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Dr. Cindy West
Dr. Cindy West

The University of Texas Medical Branch's School of Nursing, under the leadership of Dr. Cindy West, the inaugural Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Assistant Professor in the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program, was 1 of 50 schools selected by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) to participate in a national initiative designed to foster inclusive learning environments and build a more diverse nursing workforce.

The project Building a Culture of Belonging in Academic Nursing, was launched in January 2022 to help schools of nursing create environments where students, faculty, and staff possess a strong sense of belonging and are encouraged to thrive, according to a national release sent in late July.

As a nursing professional for the past 26 years, Dr. West credits her passion for nursing to her late mother and her father who always told her that she must work hard, play hard, but keep your eyes on the prize, she said.

I was completely shocked yet overjoyed with excitement when I got the news about being selected to participate in this project, Dr. West said. I periodically reflect upon my work and self-evaluate what I can do better as a nurse and how I can give back to the nursing profession. This acknowledgement/opportunity was one of these moments.

This opportunity is a prize, yet I remain humble and grateful thanking God for it all knowing this is just the beginning of many new things to come at SON.

As the new leader of DEI at SON, Dr. West, who currently serves on local, state, and national DEI focused boards and organizations including the UTMB Institutional Diversity and Inclusion Council and the Texas Association of Nurse Anesthetist Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce just to name a few, has always been an advocate of doing the right thing and advocating for the underrepresented, fairness, and ensuring that everyone has a voice at the table, she said.

As an active listener and diversity leader, Dr. West hopes to bring awareness and equity while creating a safe space for a sense of belonging to the SON community.

We strive for a thriving, inclusive environment where our graduates are a part of a diverse nursing, workforce making an impactful change on the local, state, national and global levels, Dr. West said. It is critical to advance nursing education to our students so they can provide high quality culturally appropriate care to our communities.

One of the major initiatives that will soon be launched is the AACN LAMP-Culture & Climate survey, Dr. West said.

This special initiative will create the foundation that will garden new diversity efforts focusing on inclusive language, a safe space, and transparent communications, as well as identify gaps to integrate diversity within the nursing curriculum.

DEI work cannot be done solely by one person, Dr. West said. The adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child' is an example of the need for every individual to create change. This is what makes this new diversity program dynamic. To move forward we must acknowledge the past.

Since her start here at the SON, Dr. West has developed a new DEI Advisory Committee comprised of members committed to the vision of achieving excellence and professionalism through Diversity & Inclusion, Respect, Accountability and Transparency at SON.

The committee will include incentives for completion of the Culture & Climate survey, which will launch in late September, as well as promote a T-shirt contest seeking a DEI symbol recognizing those who will be doing/leading diversity work on campus or in the community, Dr. West said.

All voices should be heard here at the SON, Dr. West said. Students, faculty, and staff must work synergistically to create a sense of belonging. If there is an idea or matter focused on diversity, we welcome you to the table for an open discussion. Everyone a part of SON is invited to become involved.

Dr. West received the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Workplace certification from the University of South Florida-MUMA College of Business in 2021 and is currently completing her DEI certification from Cornell University.


Dr. Heidi Luft is pictured at a panel discussion about how health promotion supports democracy with fellow Fulbright Alumni, César Fernández, left, and Dr. Luis Bonilla del CDC, at the Fulbright 75th Anniversary Conference in the Dominican Republic.

Before making an impact in nursing and health care, Dr. Heidi Luft, Ph.D., RN, lived and breathed gymnastics from ages 4 through 18 – and even was highly recruited to pursue that dream in college – until a higher calling came.

That higher calling has led Dr. Luft into a career of nursing for nearly a decade in which she teaches on health ethics and policy, team science, peace and conflict, determinants of health, cultural humility in health care, global health, and study abroad in Latin America.

My first experience abroad was in 2008 as a student in Nicaragua, Dr. Luft said. The health inequities that I saw, but did not yet understand, left me curious and wanting to learn how I could help. Now, almost 15 years later, I would say that I choose this focus because I feel it is my ethical and moral responsibility.

Dr. Heidi Luft at a focus group discussion on violence prevention with Sabana Pérdida firefighters in the Dominican Republic.

Through that experience, as well as her current stay in the Dominican Republic, it has taught Dr. Luft that much of the inequity we see across the globe today is the result of historical and present-day exploitation of countries in the Global South by countries in the Global North for political and economic gain, she said.

