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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Two URI graduate nursing students win Jonas Center scholarships

Media Contact: Janet Kerlin, 401-874-2116

Foundation seeks to boost numbers of nurse scientists, professors

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 28, 2014 – Two nurse practitioners pursuing doctorates at the University of Rhode Island have been awarded scholarships from The Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence and Veterans Healthcare.

The grant is given by the New York-based foundation to organizations to prepare nurses in all 50 states to become nurse scientists and instructors in response to a shortage of faculty. The Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholar Program provides $20,000 over two years of study.

A limited supply of nurses with doctorates has had a significant impact on the ability of nursing schools to educate sufficient numbers of professionals needed to engage in the highest level of practice, research and scholarship, according to the center.

Brandi Parker Cotton and Katherine Simmonds will receive scholarships beginning in fall 2014.

Cotton, of Providence, R.I., and Simmonds, of Boston, Mass., provide care for youth and families in city neighborhood clinics.
Cotton is a family psychiatric nurse practitioner who specializes in treating children and adolescents. She works as a consultant for Gateway Healthcare Inc., a nonprofit behavioral health care organization based in Pawtucket, R.I.

Cotton intends to pursue research related to chronic housing instability among low-income families. Cotton wants to draw awareness to the barriers to well-being that insecure housing creates for children and families.

Simmonds coordinates the Women’s Health nurse practitioner specialty at the MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing and teaches at the advanced practice level. She is a nurse practitioner at the hospital’s Chelsea-Roca teen health center.

Simmonds intends to conduct research relating to the values and preferences of health care providers and the quality of reproductive health care of young women who are members of racial, ethnic or gender minorities.

“There is also an aggressive leadership component to this award and both of these students are charged with doing a project with the Rhode Island Action Coalition to advance the landmark Future of Nursing report recommendations of the National Institute of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,” said Lynne Dunphy, URI professor of nursing and associate dean of external affairs at the URI College of Nursing, the founding nursing co-leader of RIAC.

Cotton, a master’s level graduate of Yale University School of Nursing, was a participant in the National Service Health Corps, which sends health professionals into underserved areas; those who fulfill contracts are given loan repayment assistance.

Through her service in Bridgeport, Conn., and Pawtucket, Cotton became aware of the problems associated with poverty-driven mobility – families forced to relocate due to financial strain, dangerous neighborhoods or environmental toxins.

Such research has been documented by public health researchers but overlooked by nursing, Cotton says. The literature also fails to grasp the qualitative experience of children. Housing instability places them at risk for substance abuse, mental health diagnoses, lack of compliance with vaccines, disrupted medical care, early sexual initiation and poor academic outcomes, the nurse practitioner says.

“It is critical to understand where children are most vulnerable in order to inform interventions and changes in public policy,” Cotton says.

“Observing these families' struggle with chronic housing instability, it became clear that mental health care is more than medication management and psychotherapy; we can do better not only as individual practitioners but also as a health care community when we begin to address these broader systemic problems.”

The other Jonas scholar at URI is Simmonds, who holds a master’s degree in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health and received a master’s degree in nursing from the MGH Institute of Health Professions.

Simmonds, a frequently published author on the subject of unintended pregnancy and the inclusion of reproductive health in nursing education, is the founder and former director of the Reproductive Options Education Consortium for Nursing, and she continues to serve as an advisory member.

“From my own clinical experience providing sexual and reproductive health care to nonwhite, poor urban women and as a nursing professor, I have become interested in what we do and don’t teach future nurses about this aspect of patient care,” Simmonds says. “Specifically I am concerned about whether we teach nurses about the intersection between their personal values and professional responsibilities, especially when it comes to providing reproductive health care to vulnerable women.”

The Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholar Program was created in 2008 to support educational development of new nursing faculty and stimulate models for joint faculty appointments between schools of nursing and clinical affiliates.

Pictured above:
URI doctoral-level nursing students Brandi Parker Cotton and Katherine Simmonds, 2014-2016 Jonas Scholars. URI Communications & Marketing photo by Nora Lewis.