Dr. Valerie Wright was the first guest for MCN’s new podcast, MCN On Air. She sat down with podcast host, Noah Schlosser, on September 7, 2021, and shared her energy and insights around the Leadership Academy and CAUSE project. Here’s an excerpt of their conversation highlighting the unique elements of these offerings and their value to nursing students. We invite you to listen to the first episode of MCN On Air in its entirety.

Full Episode

Transcript Excerpt

Can you tell us a little bit about the CAUSE program? 

Yeah! So the CAUSE program teaches nurses and nursing students about how to work at their highest scope of practice. What happens right now is we’re teaching them about care coordination. So, teaching them how to coordinate their patients’ care so it’s not fragmented. Oftentimes, patients, especially those who are going to low-income clinics, their care is very fragmented. One person is managing their diabetes, and someone else is managing their blood pressure, and someone else is managing their depression, and the providers aren’t talking, and there ends up being holes and gaps in that patient’s care. And so, we are teaching nurses to really coordinate all of that patient’s care, and it really helps to improve better patient care outcomes, prevents many emergency room visits, because we’re really staying on top of things. That grant has hired four nurses; we’re at Community Health Care Clinic, Chestnut, and we’re actually also with Bloomington Primary, working a little bit with OSF. 

“The CAUSE program teaches nurses and nursing students about how to work at their highest scope of practice.” 

Dr. Valerie Wright

Can you give me an example from the CAUSE program of how what you’ve been teaching the students has impacted their work in real life? 

Yeah, absolutely. So, one of the cool things that we get to do, and I get to do, as a Simulation and Interprofessional Coordinator, is we hire members of the community as actors, and they work as what we call “standardized participants.” And the reason it’s called “standardized participants” is because we have eight of them in rooms, and then eight students go into those rooms, and so it doesn’t matter what that person’s backgrounds are, I need for every student to be walking in to “Sam Parker.” That’s one of the names of one of the cases that we have. The actors all have the background of Sam, and they then act as if they are Sam. And it really allows the students to suspend reality. What happens then when the students go in–let’s say one of Sam Parker’s cases is he has issues with his blood pressure and his diabetes, and he has a chance to either go on medicine or to work on diet and exercise. And Sam chooses to diet and exercise. So, we teach the students to use a technique that we call “motivational interviewing” to allow the patient to come up with their own goals. Because, as anybody knows, like, think of someone who smokes. Probably hundreds of people have told them to stop smoking, and yet they’re still smoking. Nothing on that carton of cigarettes says that it’s a kale stick that they’re pulling out. It, in fact, point-blank says it’s going to cause cancer. And yet, people don’t stop! And part of that is, they’re not intrinsically motivated, or something hasn’t gotten them to be at the place where they’re ready. And so, we work with the students to try to help the patients to create their own goals. So maybe a goal isn’t to quit smoking. Maybe a goal is to have two less cigarettes a day. Although, that doesn’t seem like, “Well, we want them to quit,” and they should quit! Of course, they should! But that’s not where they’re at right now. And we’re trying to figure out, what is it for that patient? Are they wanting to be around their grandkids? Or are they having trouble getting up the stairs? We’re trying to work through things that cause them to have their own “why,” for why they want to quit, not just because someone is telling them. Because very rarely when we tell people to do things, do they actually do them. It’s very patient-centered. 

Yeah. Very patient-centered, but it’s also very realistic, too. You’re definitely capturing the human aspect of what it’s like to interact with a patient. 

Yes. So, they see these actors as actually being Sam Parker. And then what happens is, after we debrief the scenario, the students go back in with the same SP, or standardized participant, and that SP gives them feedback on their interaction. And so, maybe when the student came in, they didn’t have eye contact, or maybe their arms were crossed, and that SP then can say, “You know, when you didn’t make eye contact with me, when you had your arms crossed, it made me feel like I didn’t matter.” But the student wouldn’t know that. That’s the blind spot. Just like I didn’t know when I taught, I twirled my hair, until I had to record it as a part of my master’s program, and then I watched myself, which was torture in and of itself. And I wondered, how do I have any hair left? But nobody told me that I flick my hair a million times when I’m teaching! And so, now I know that, and I don’t do it. 

Yeah, so, something to be aware of that may or may not be off-putting to the patient?

Correct. And very rarely will a patient in real-time tell you what you do that would offend them or what they didn’t like. I’m that patient (laughs). But I’m probably a rarity. 

So, you also mentioned that you are a part of the Leadership Academy. Can you tell me a little bit about that? 

