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A Nurse and Healthcare Professional’s Guide to Better Sleep

by South University
March 9, 2018
A photo of a nursing holding a sign that says sleep well.

From March 11 to 17, 2018, the National Sleep Foundation is celebrating Sleep Awareness Week, highlighting how good sleep habits help individuals perform their best. Yet, at South University--where over 65% of our students are in nursing and other health professions--we see firsthand how getting quality sleep is particularly difficult for many healthcare professionals. In this field, professionals regularly work nights and long, demanding shifts that make getting a normal night’s sleep challenging, even throwing off the body’s natural rhythms.

As a healthcare professional, you provide essential services to patients who count on you to be alert and at your best. Fatigue is a serious issue in healthcare and can lead to a decline in your own health and an increased risk of errors in your patient care work. So what can you do when you’re working odd or long hours and find yourself struggling to sleep? Below are tips that can help you sleep better, so that you’ll be healthy and ready for the day ahead.

1. Create a wind down ritual and sleep schedule.

Begin to relax at least an hour before going to sleep, and keep a consistent sleep and wake schedule, even when you’re not working. During that hour, avoid your tv or phone as the bright light can stimulate your brain. If you want to read, choose something relaxing that you’ll be able to set aside at bedtime.

A pre-bedtime routine can also be beneficial. Ease any tension with a warm bath or shower, and treat yourself to soothing lavender scents or calming essential oils. Then, clean your face, brush your teeth, and play relaxing music or white noise to signal to your brain that it’s time for sleep. If you’re often anxious at bedtime, keep a notepad nearby where you can jot down thoughts and reminders and consider learning a relaxation technique to help you fall asleep.

2. Improve your sleeping environment.

For starters, use your bedroom for sleeping only, keeping it clean of clutter and anything that might stress you out. You should also minimize light and noise. Light tells your brain to wake up; darkness does the opposite. Invest in room darkening curtains, cover illuminated clocks, and consider an eye mask.

Set your phone to alarm-only mode, leaving it upside down to damper any light it emits. If you worry about waking up on time, set multiple alarms to ease your concerns. If you live on a noisy street, use ear plugs if you can still hear your alarm, or try a white noise machine or a sleep sound smartphone app. Finally, lower your thermostat before bedtime; the best temperature for sleeping is around 65 degrees.

3. Ask others to respect your schedule.

Get your friends and family on board with the importance of your sleep. If you have children, explain why you sleep when you do and ask that they only disturb you in an emergency. Request that your housemates avoid loud noisy activities or use headphones while you’re sleeping, and place a Do Not Disturb sign on your door to avoid being wakened by the doorbell.

4. Follow a healthy diet & exercise routine during waking hours.

Regular exercise can lower your stress levels and improve your sleep, so aim for at least 20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise, ideally before your shift. Working out within a few hours of your bedtime can lead to trouble falling asleep. Don’t indulge on a huge meal before sleeping, but also avoid an empty stomach. Either one could wake you up in the middle of your sleep cycle. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can also all disrupt your sleep, so avoid these items in the hours before you sleep. (See more of our tips for staying healthy here.)

Are you working in nursing or another healthcare profession? How do you balance your schedule so that you get the sleep you need? Join the conversation and share your advice with the South University community on Facebook.

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Meet Our Austin MSN-FNP Program Director: Jeanne Hopple

by South University
February 16, 2018
A photo of Jean Hopple.

"I became involved in nursing because of a desire to help others and improve their wellbeing," explains Dr. Jeanne Hopple, a nurse practitioner with 41 years of nursing experience who today serves as the Program Director for the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a Specialization in Family Nurse Practitioner Program at South University, Austin.

Acquiring Experience across the Nursing Field

Helping people, Hopple says, has always been her passion. As a young woman, she enjoyed volunteering as a candy striper in a local hospital, and, when her sister became a nurse, Hopple decided to follow in her footsteps.

After earning her BSN in 1977, Hopple began working as an RN in a Florida hospital. Over time, she explored numerous specialties, working in neurology, medical intensive care, critical care, and medical progressive care as well as spending time as a Cardiac Rehabilitation Nurse Specialist. She was particularly drawn to palliative care for older adults and doing her part to makes their lives a little better.

