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Four Alumni Lead the Way in Promoting High-Quality Health Care

Emily Cheng

Leadership ability is an essential characteristic for those who enter the nursing profession. Today’s complex healthcare environments require systems thinking, strong collaborative effort and astute decision-making skills. Nurses who graduate from the undergraduate program at Stony Brook attain an important outcome in the area of leadership knowledge and skill in the promotion of high-quality health care. 

In 2013, four students in the undergraduate program demonstrated exceptional leadership ability and teamwork in their effort to establish a Stony Brook Chapter of the National Student Nurses’ Association (SBSNA). The mission of SBSNA is to mentor students preparing for initial licensure as registered nurses and to convey the standards, ethics and skills that students will need as responsible and accountable leaders and members of the profession. The Stony Brook Student Nurses’ Association (SBSNA) was founded in fall 2013. It was recognized as “Best New Organization Award” during Stony Brook Student Life Awards in spring 2014 and grew to 13 board members and 210 members in 2019. In 2019, SBSNA also received the Steller Award from the National Student Nurse Association, one of only 37 Schools nationwide that hold this award. (Read about the current status of SBSNA in this issue). 

Below these leaders share the importance their Stony Brook experience is playing in their lives and the values that guide their personal and professional lives.

Liana Yung Yeung, BS ‘14, MS ’18, currently a chemotherapy nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, was the founding president of SBSNA. She said that experience is one of the biggest accomplishments in her nursing career since it allowed her to further develop her leadership ability as she carried out her vision with her peers. “Since we started the SBSNA a few months into the academic year, we had only a small amount of time to start planning events and establishing our organization’s mission,” she said. “A lot of new leadership qualities emerged during this time as we all needed to have a positive attitude and to inspire other nursing students to be involved. As one of the founders of the organization, I wanted to make sure that what was being started could be carried over in the coming years.” 

Yeung credits the opportunity to serve as a youth mentor in her church in developing leadership skills. “I started as a youth mentor and took on more responsibilities such as coordinating yearly retreats and participating on the worship team,” she said. “My involvement with church allowed me to work with different personalities and taught me how to be a good communicator and delegator, which became the segue for me to become a leader.” 

Yeung completed her Master of Science in Nursing Leadership in 2018 and uses her leadership ability to advocate for cancer patients and serve as a mentor to new nurses.  

Nadia Aissi Rahman, BS ’14, a recent graduate of Albany Medical College, Center for Nurse Anesthesiology where she earned her doctorate in Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), was instrumental in developing SBSNA’s first resolution: “In support of legislation mandating CPR training for high school students.” She successfully brought this amendment to the legislative floor at NSNA’s 62nd Annual NSNA Convention. As a result of her pioneering effort, the board of SBSNA has authored resolutions to be presented nationally each year since 2014. Rahman said she is proud to have been part of that first SBSNA board, adding, “It’s extremely rewarding to know that my work, originally just for myself and my classmates, is still benefiting students several years later.” 

Rahman said that one of her proudest moments was presenting a resolution at the national conference, an experience that led to her interest in the inner workings of the larger professional nursing organizations. Her experience at Stony Brook also had a positive impact on her life. She said support from the faculty “encouraged us to find activities that we, as individuals, were excited about and they gave us the tools to really succeed in these activities.” She was also inspired by her classmates. “I met students from all different backgrounds who had done some amazing work,” she said. “At a young age, being able to be exposed to different paths and opportunities allowed me to see what could be possible in my life.” 

Rahman plans to work for North American Partners in Anesthesia (NAPA) at Brooklyn Hospital Center as a CRNA and to take a more active role within her nursing organization to move forward ongoing initiatives that provide high-quality care to more patients while ensuring our nurses stay safe and valued.

Derek Cope, BA ’13 BS 14’, is a student in the Doctor of Nursing Practice, Nurse Anesthesia Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. He held several leadership positions within SBU’s student government and was SBSNA’s first treasurer. “This experience was very meaningful; I learned a great deal from this position [treasurer] as we had to build the organization from the ground up,” he said. “This entailed extensive fundraising efforts, building and maintaining a functional operational budget and defining our groups’ role within the school.” He added that he applies the lessons he learned from working as a team to current small group interactions.  

A month before Cope graduated from Stony Brook’s Accelerated Baccalaureate program, he was awarded the prestigious SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, presented to a select few who best demonstrate the integration of academic excellence with other aspects of their lives. He credits Dr. Lee Anne Xippolitos (Dean SON 2010-2019) and Dr. Jerrold Stein, Dean Emeritus of Stony Brook University, as important role models as they demonstrated to him “what effective leadership truly entails.” 

Cope continues to demonstrate the integration of academic excellence with leadership. The focus of his doctoral work is “Transversus Abdominis Plane (TAP) Block Education,” which includes teaching a special nerve block to anesthesia providers at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. 

Emily Cheng, BS ’15, a travel nurse in Washington State, was SBSNA’s first vice-president. She said her experience as founding board member influences her current practice. “I learned a lot about leading a team of people towards a common mission and goal,” she said. “I’ve taken what I’ve learned from SBSNA to my clinical practice in using my voice to advocate for patients; their safety as well as my own.” She added that she values teamwork among the healthcare team and believes it’s pivotal in our mission to heal and treat patients. “Stony Brook faculty influenced me most in my professionalism and presence; they taught me directly or showed me indirectly, the balance between developing professionally and still maintaining a work-life balance,” she said.

Cheng uses this knowledge to address an essential aspect of high-quality care: nurse self-care. She promotes awareness and provides knowledge and support to the nursing community through a social media/online presence. Cheng said she believes her authenticity and vulnerability on her platforms has given others permission to follow their own intuition and trust what they think is best for them as opposed to following certain pathways blindly. She is passionate about providing support and encouragement to nurses and travel nurses, as well as ensuring that they are never alone in their life’s highs or lows. She believes that these open and honest community conversations strengthen the profession as a whole and give nurses permission to utilize their voices both in and out of their professional arena. 

–Carol Della Ratta, PhD RN

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