Yeah! So, the Leadership Academy is funded by a generous donation. And so, when students enroll in that, it’s above and beyond their normal course work. They don’t get a grade for it; it doesn’t change their academics one bit at Mennonite. So, it’s above and beyond. It’s four, four-hour nights, and two, eight-hour Saturdays; so, we are asking students to give quite a bit of their time. And what they get out of that is some real-world leadership training. And that is led by Tom Carroll. Tom Carroll is a phenomenal leader and has tons of business experience, and he helps to spearhead that program, and he is also one of the leadership faculty that I have the opportunity to work alongside in the theory part, in the curriculum as well. But the Leadership Academy is extra, right. It’s like the sprinkles on top. But it’s so beneficial for the students. One of the things that Tom works with them is, we teach them how to lead themselves, and then how to lead others. Because if we don’t know how to lead ourselves, we can’t really lead others. And so, students leave with really awesome skills, and skills they wouldn’t normally have. For example, one of our last classes that we have, they have a professional etiquette dinner where they get to learn what fork does what, and which spoon do you use where, and where is your drink cup, and where is your bread thing, and things that even I learn every time I go. ‘Cause many times students have interviews that are over dinner. And so being able to know and being able to work around a professional dinner table and having that etiquette is really great. 

Obviously, MCN’s got some really cool programs. And a recurring theme that I’m seeing is, the CAUSE program and the Leadership Academy, these are both programs that are … aren’t they optional? You can choose to go into them? 

Yeah, I mean, students for the CAUSE program, we don’t select those students. They have to apply to be in the program, and they fill out an application, they have to write an essay, and many of the things with CAUSE are also extra. They have to attend an extra eight-hour workshop each semester. And a lot of those things are above and beyond their normal course work. But, the really great thing that students get out of that is that those are things they get to put on their resume that really do help when they’re looking for future employment. In fact, when I helped to hire new nurses when I worked at the hospital, we would look for those things. Not just the minimum. Minimally, everybody has to take the classes and pass and have a license. But, what did they do on top of that? Because past behavior is predictive of future. So, if they were involved in a lot of things and did a lot of extra things, like they did the Leadership Academy or CAUSE or things like that, then it’s likely that they will be more involved in committee work at the hospital and be really engaged. 

There’s now an entire generation of kids who are now growing up with COVID being in the world. And a number of them are probably considering, “I want to be a part of this change that’s tangible, that I can actually go out, and I know I’m helping people every single day,” and they’re considering nursing school. Why should they come to MCN? 

Well, I do believe that Mennonite has … we have an amazing program, and we put out a graduate that is different. And I think it’s because our program is different. We care about our students, and not only do we preach excellence, but we live it. And so, the graduates of Mennonite are different. 

People can see it in the community. In fact, I remember when I was working at the hospital, one of the directors of Mennonite had come to see if they could get more clinical space at the hospital. And so, she said to me, “You know, Valerie, are you aware of the caliber of our nursing students that we put out?” And I said, “I am, actually, ’cause I’m one of them!” But yeah, I mean, it’s the Mennonite grads, and you’ll hear alumni say if they’re in the hospital, or if family members are in the hospital, they’re constantly asking, “Where did you go to nursing school?” And they can tell the difference with the Mennonite grads. So, it really speaks to the commitment of the professors here, the commitment to administration to continue to feed into the instructors and, ultimately, into the students. 

The purpose of this podcast is to inform, it’s to motivate, it’s to inspire people. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you want to add to this? 

“We, as instructors here at Mennonite, staff, administration, have the privilege and opportunity to teach our nurses how to be the best part of the patients’ days.”

Dr. Valerie Wright

Well, one of the things I think, you know, as we’re working with patients and we can see that, especially in these times of COVID, is that we have the privilege of being with patients on their worst days. We have the opportunity to be the best thing that can happen to them on their worst day. Or sometimes worst days, plural. Sometimes, it goes on and on, and it’s horrible, and it’s tragic. And as a nurse, I’ve had the privilege to see life as it’s come into this world, and I’ve had the privilege of holding babies as they have passed on to the next. It’s sad, and also so amazing to be able to be there and to be able to support the parents or the families. You know, whatever, again, on their worst days, we get to be the best part of it, and we, as instructors here at Mennonite, staff, administration, have the privilege and opportunity to teach our nurses how to be the best part of the patients’ days. 

You can learn more about the CAUSE project and Leadership Academy at nursing.illinoisstate.edu.