Before long, Hopple was educating other nurses as well. "I always enjoyed being the clinical preceptor or being in charge of orientation for new nurses," she says. "For a while, I wound up teaching critical care, bringing in my mannequin and crash cart, checking to see how the nurses answered codes and handled rapid response drills. I discovered a love for teaching."

To develop her skills across these diverse areas, Hopple earned her MSN specializing in adult health nurse practitioner and cardiovascular clinical nursing and minoring in nursing education. Equipped with this degree, Hopple spent the next decade working mostly in cardiology as a nurse practitioner across medical centers, physicians' offices, hospitals, and nursing homes. In 2002, she accepted her first position teaching nursing at a university where she also worked as a nurse practitioner with student health services.

Soon, however, Hopple became interested in providing care across the lifespan, not just for adults. She returned to school again, first for a post master's family nurse practitioner certificate and then for a PhD in Nursing Science. While in school, Hopple held various nurse practitioner roles in acute care, nephrology, women's health, and family care while also teaching and serving as a clinical preceptor.

Bringing Nursing Expertise into the Classroom

After finishing her PhD in 2011, Hopple began shifting more of her time to teaching (first in Florida and then in Tennessee), while still maintaining her clinical skills in part-time nurse practitioner roles. In 2014, she joined the South University family, moving to Georgia to teach in our nursing programs in Savannah. While there, she worked first at a federally qualified health care center and then with a VA clinic doing intake assessments for veterans coming out of active duty.

In 2017, Hopple relocated again—this time to become the director of our MSN-FNP program in Austin. She also teaches in the program, including the course that introduces new students to the nurse practitioner profession. "This is broadening way out from the RN role," she says. "From day one, you’re learning a whole new role. You’re building on your RN knowledge and it’s going to help you, but now you’re going to be the advanced care provider for people with all types of health needs, from infants to elderly."

To prepare students for this transition, Hopple shares many of her own experiences from family medicine. She also makes sure her students understand the academic resources available to them and brings in the campus librarian to teach research and writing skills as well as review the library services. Being in Austin, she even arranged for her students to attend the Health Care Policy & Leadership Conference for Texas Nurse Practitioners last year at the Capitol building.

"The personal connection is what I love about South University. I can pick up the phone and call my students. They know me, I know them," she says. "If they're struggling, I can ask what's going on and whether there's anything I can help with or that they want to talk about. Sometimes it's a family or health or personal issue. Life happens. They know my door is open. We’re here. We care about them. We want to take you forward, to make a difference in your life."

Interested in learning more about the nursing programs and faculty at South University? Explore our College of Nursing and Public Health today!

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Meet April Stidham: MSN Program Director at South University, Tampa

by South University
January 9, 2018
An image of a healthcare professional assisting a woman.

All of her life, April Stidham, DNP, ARNP, FNP-C, has been drawn to the career of nursing. Even as child, she watched hospital shows like Emergency!, admiring the nurse featured on the show, Nurse Dixie. "She possessed self-confidence, self-assuredness, professionalism, and intelligence. I admired her leadership and interaction with patients, emergency responders, and doctors," she recalls.

Today, Stidham is the Program Director for the MSN Family Nurse Practitioner programs at South University, Tampa, and has 35 years of experience practicing in Virginia, Washington, Tennessee, and Florida.

She got started in the field right out of high school with an associate’s degree program in nursing, earning her degree at 19 and her RN license by age 20. As her responsibilities grew and she took on more administrative roles, Stidham continued her education, earning a BSN in 1995 and completing an MSN-FNP program in 1997.

Over the course of her career, Stidham has worked in several internal medical practices as well as a variety of hospital departments, long-term care settings, and family health clinics. She has had numerous peer-publications and professional presentations, helped to secure a handful of research grants, and been involved in almost a dozen clinical studies.

"I love being a nurse practitioner," she says. "I try to empower my patients through education and letting them take charge and responsibility of managing their health, with me being there to offer support as their primary care provider."

Over time, her interest in educating patients evolved into a desire to educate students as well. She first dabbled in teaching after earning her MSN and taking on adjunct faculty roles from 1998 to 2000 and then 2003 to 2006 at the University of Virginia. These experiences inspired her to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice in 2011 and to pursue additional teaching opportunities.

"I wanted to be able to teach students and give back what I had learned over the years from my nursing career as an RN and as an advanced practice nurse," she explains.

