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Nursing Professor Mixes Digital Learning with Parkinson’s Fellowship

February 06, 2014

Laurie Morrissey
Communications and Marketing
(603) 641-7240

Associate Professor of Nursing Caryn Sheehan, DNP, RNSaint Anselm College nursing students who take "Care of the Elderly and Chronically Ill," taught by Associate Professor Caryn Sheehan, DNP, RN, have a special understanding of the issues facing people with Parkinson's disease.

Sheehan's expertise in the disease was funded by a fellowship through the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation. The organization offers a visiting nurse faculty program that educates nursing professors on various aspects of the neurodegenerative disease that affects nearly one million Americans.

Besides incorporating the fellowship experience in her classes, Sheehan has shared her enhanced knowledge with health professionals. The Safra Foundation recently invited her to make a presentation about her work at Boston Medical Center, where she spoke to a team including occupational therapists, dietitians, physical therapists, physicians and nurses.

Sheehan's area of expertise is medical/surgical oncology and hospice care, but she has cared for many patients with Parkinson's over the years. People with this chronic disease have concurrent illnesses and needs that cross into all areas of nursing, she says, which makes it a challenge for teaching.

Through the fellowship, Sheehan attended classes and worked in the movement disorder clinic at Boston Medical Center.

"I was really struck by the variety of issues and disease severity in this population," she says. "Each patient was so different from every other patient with this disease that I wondered how I could bring that point to life in class for my nursing students."

She created case studies based on the patient issues she observed in the clinic and linked them to video footage of Parkinson's patients available online. Her students work in groups, virtually meeting their Parkinson's patients.

"By the end of the class, my students have "met" several people with different stages of Parkinson's and addressed issues including movement, nutrition, and medication management," Sheehan says.

The professor's work will inform her teaching-and the nursing field-well into the future. She plans to continue using this teaching modality, and she will use student evaluation data about the class in a future article. The project is posted on the Safra Foundation website for other nurse educators to use, as well.