enjoys swimming. She remains committed to the program because she needs encouragement and accountability to make her quit goal. When she missed her quit date about a month ago, participating in the class and receiving encouragement from the instructors motivated her to try again.

“I really started enjoying the program when I had a breakdown when I didn’t make my quit date,” she said. “Janine and the nurses have been very supportive and caring, and they try to understand. They are swift in their thinking – they know what to say.”

*Missy’s name was changed to ensure client confidentiality.


Next steps:

Nurses Week

We’re celebrating our awesome nurses during Nurses Week!

It’s Nurses Week and we’re celebrating all the excellent nurses at UK HealthCare who care for our patients every day.

UK HealthCare has more than 4,000 nursing service employees, including more than 2,000 full-time registered nurses. They are the best at what they do and play a vital role in enhancing our patients’ healing process. Through patient care, education and research, our nurses are instrumental in providing the world-class care available at UK HealthCare.

In fact, UK HealthCare is part of an elite group of hospitals that has achieved Magnet status – the gold standard for nursing excellence. Out of nearly 6,000 healthcare organizations in the United States, fewer than 7 percent have achieved Magnet designation.

Kudos to our nurses for being so awesome!

Interested in working at UK HealthCare?

Are you interested in working in nursing at UK HealthCare? We’re hiring! Find out more during an open house this Thursday, May 11 from 1-3 p.m. in Room H-178 of UK Chandler Hospital. Recruiters will be available to answer questions about employment opportunities.

Parking is available in the UK HealthCare parking garage at 110 Transcript Ave., directly across South Limestone from Chandler Hospital. Take the free shuttle from Level A of the garage to Stop 2. After entering Pavilion H, take hallway on your immediate right to Room H-178. Bring your parking ticket with you and we will validate it for you so that parking is free.


Next steps:

UK nurse anesthetist tests new way to reduce post-surgery memory loss

UK nurse anesthetist tests new way to reduce post-surgery memory loss

No patient wants to remember the traumatic experience of going under the knife.

With the conveniences of modern medicine, anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists erase the memory and pain of invasive surgeries by administering medicines that induce relaxation and unconsciousness. Patients awake from a deep sleep with no memory of the surgery, the incision or the physical harm done to their bodies.

But 10 years ago, Zohn Centimole, a nurse anesthetist at UK HealthCare, noticed his elderly patients were concerned about short-term memory loss, which they attributed to anesthetics. While only temporary, the cognitive deficits caused by anesthesia can linger for several days post-surgery, a period of time when important medical decisions and conversations take place.

Investigating better anesthesia techniques

One of Centimole’s senior patients, who had experienced memory changes after a previous surgery, feared the same effect as she prepared for another surgery. Rather than worry about her postoperative pain and recovery, the patient was fixated on whether she would retain her mental capacity post-surgery.

“My conversation with her that day was one of those imprinting memories,” Centimole said. “Her fear was so sincere and impactful that I can still see her face and everything about the situation.”

This motivated Centimole to investigate more precise techniques of delivering anesthesia and minimizing exposure in middle-aged and senior patients. Centimole, a native of Plum Springs, Ky., harnessed the brain-reading capabilities of a Bispectral Index (BIS) monitor, an electroencephalographic (EEG) technology, to tailor anesthesia to the individual needs of patients.

A collaborative approach to research

Centimole recently defended his doctoral dissertation in the UK College of Nursing, which found anesthesia guided by EEG-derived monitoring was superior to the standard administration and effective in reducing cognitive decline three to five days post-operation. The Bispectral Index System (BIS) measures EEG and converts changes in real time to a score, which anesthesia providers associate with depth of consciousness.

The CANTAB-MCI (Cambridge Cognition) cognitive battery was used to evaluate patient cognitive performance before operation, three to five days post-operation and three to five months post-operation. With its touch-screen format, the battery reduces administrator bias and is cost effective. The EEG-guided technique showed to reduce the cognitive deficits experienced in the post-surgical period, with patients reporting higher cognitive functioning immediately after their surgery.