I know I cannot 'fix' the situation, but I think it is my imperative to leverage the privileges and power I have as a white female scholar from the Global North to these countries in advancing the health priorities they have identified for their communities, Dr. Luft said.

Dr. Luft, who is a tenure-tract Assistant Professor at the University of Texas Medial Branch School of Nursing and an Associate Researcher for the Center for Violence Prevention, is an implementation science pioneer in Latin America, leading some of the first studies in the region that have involved rigorous application of D&I (dissemination and implementation) methods and theories to design implementation strategies for school-based evidence-based interventions in the Dominican Republic.

Dr. Luft, center, stops for a group picture after a partnership planning meeting between the Dominican Republic Institute of Mental Health and Telepsychology, the Institute for Collaboration in Health, Universidad Central del Este and the University of Texas Medical Branch. Pictured from left is Angelina Sosa, Julio Canario, Abraham Pichardo, Kara McArthur, Dr. Eugenia Gonzalez, and Dr. Matt Dasco.

It is through this work which has led to Dr. Luft being named a 2022 Fulbright alumna of the Dominican Republic U.S. Scholar Program.

Being named a scholar has opened so many doors and expanded my partnerships in the Dominican Republic exponentially, Luft said. It has allowed me to create some exciting new opportunities for exchange and collaboration to UTMB faculty and students in research and education. It has showed me how much is possible through international collaboration.

Those collaborations have allowed Dr. Luft and her Dominican mentor to develop and co-teach a course on team science to students and faculty at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo – the first established university in the Americas, she said.

Dr. Luft is pictured teaching a course on team science at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

And although work-life balance can be a challenge, Dr. Luft, her partner and 4-year-old daughter take it all in stride by having Pizza Friday's, playing music together, and exploring the mountains, countryside, and deserts of the Dominican Republic to reconnect and rest, she said

Dr. Luft and her team are currently working on setting up the structure for UTMB students and faculty to engage in quality international educational experiences and conduct rigorous, high-impact research in the Dominican Republic.

It has not always been the easiest path, but I’m most proud that I followed my passion for global health, Dr. Luft said. The love I have for what I do, and my supportive, brilliant research team keep work fun, exciting, and productive. Really wonderful things are in the works... stay posted!

Dr. Luft is pictured with Angela Henriquez, Vice Mayor of Santo Domingo Este, where they discussed opportunities for collaboration on violence prevention efforts in the Dominican Republic.

A new telehealth certificate program being developed at UTMB School of Nursing aims to improve care for patients in rural areas, where there are often not enough health care professionals to meet the communities' needs.

Innovations in Healthcare Delivery in Rural and Underserved Communities: A Stackable Telehealth Certificate has been funded by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) through the Accelerating Credentials of Purpose and Value Grant Program. Dr. Kristen Starnes-Ott, director, and Dr. Jacquelyn Svoboda, co-director, are working on course development with plans to launch in January 2023.

The shortage of trained health care professionals in rural areas was a problem prior to COVID-19, but as Dr. Starnes-Ott says, The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated this problem and highlighted the inadequacies of our current healthcare system to reach the most vulnerable communities in need.

According to the Texas Rural Health Association and Rural Health Hub, there are 64 counties in the state without a hospital, 25 counties without a physician, and 75% of counties are designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA). For telehealth to be a widely adopted solution across Texas, providers need resources, education, and support to eliminate barriers and successfully implement telehealth tools into modern healthcare practice, Dr. Starnes-Ott says.

She points out that many health care institutions shifted to a telehealth model as an emergency measure when the pandemic began, but much was done without training. With proper preparation, training, and implementation, she says, telehealth has great potential to help patients receive needed care in areas with a shortage of health care providers.

The SON's program will consist of a three-semester (12 months), nine-credit certificate offering evidence-based techniques in telehealth patient presentation, telehealth etiquette, and telehealth coordination. It will utilize the four Ps of telehealth: planning, preparing, providing, and performance evaluation.

These foundational pillars will guide the development and implementation of the program, which will include synchronous and asynchronous online sessions, as well as modular engagement with standardized patient encounters to provide collaborative, competency-based practicum opportunities. The University of Texas Virtual Health Network, which supports UT System campuses in leveraging technology to improve health care, is a consortium partner in the program.

Individuals from all health care disciplines who have direct patient care roles and a minimum of a bachelor's degree are encouraged to apply. Preference will be placed on applicants from rural health providers in Texas.