Equipped with her DNP, Stidham accepted a position at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), where she served as an Assistant Professor and later DNP Coordinator over a 5-year period, teaching and developing courses from the bachelor’s to doctoral level.

While there, she was also a family nurse practitioner in the ETSU Nurse Managed Clinics, including the University Student Health Center and Johnson City Community Health Center—providing primary care to uninsured or underinsured adults with multiple chronic conditions and acute and chronic diseases in rural northeast Tennessee. Within these clinics, she ran an interprofessional, student-led clinic, with the university’s DNP, BSN, pharmacy, nutrition, social work, clinical psychology, and medical students. She earned the ETSU College of Nursing Nurse of the Year – Service Award in 2014 and the Nurse of the Year – Practice Award in 2015.

In 2017, Stidham joined South University as Program Director for Tampa's MSN programs. In her role as a mentor and instructor, Stidham enjoys getting to know and interact with each of her MSN students. "It is very rewarding to see my advanced practice nursing students grow, mature, transition to using their new knowledge, and eventually gain confidence in managing patient care," she says.

Being a good nurse, she believes, is in large part driven simply by having the compassion, caring, and desire to take care of others. Education and mentorship are also important keys to success, she advises.

"The best way for a nursing professional to grow their skills and their career is to establish a good relationship with an experienced nurse, to listen to and accept constructive feedback, and to allow yourself to gain experience and confidence as a nurse before moving to the next level of higher education."

Want to know more about the nursing programs and faculty at South University? Explore our College of Nursing and Public Health today!

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Meet Cathryn Baack: South University, Cleveland Graduate Nursing Program Director

by South University
October 30, 2017
Dr. Cathyrn Baack.

Officially, Cathryn Baack (PhD, APRN, FNP-C, CPNP-Retired) has been a nurse since 1986. As a caregiver, her experience goes back even farther. When she was 14, she served as a nursing assistant in a local nursing home. Before that, she helped to care for a family member with disabilities.

"It never crossed my mind that I would do anything but nursing," reflects Dr. Baack, now Assistant Professor and Program Director for the Graduate Nursing Programs at South University, Cleveland.

After starting her nursing career in a CCU step down unit and then working in long term care, Baack spent over a decade in pediatric nursing, an area she was drawn to while raising her own daughter with special needs.

"That special needs child, who is now 27, not only got me working with children, but she also was instrumental in me deciding to go into family practice," Baack explains. "As she aged out of pediatrics, I realized that many families need someone to follow them throughout their lifespan."

In 2015, Baack added a Family Nurse Practitioner post graduate certificate to her list of educational achievements—which already included a bachelor's, master's and PhD. Today, in addition to her role at South University, Baack works as a family nurse practitioner in Medicare management and risk assessment.

Having cared for patients at all stages of life, Baack always brings course material to life by connecting what’s she teaching in class to real situations from her past. By drawing on her own personal experiences, she also teaches students to better empathize with patients.

"I've been a patient, I've been a family member, I've been a parent, and I've been an advocate. I spent a good deal of my daughter’s childhood in and out of hospitals and doctor's appointments. I taught my daughter to advocate for herself, so I know the importance of teaching patients to be their own advocate," she says. "These are all things that I bring to the classroom."

Baack has worked in education since 2006 and joined South University in 2014. Her expectations are high and she challenges her students to learn from each other, to seek out their own answers and solutions, and to commit to being lifelong learners and self-starters. Every week, she asks students to share and discuss their own clinical experiences, from what was most interesting to what prompted the toughest ethical questions.

"I want them to learn from each other as much as they learn from me. Each of them brings something unique to the class," she says, noting the diversity of age and experience among her students. "I can’t give them everything. They have to take responsibility for their own education too, so they need to look for those experiences that they, and their classmates, can learn from."

For Baack, the joy in teaching comes from watching as her students grow and their thinking evolves. "Even when they're working their regular RN jobs, they start asking, 'What do I think is going on with this patient? What can I find in their charts that would confirm what I think their diagnosis is?’ Differential diagnosis starts coming naturally without them thinking about it."

A lot of those rewarding moments occur, she says, after students complete tough classes like Advanced Pathophysiology or Pharmacology. Then, in their practicums, things fall into place, as they realize how well those courses prepared them for making and explaining clinical decisions, including teaching patients what's causing their symptoms and how their medications will help.