Collaborating with faculty members in the UK Department of Surgery, the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and the UK College of Nursing, Centimole conducted an experiment to test the cognitive functioning of surgical patients. He compared those whose anesthesia levels were monitored through a cognitive battery with patients who received surgery without the cognitive battery, as well as a control group of individuals unaffected by anesthesia.

Centimole recruited patients for the study in the preoperative clinic, often recruiting a spouse as the non-surgical counterpart for the control group. Eighty-eight surgical patients were randomized to the BIS cognitive battery condition or the non-battery condition. Both experimental groups, as well as individuals in the non-surgery control group, completed the CANTAB neuropsychological functioning test. The test measures the test taker’s short-term memory, reaction time, verbal memory and visual learning capabilities.

Encouraging results

The 39 surgical patients who received the BIS cognitive battery condition demonstrated high levels of cognitive functioning post-surgery. Centimole also found that patients who smoked reported lower cognitive function post-surgery, suggesting a correlation between smoking and lower cognition after surgery. The results of the study suggest that EEG-derived technology has the potential to assist anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists in tailoring their care to individual cognitive characteristics.

“We were looking for a way to assess cognitive frailty in patients,” Centimole said. “Being precise and tailoring anesthesia will vary from patient to patient. EEG-derived technology allows you to balance exposure without unwanted side effects. We want to keep tight control over exposure, and this is what that device was engineered to do.”

Centimole believes EEG-derived devices can enhance care and improve engagement and alertness in patients who were disadvantaged by the memory loss caused during their surgery. Further, the CANTAB-MCI battery was cost-effective, and it showed the potential to help providers evaluate frailty in patients preparing to undergo surgery.

“The novelty of the project is knowing there is a relationship between EEG-guided anesthesia and cognitive function,” he said. “But we also present evidence that this cognitive battery is financially appropriate and has a great ease of use.”


Next steps:

Lacey Buckler, assistant Chief Nursing Executive at UK HealthCare, spoke about how graduating from UK directly impacted her career.

Kentucky native Lacey Buckler pursues nursing excellence at UK

Making the RoundsLacey Buckler, who earned three degrees from the UK College of Nursing, currently serves as an assistant chief nursing executive at UK HealthCare. She has a special interest in working with heart transplant patients at the UK Transplant Center.

How did you go from being a UK graduate to your current position?

I started out as a critical care nurse in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (ICU) here at UK, spent a couple years working there and then moved into a case management position where I did discharge planning for cardiovascular services. I graduated with a nurse practitioner degree here at UK. Then I worked again with cardiology at that point as an acute nurse practitioner and continued my trajectory to earn my doctoral degree. I moved into the director role for advance practice and also cardiovascular nursing and over the past couple years, moved into a chief assistant nurse role.

What is a typical day like in your position?

There is definitely never a dull moment! UK HealthCare is a very busy academic medical center, and we consistently have a large volume of patients moving through our system. Ensuring my teams have what they need to care for the patients while balancing planning and preparing for what’s coming next is how I spend many of my days.

I also enjoying mentoring emerging leaders within the team and supporting students as they rotate through my areas.

Why did you choose a career in nursing?

I think it’s a passion for taking care of others and seeing the happiness on a patient’s face when they get to leave and they’ve been well taken care of – just being a part of that and being part of their family.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

I think healthcare is ever-changing. So right now with the political climate that we’re in, it’s hard to be in healthcare because you don’t know what’s coming down the road from bundled payments and changes in how we take care of patients. So I think just not knowing what the next steps will be makes health care challenging in general.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

The most fulfilling part of my job is seeing patients get better. I’m involved with the UK Transplant Program here for heart transplantation, so that’s a huge, neat part of UK HealthCare – seeing those patients get better and going on with their lives with a new chance on life is really an awesome experience.

Do you have a favorite UK memory? 

I have a lot of favorite UK memories. I’m a big basketball fan, so I had the pleasure of being an undergraduate student when Tayshaun Prince shot all the 3’s at the North Carolina game. We had really good seats right behind the bench that my friend and I got in the lottery at Memorial Coliseum.


