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Dean Elias Provencio-Vasquez and WIN Conference winners

Faculty Students

Top honors, school spirit, powerful research:

It’s a win-WIN conference for CU Nursing

Author Debra Melani | Publish Date June 14, 2019

University of Colorado College of Nursing students displayed a slate of promising research at this year’s Western Institute of Nursing (WIN) Conference in San Diego in April, with topics ranging from halting the spread of HIV to easing the minds of kids with cancer.

Among other things, the premier conference provides students practice presenting their work, mentorship with faculty members and connections with nursing researchers across the country. It also allows the university to shine.

“The students who were there were just phenomenal,” said Assistant Professor Heather Coats, PhD, a longtime WIN member. “And it was particularly fun, because we had senior faculty receiving awards,” Coats said.

Four good reasons to celebrate

High honors went to Professor Paula Meek, PhD, (Distinguished Research Lectureship Award), Clinical Professor Joyce Verran, PhD, (WIN Emerity) and Professor Michael Rice (Western Academy of Nurses Induction). Combined with a showing of 28 faculty, 13 students, and the new dean, school spirit reportedly ran high.

Meek, recently elected to the WIN Board of Directors, acknowledged the value of student-faculty interaction outside of the classroom. “It puts a personal face on a faculty face.”

Two celebrations — one for Dean Elias Provencio-Vasquez and one for the awardees — boosted socialization this year, said Meek, director of CU Nursing’s PhD program. “We did try to have a good time.”

Play gives way to purpose

Fun aside, participants kept their sights set on the conference’s purpose: “getting students and faculty engaged with the network of nurses who are moving the field forward,” Coats said.

Anne Gillespie, a master’s student in the i-LEAD (Innovation in Leadership and Administration in Nursing and Health Care Systems) program, attended the conference for the third time.

“It’s so exciting to be with 800 other nurses who all are passionate about and engaged in nursing research,” Gillespie said.

Project creates pen pals with paws

Gillespie, a pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Hospital Colorado, presented on a project she launched that brings furry friends into the lives of children with cancers that exclude them from having regular pet therapy.

Called YAPS (Youth and Pet Survivors Program), Gillespie matches pediatric patients with a cat or dog of their choice that has suffered similar medical conditions and/or treatments.

The children begin a pen-pal relationship, writing letters to their animals, whose owners write back in the voices of their pets.

“It’s really special,” Gillespie said. “The children interact with them like the letters are from a dog or a cat. They share feelings and experiences about their disease and their treatment with the animal.”

Pediatric patients find connection with pets

“He’s gone through the same thing I have,” one patient on chemotherapy said of his pet pal. “She kind of knows how I feel … more than most of my friends,” another child wrote.

“One of the most important things to the patients was the fact that the dog or cat shared a similar medical diagnosis and had been through similar challenges,” Gillespie said.

Other benefits for the kids resembled those of traditional pet therapy: joy, happiness, pleasure, distraction, she said.

Gillespie, who will go straight from her master’s program to a PhD program this August, said some aspect of YAPS would be part of her dissertation. She also will continue to disseminate the research and possibly expand the program, she said. “I had excellent feedback at the conference.”

Students find time in the limelight

Recent PhD graduate Jamie Mignano took part in her fourth WIN conference, this time presenting the results of her dissertation study.

“It was exciting because, besides doing my defense, it was my first time sharing the results with the outside world,” Mignano said, adding that she also just submitted the results for publication.

A death of a family member from an AIDS-related illness years ago ignited Mignano’s interest in HIV. Her research looked at predictors of re-linkage to outpatient HIV care after hospitalization of patients with a gap in regular care.

“The biggest take-home for me is that 60 percent of new HIV infections are the result of people who have diagnosed disease but aren’t receiving medical care,” Mignano said. “So my research aims to help figure out how to close that gap and have more continuity of care for people with HIV and, in turn, to decrease transmission.”

New graduate: WIN boosts spirit

CU Nursing’s prominent presence at the WIN conference this year made her last time with the college special, Mignano said.

“I’ve always enjoyed interacting with our faculty at WIN and being part of the College of Nursing group,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to see how amazing our faculty members are, and it kind of enhances your school spirit.”