The SON is also partnering with Texas Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) East, which links 100 East Texas counties and more than 18 million people to community health workforce development, health opportunities, and resources. Through this partnership, the SON may identify and market to potential applicants that are interested in starting or enhancing their telehealth programs in rural areas and clinics.

The program directors anticipate admitting 20 students this Fall to begin the program in January.

Upon completion of the program, students will earn a certificate. Credits earned may then be applied toward a graduate degree. However, the program is also designed to be beneficial on its own, equipping healthcare providers with tools to better meet rural communities' healthcare needs.

If the student completes the entire certificate offering, the offering will culminate in a 'toolkit' for the student to start a telehealth program in a patient care clinic, Dr. Starnes-Ott said.

Dr. Svoboda says, By utilizing innovative strategies and platforms, students will strengthen their confidence and their ability to apply telehealth in clinical practice settings.

Applications for the program will open this Fall. Visit the SON's Certificates page to learn more.

Dr. Heidi Luft, a professor in the School of Nursing at University of Texas Medical Branch, highlighted the importance of teamwork plus the need for training and investment in mental health research during a recent webinar, the Dominican Republic news outlet reported. "Most people need more training to be able to do this teamwork effectively," Luft said.

We are excited to share a new learning opportunity available for our students. Apple has recently launched a new weekly series of open sessions titled 'Campus Leader Virtual Workshops'.

These workshops are tailored to students and provides the opportunity to hear from Campus Leaders (also current students) to learn tips, tricks, and tools that will enhance their learning experience. These topics are updated on Fridays and cover a variety of subjects that can help improve your productivity on the iPad.

Next week’s topics of interest include:

Week of Friday, October 15, 2021 – Friday, October 22, 2021
Note taking with iPad
Friday, October 15, 1:00pm-2:00pm CDT
iPad Basics
Friday, October 15, 7:00pm-8:00pm CDTMonday, October 18 ,12:00pm-1:00pm CDT
Monday, October 18 ,3:00pm-4:00pm CDT
Introduction to Note Taking
Tuesday, October 19, 2:00pm-3:00pm CDT
Creativity with iPad + Apple Pencil
Wednesday, October 20, 6:00pm-7:00pm CDT
Drawing with Apple Pencil
Thursday, October 21, 3:00pm-4:00pm CDT
iPad Productivity for Students
Thursday, October 21, 4:00pm-5:00pm CDT
Note Taking Workshop
Friday, October 22, 1:00pm-2:00pm CDT

For more information or to register for any of these workshops, please visit: http://s.apple.com/dE0n4T3E2c

SON Shout Outs

Dr. Verklan

​Congratulations on being selected as a committee member for the American Association of Critical Care Nurses 2021 Acute and Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist Practice Analysis Task Force to review the roles/responsibilities of the critical care CNS.​

Congratulations to our Nursing PhD students for receiving the following awards: Emily Blumenthal, Doctoral Program of the School of Nursing Scholarship; Angela Mcgaskey, J. Michael Leger, PhD, RN Family Nursing PhD Scholarship; Keili Peterman, Lois E. Nickerson, R.N. Endowed Scholarship; Emily Blumenthal, Mariann Blum, Ph.D. Endowed Presidential Scholarship; Lisa Letz, Marie and Talbert Aulds Scholarship; Megan Steele, Michael Tacheeni Scott Endowed Scholarship; Colleen Villamin, Regina R. and Alfonso J. Mercatante Memorial Scholarship; and Lisa Wagner, SON Alumni Assoc. Fund

Lisa Wagner

Congratuations to Ms. Lisa Wagner on the successful defense of her dissertation titled Planting Seeds: A Naturalistic Inquiry into the Perceptions and Experiences of WIC Peer Counselors as they Interact with Mothers Making their Infant Feeding Decisions.

Dr. Cheyenne Martin

Presented the Sr. Charles Marie Endowed Lecture (virtually) at Incarnate Word University, San Antonio titled Profiles in Courage: An Exploration of Nurses and Physicians Engaged in Resistance Efforts in Europe During Nazi Occupation. This special lecture was given after evacuation from Tropical Storm Beta and severe rainstorms in Wharton.

Dr. Virginia Chandlee

Congratuations on the successfull defense of her dissertation titled, An Exploratory Study of Pediatric Oncology Nurses' Perceptions of and Advocacy Responses to Ethical Issues in Securing Informed Consent in Adolescent and Young Adult Patients..