Originally from Morganfield, Ky., Buckler discusses why helping people throughout the state is so important to her.


Next steps:

Research shows genetics may cause people to crave salty foods. Salt is a major culprit of cardiovascular disease, and research like this can help treat it.

Craving salty foods? Blame your parents

Gia Mudd

Gia Mudd, UK College of Nursing

Written by Jennifer Smith, a doctoral student in the UK College of Nursing, and Gia Mudd-Martin, an associate professor in the UK College of Nursing.

A sprinkle over a baked potato or a teaspoon to flavor a pot of chili might seem innocent to the average dieter, but salt is a major culprit of cardiovascular disease in America. Some people have a proclivity for sweet foods, such as candy, confectionery treats or ice cream. Others, however, need salty foods to satiate their palates, often snacking on potato chips, making meals of foods high in preservatives or supplementing recipes with extra doses of salt.

Leading research from UK Nursing

Science is showing a person’s desire for salty foods might be ingrained in his or her genetic makeup. A recent study conducted by our research team at the UK College of Nursing indicated that genetic variations in taste perception might influence dietary patterns associated with cardiovascular disease. Our team examined the TAS2R38 gene variant, which influences bitter taste. In a sample of more than 400 people at high risk for cardiovascular disease, we found that individuals with the enhanced bitter taste perception genotype were more likely to consume higher than the recommended amount of daily sodium than people without the genotype.

Further research to better understand this and other genetic influences on taste might one day allow healthcare providers to develop more targeted approaches to support reduced sodium intake in people who are genetically predisposed to consume salty foods. Our understanding of the genetic connection to dietary behavior will pave the way to more advanced practices and opportunities for prevention.

How you can manage salt intake

In the meantime, it is important to note that everyone should monitor salt and sodium intake to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day and ideally limiting sodium to no more than 1,500 milligrams per day for most people. Research shows we can train our palates to adapt to a low-sodium diet. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep a journal of your salt intake so you know when you’re exceeding your limits.
  • Salt is hidden in many of the basic foods we purchase, including bread, cereal and canned soups. Start reading labels so you can pinpoint foods high in sodium.
  • Learn to cook with minimal amounts of salt and to instead flavor foods using herbs and spices.
  • Instead of buying packaged foods, which are typically packed with sodium and preservatives, opt for home-cooked meals that only need small portions of salt.

Salt lovers — don’t think you must deprive yourselves to prevent cardiovascular disease. By consciously managing the amount of salt in your diet, you will find you can still enjoy salty foods and sodium in smaller portions. Consider salty foods a treat, much like dessert.


Next steps:

  • Limiting salt is just one step you can take toward a more heart-healthy diet. Learn more about making better food choices.
  • You can make a difference by participating in a UK HealthCare research study. Learn more.
UK Nursing student Brandy Smith received a breast cancer diagnosis while still in school. But rather than lose hope, she was determined to graduate on time.

UK nursing student refuses to let cancer diagnosis delay her dreams

Striding across the finish line in pink knee-high socks imprinted with the phrase “tough ta-tas,” Brandy Smith completed her first 5K as a breast cancer survivor on Oct. 23.

She wore a victory sash and clasped a pink carnation as she and husband Jason waited for friends at the ballpark. The race was a moment of exhalation for the UK student who refused to let her illness hinder her progress toward becoming a nurse.

Smith diagnosed with breast cancer while in school

One year earlier, Smith walked across the same finish line at the Whitaker Bank Lexington Legends Stadium knowing her struggle with breast cancer was just beginning. At the time of her diagnosis, the 28-year-old from Middlesboro, Ky. was working clinical rotations at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, the UK Birthing Center and UK Polk-Dalton Clinic, as well as taking courses in the UK College of Nursing.