While she expects a lot from her students, Baack gives a lot back as well and her students become like family. She hosts pool parties for classes approaching graduation and frequently receives texts from her students; they all have her cell phone number. "They know, no matter what's going on, they can contact me and that I'm there for them," she says.

Her dedication stems from a true pride in her work. "I tell all of my students to find their passion. If they don't love the job they're doing then look for a new one, because the job they love is out there. If you don't love what you're doing, you're not doing yourself or your patients any good," she advises, adding, "I have the best of both worlds because I love to teach and I love to work with patients and I get to do both."

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Meet a Key Member of the Orlando Learning Site’s Nursing Faculty and Leadership

by South University
August 18, 2017

"The educational journey is exciting but extremely difficult. It has many valleys, peaks, tears, frustrations and celebrations," says South University, Orlando Learning Site, Assistant Dean & Associate Professor for Graduate Nursing, William Warrington. "In the end, one can only achieve greatness when you are pushed to the limit of your potential; I believe in pushing hard. I want every student to succeed and be the very best they can be."

An important part of the leadership for the South University, Orlando Learning Site, Dr. William Warrington, PhD, ARNP, FNP-C, CCRP, is an accomplished nurse practitioner and educator who has devoted over 25 years to the nursing field. Recently, he earned the honor of being named one of the Top 100 Nurse Educators and Researchers in the State of Florida by the Florida Nurses Association.

Becoming a Leader in the Field of Nursing

Like many nurses, Warrington was attracted to the profession after himself witnessing the care and compassion of nurses. After watching the nursing staff care for his father after an open heart operation, Warrington—who had previously served in the US Army as a Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Weapons Specialist—was inspired to look into nursing school.

"I found out that the curriculum would be challenging and stimulating. I was not disappointed," recalls Warrington, who earned his ASN in 1990 and his BSN shortly thereafter in 1993.

From there, Warrington spent over two decades working in intensive care units and cardiac catheterizations labs. He earned an MSN in Nursing Administration and Adult Health in 2002 and a PhD in Nursing Science / Physiology in 2008—degrees that equipped him to take on leadership responsibilities such as supervising employees and mentoring new team members and students.

For five years, Warrington was also a Nurse Scientist with the Orlando Health Center for Nursing Research, where he served as principal investigator on four studies, was co-investigator on nine studies, and co-authored numerous peer-reviewed articles, one of which was published in the Journal of the Association for Vascular Access. Here, in addition to conducting and supporting research, Warrington helped to inform other nurses of recent research, guiding them in evidence-based practice initiatives.

Over the years, Warrington has also given 21 poster and podium presentations at various conferences, seminars, and other meetings, as well as served on and chaired many committees and advisory boards. In 2014, Warrington earned another MSN with a specialization in Family Nurse Practitioner, and he has been working as an ARNP ever since.

"Working in nursing has provided me with a diverse career. Being a registered nurse was rewarding, but, after going on several medical missions, I wanted to seize the opportunity to really make a difference in the daily lives of people by being able to assess, diagnose, and treat our underserved population," he reflects. "To accomplish this, I had to step up my game and increase my knowledge, skills, and responsibility by becoming a certified family nurse practitioner."

Sharing Expertise and Giving Back

Beyond all his professional accomplishments, Warrington has also been active in education on and off since 1992, both in hospitals and numerous educational institutions.

"For me, teaching is an extension of care. I like to give people information so that they can make informed decision about their life and healthcare. This naturally evolved into the academic arena," he says, adding. "I wanted to give back to the nursing profession and share the knowledge that I had accumulated over the years."

Warrington joined South University in 2015 and, in addition to teaching, spends much of his time providing leadership to department chairs, program directors, and faculty. On top of his work in academia, Warrington still practices at a clinic one day per week and volunteers as a Nurse Practitioner for Shepherd's Hope Inc, an organization that provides free care to low-income families in need.

In his classroom, Warrington draws heavily on what he’s learned over the years as a nurse. "Experience is everything! I believe that my students benefit from my academic and professional practice successes as well as failures," he asserts, explaining that in addition to telling students what works, he warns them of common pitfalls, recommending strategies for avoiding such mistakes entirely.

For his students and other nurses, his advice is straightforward but valuable. In fact, it’s what has helped him to achieve so much. "Work hard, read everything, challenge yourself, and take pride in what you do."

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