For Doctor of Nursing Practice Student, Volunteering to Help Others is a Way of Life

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Donna Schumann has volunteered in medical, vision, and dental clinics in Honduras, and was part of a medical mission team in Kenya. When it came time to select a project as part of her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree  at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, however, she decided to focus on introducing health solutions for campers with spina bifida at a Houston-area summer camp where she has volunteered for the past four years.

As a nurse practitioner, Schumann has served as the medical director for Camp That Love Built for several summers, an experience that requires her to oversee medical care for 40-50 campers and an equal number of volunteers during the six-day camp.

“I have worked with camp staff to remodel medical care so we can improve the independence of our campers through different activities,” Schumann said. “The majority of our campers are in wheelchairs so a lot of their struggles and stressors are pressure ulcers. We’re working to make the camp barrier-free and improve mobility for all.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spina bifida is a type of neural tube defect that affects the spine, which can cause physical and intellectual disabilities that range from mild to severe. As part of her DNP Scholarly Project – a requirement that gives students an opportunity to develop effective interventions for patients and patient populations with complex health problems – Schumann introduced a plan to reduce incontinence among campers.

“The goal was to decrease the number of times that campers were wet so that we’re decreasing their risk for infection or pressure ulcers,” Schumann said. “We put campers on a bladder diary and then staff gave campers verbal reminders. We actually were pretty successful in decreasing incontinence from 37 episodes to seven episodes from the start to end of camp.”

The DNP program is an online doctoral program that allows students to work from home and hold down a full-time job, which were some of the key features that attracted Schumann to the program. This year, the program added its first DNP Day and DNP Workshop to bring students together for two days on campus. Schumann traveled to campus from her hometown of Magnolia along with other students in the online program to take part in DNP Day and the DNP Workshop in July. Donna’s cohort will graduate during Summer Commencement on Aug. 10. 

“This was the first time we brought all our online students set to graduate from the program to present and defend their DNP projects—their culminating doctoral work—to the university community,” said Dr. Theresa Garcia, Assistant Professor and Doctor of Nursing Practice Program Coordinator in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

The DNP program admitted its first class to the nurse practitioner track in fall 2016 and seven students graduated from the program last year. In 2018, the program received full accreditation from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), and the program is adding a second track – an Executive Leadership track in Fall of 2019.

“This year, we plan to graduate eight students and admit approximately 20 new students into the program, our largest admission class yet,” Garcia said, referring to the 2019-20 school year. “Our program filled a great need to provide accessible and affordable, education for advanced degreed nurses to provide guidance to South Texas communities in finding cost-effective and evidence-based solutions to the complex health problems in the region.”     

Dr. Jessica Peck, an Associate Professor who teaches in the DNP program, prepares students to influence health care for South Texas residents.

“According to the AACN, DNP nurses possess a blend of clinical, leadership, economic, and organizational skills that puts them in a unique position to deftly critique nursing practice and design programs of care delivery that are economically feasible, locally acceptable, and that significantly impact health care outcomes,” Peck said. “Our program equips nursing leaders to specifically influence positive health outcomes in South Texas and beyond.”

Peck added that watching her student interact with special-needs individuals at the camp was inspiring.

“Donna is a great example of the amazing things that happen when nurse practitioners use their expertise and skill sets to lead in their communities,” Peck said. “Her DNP project demonstrates the influence nurse practitioners can have in optimizing health and promoting positive outcomes with a holistic approach to wellness.”