Breast cancer threatened to interrupt her progress toward graduation. After detecting an abnormal lump on the top of her right breast last October, Smith immediately suspected she was the next victim of breast cancer in her family. Oncologists at the UK Markey Cancer Center located a stage-2 tumor the size of a softball on the outer top of her right breast, which required aggressive and immediate chemotherapy followed by radiation and a bilateral mastectomy. When she got the call with the biopsy results, her suspicions were confirmed.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I know,’” Smith said of hearing the news. “I did cry, but it was not a shocker.”

Smith believes ‘movement is medicine’

After her diagnosis, Smith tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene, learning her genetic predisposition put her at an 85 percent chance of developing the disease. Her treatment plan included rounds of aggressive chemotherapy treatment and double mastectomy surgery in the spring. She consulted with professors and the dean of the UK College of Nursing, who supported her decision to push through school and an intensive treatment plan at the same time.

“She was like, ‘Let’s do this,’” Smith said of Dean Janie Heath.

But beating cancer and finishing school wasn’t enough for Smith, who thrives on activity. She wanted to finish next year’s breast cancer awareness race as a runner and a survivor. Despite the physical hardship and exhaustion in the coming year, she decided to take up walking, and when she had the energy, running. She signed up for races and mentored young runners. She even joined an online runner’s group, connecting with fellow runners and cancer patients across the globe.

“Some people said I should take some time off nursing school,” Smith said. “For me, movement is medicine.”

Running and physical activity boosted Smith’s immune system and helped her body recuperate after depressive treatments. Smith believes keeping company with positive people and staying active kept her emotionally and physically stable through the rigors of nursing training and cancer treatment.

Family taught Smith to stay positive

No stranger to breast cancer, Smith learned toughness battling the disease from women in her family. Her maternal grandmother and seven aunts received a breast cancer diagnosis and her cousin tested positive for BRCA-1. Smith’s mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer at 26, and after beating the disease experienced a recurrence at 30. Growing up around breast cancer survivors sensitized Smith to the importance of regular screenings and mammograms. She said she learned how to fight cancer from her mother’s positive outlook.

“This is the exact same way she tackled it,” Smith said, referring to how her mother approached cancer. “That is one thing I have to say, I learned it from my mom. I took her positivity. When she had it, she never let anything get her down.”

Smith’s diagnosis came at a critical point in her nursing education. Rather than postponing her career goals, she continued clinical and classroom training through 12 weeks of dual chemotherapy, 12 more weeks of another chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation therapy during the summer. Also, with goals to have a family, Smith went through oncofertility treatment, which induced menopause during chemotherapy to preserve her reproductive functioning. Refusing to use her disease as an excuse to stay home, Smith missed one clinical during the fall semester and was absent for two weeks for her mastectomy procedure. Her husband sometimes doubted whether she was well enough to go, but Smith always insisted.

“I could be in worse places,” she said. “I am surrounded by nurses, so if something goes bad, they know what to do.”

UK Nursing helps one of its own

Smith’s professors and classmates rallied behind Smith in her effort to graduate in December 2016. Many of her professors organized meals and accommodated her treatment schedule to ensure she had the opportunity to succeed. Smith completed clinical rotations wearing a beanie to cover her head and hiding the port in her chest. Chemotherapy affected her energy level and sometimes interfered with her ability to focus for exams. Students and faculty donated items and brought her Mr. Goodbars after her mastectomy surgery.

Smith also mentored elementary age girls during her cancer treatment. As part of her required public health rotation, she volunteered for Girls on the Run at Lansdowne Elementary, boosting their confidence and self-esteem and encouraging them to stay physically active. Her students sent her a load of get-well cards after her mastectomy surgery.

“I still have glitter all over my house,” she said.

Moving forward as a cancer survivor

As a cancer survivor, Smith plans to enter pediatric oncology nursing when she graduates this December. After her year battling cancer, she feels she can relate to young oncology patients and bring positivity to situations that seem hopeless. She has also learned emotional toughness, which will help her stay strong when seeing others suffering or enduring harsh therapies. She will also encourage children to move and play through pain and sickness to boost their immune systems and morale.

