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Innovative Coursework Distinguishes School of Nursing’s New PhD Program

5b innovative coursework
Dr. Patricia Bruckenthal, Professor and Associate Dean for Nursing Research and Innovation, Chair of Doctoral Studies in Education with PhD students

Stony Brook University School of Nursing proudly admitted its first cohort of PhD nursing students in September 2017.  While many of the courses offered in this program follow the traditional pathway of a fundamental PhD educational trajectory, being part of Stony Brook University (SBU) affords the opportunity to leverage unique resources. The research-focused doctorate is aimed at preparing nurses for careers as a nurse scientist and academician.  Coursework in philosophy, concepts and theory, data management and research and statistical methods are foundational to meeting this goal.  By enhancing the existing program and building new partnerships, three new courses were developed that serve to enrich our students’ doctorate educational experience in unique ways.

For example, “Integrating Big Data to Evaluate Population Health” was designed in conjunction with the Department of Biomedical Informatics (BMI), home of biomedical data science research and education at SBU. The BMI mission is to advance biomedical knowledge and to inspire and engage students and faculty to drive the development of concepts, methods and tools that will deliver world-class, compassionate care to patients. To capitalize on the rich resources of the BMI department, Pat Bruckenthal, PhD, APRN-BC, FAAN, professor and chair of the Department of Doctoral Studies in the SON, partnered with Mary Saltz, MD, a clinical assistant professor in the Departments of Radiology and Biomedical Informatics and chief clinical integration officer for Community Practice Initiatives.

Access to large publicly available data sets and the application of their use to solve public health problems was a natural fit for the SON and BMI. The challenge in developing this course was how to provide our doctoral candidates the skills to extract and visualize the data without adding an additional three-credit course in computer programming. Bruckenthal and Saltz contacted the SBU Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program to explore a collaborative course. The VIP program is a project-based model that unites undergraduate and graduate students and faculty members in multidisciplinary teams that work on long-term projects in research, design, innovation and entrepreneurship. It provides a real-world context for course work and builds professional, teamwork and leadership skills taught by experiential learning. “Integrating Population Informatics” was developed as the lab component for the parent course. Using a cross-disciplinary approach, students integrated diverse data sources for projects tailored to the specific interests of the doctoral students. Undergraduate and masters students from Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Nursing, Biomedical Informatics, Biomedical Engineering and Public Health are invited to join the teams. These projects have the potential to improve health outcomes and drive health policy.

A second course unique to the SON PhD program—the Alan Alda School for Communicating Science—was established on the Stony Brook campus in 2009 to develop and foster the communication skills of emerging scientists. It’s geared towards scientists and health professionals to enable skills acquisition to communicate complex topics in clear and interesting ways that can result in improved understanding by the public, media, patients, elected officials and others outside of their own discipline. Our PhD students take this multidisciplinary course with other health professional students to engage in improvisational theater-based techniques and media platforms combined with message design strategies like distilling and storytelling to develop powerful communication skills to be used in any context. This is a natural fit for nurse leaders who are in the position to share and disseminate health care knowledge in impactful ways that have the potential to influence health care by expanding the reach of access to information and to impact health policy.   

The third way Bruckenthal built coursework and leveraged the rich resources at SBU was through the Research Practicum course. Doctorate students are expected to join an existing research team within the university. They attend weekly meetings and participate as active members of a lab with the goal of applying a variety of principles of scientific integrity through experiential learning.  For example, students participated in Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, development of regulatory binders, recruitment strategies and protocol development for establishing “ground truth” for wireless sensor devices for health care application. Their participation has included research labs in the Department of Psychiatry, Stony Brook Cancer Institute and Department of Computer Science.

“These cross-disciplinary experiences promote understanding of scientific integrity by our doctoral students,” Bruckenthal said. “They also enlighten and enrich a bidirectional understanding of the contributions of nursing science within the broader scientific community while looking towards future innovations.”

The outcomes from these innovative courses have been remarkable. For example, the first cohort of doctorate students were asked to present their BMI project that explored large data sets in New York State to trend “Vaping and Use of Electronic Cigarettes in Adolescents” at grand rounds in the Biomedical Informatics Department.  The VIP course developed the leadership and mentorship skills of the students and culminated in a poster presentation for each of the three VIP projects.  The university hosted the National Myalgic Encephalitis/Chronic Fatigue conference in 2020 and a SON doctoral student presented a poster based on recruitment strategies in this patient population.  

The blending of traditional core courses and innovative new courses leveraging the broader research community is an approach that has demonstrated success in preparing nurse scientists of the future at Stony Brook School of Nursing.

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