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Prestigious grant will prepare PhD nurses

The UIC College of Nursing is one of only 28 nursing schools nationwide to receive a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Future of Nursing Scholars program, which provides financial support, mentoring and leadership development to nurses who commit to earn their PhDs in three years.

The college has received the Future of Nursing Scholars grant every year since the program was inaugurated in 2014.

"As one of the nation's leading nursing schools, we embrace an obligation to produce doctorally prepared nurse-scholars who will both pursue consequential health research and educate future nurses,"  says Terri E. Weaver, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean and professor of the UIC College of Nursing. "The Future of Nursing Scholars program substantially enhances our capacity to support such emerging nurse leaders." 

Two students will be selected later this year to receive scholarships from the grant for the 2017-18 academic year. From last year's funding, the college chose Stephanie Ezell and Mary Hannan to receive these awards for 2016-17.

Prior to entering nursing, Ezell spent 15 years as a high school teacher in Texas. She had an interest in science, so she "took a leap and did something different,"  enrolling first in the College of Nursing's Graduate Entry Program, and now its PhD program. The transition has been smooth.

"I was attracted to UIC because of its strong research base, and I've had a great deal of support from the faculty,"  she said. Her goal is to perform research and also teach.

During the pre-licensure portion of her program, Ezell began volunteer work with hospice patients. She discovered she wants to enter public health and focus on end-of-life research.

"I have a strong interest in social justice, and I'm interested in assisting patients and families who are struggling at the end of their lives,"  said Ezell, who earned her master's degree in nursing and public health. "Everyone gets to this stage with unique experiences. Some have endured trauma or other types of psychological distress. I want to learn how to help them make decisions and gain peace." 

Hannan, after working several years, found herself drawn back to academia to "fulfill my passion to transform healthcare through nurse-driven doctoral research."  She earned her MS at Marquette University and was an adjunct faculty member there several years later.

Practicing as a gerontology acute-care nurse practitioner, Hannan has also participated in numerous research projects, mostly with patients suffering from acute or chronic kidney disease.

"I've been inspired by my patients who require hemodialysis three times per week to sustain their lives,"  she said. "Our medical system is adept at treating acute illness but needs to work on increasing the quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses." 

Hannan wants to continue to conduct research as she furthers her education. She is interested in studying how exercise can improve the lives of patients with chronic diseases, especially those with end stage renal disease in underserved areas.

"While working with my dialysis patients, I was amazed by their inactivity level and wondered why prescribing, recommending or even educating patients about exercise was not part of my routine practice," said Hannan, who has completed eight marathons and four triathlons. "I believe physical activity plays a critical role in the health of both the well and the chronically ill."