“You have to laugh through it because it’s what helps you,” she said. “I want to encourage them to be active, even if it’s just getting up and walking around a playroom.”

In a gathering of her entire College of Nursing class, Smith announced her cancer-free status on Oct. 5. The news was met with a round of applause. Many students sent her messages saying they were inspired by her resilience and positivity, which persists after cancer.

“As much fun as I’ve had, it’s been horrible at times,” Smith said. “But it could have been worse — I got to have milkshakes every day.”

Media inquiries: Elizabeth Adams, University of Kentucky Public Relations and Marketing, elizabethtadams@uky.edu.


Next steps:

Former UK nurse Kristin Ashford has dedicated her life to researching ways to prevent pre-term birth and promote healthy pregnancies.

UK nurse, researcher helps prevent pre-term birth

Working as a labor and delivery nurse for a decade, Kristin Ashford was surrounded by happy beginnings. She helped women and families welcome healthy babies into the world. But Ashford also helped mothers and their families deal with the stressful and heart-wrenching experience of pre-term birth.

As a first-hand witness of the negative outcomes associated with pre-term birth, Ashford was motivated to make a difference. She transitioned from nursing into a researcher, studying risk factors of pre-term birth and creating strategies to prevent them through pregnancy interventions.

“It really got me interested in how to help these women more,” Ashford said of her nursing experience in labor and delivery. “Not only to reduce their risk, but also to help them emotionally cope with pre-term birth.”

Risk factors for pre-term birth

Pre-term birth is defined as delivery prior to 37 weeks gestation. Several risk factors, including smoking, substance abuse, poor socioeconomic conditions and obesity, increase a woman’s chance of experiencing pre-term birth. The consequences for the baby include respiratory illness, gastrointestinal disorders, immune deficiency, hearing and vision problems, and a prolonged hospital sta. There can also be longer-term motor, cognitive, visual, hearing, behavioral, social-emotional, health, and growth problems.

Now, as the assistant dean of research in the UK College of Nursing, Ashford oversees multiple research projects and interventions driven by the common goal of prolonging pregnancy.

“I think that any time that you can prolong a pregnancy, it is a rewarding experience,” she said. “If you can prevent the child from being sick, prevent that family’s stress and prevent life-long complications associated with that risk, that’s extremely rewarding.”

Research and interventions

Ashford’s research covers the issues relevant to pre-natal care, as there are many things that can be changed in order to prevent pre-term birth, like tobacco use. Her interventions aim to prevent tobacco and illicit drug use, manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity, and reduce emotional distress in expectant mothers.

Ashford’s interventions are founded on the CenteringPregnancy model, which prepares women for pregnancy, labor and delivery, and motherhood through a peer support groups led by nursing and other health professionals. Ashford has designed CenteringPregnancy interventions to help pregnant women in high-risk categories like diabetes, tobacco use, substance abuse, or other socioeconomic or ethnic risk factors.

“Our UK program actually wants to put women together that have more in common with one another,” Ashford said. “So, in addition to being put in the group about the same time that they’re pregnant, they also are put in (a group) based on their most high-risk factor for pre-term birth.”

One intervention effort led by Ashford effort seeks to inform pregnant women about the dangers of using tobacco products while pregnant and give them resources to quit. Despite the known risks of using tobacco products during pregnancy, many pregnant women in Kentucky still smoke. Ashford is troubled by the rising popularity of e-cigarettes among women of childbearing age. Her research studies indicate that women are using both e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products during pregnancy.

“Tobacco causes birth defects in pregnancy — that’s known,” Ashford said. “And so, it’s very clear that electronic cigarettes contain tobacco. Certainly, there’s risks associated with electronic cigarette use in pregnancy.”

Ashford is expanding CenteringPregnancy programs to areas in Eastern and Western Kentucky. She is working with local health departments to provide a Centering support network for pregnant women in high-risk groups.

She said her position in the UK College of Nursing allows her to research and circulate interventions, teach future nurses and nursing researchers, and serve communities by improving the quality of health care.