Two SHU Nursing Professors to be Honored for Contributions

News Story: October 1, 2010
Nursing Professors Julie Stewart, left, and Sue DeNisco

Sacred Heart University College of Education and Health Professions (CEHP) Nursing Professors Sue DeNisco, D.N.P., and Julie Stewart, D.N.P., will receive Diamond Jubilee Awards from the Connecticut Nurses’ Association (CNA) for excellence in their fields.

The association established the awards program to commemorate its 75th anniversary. The awards represent the highest honor that the nursing profession in Connecticut can bestow, according to www.ctnurses.org. The awards will be presented at the 104th annual convention of the Connecticut Nurses’ Association on Thursday, Oct. 21, at the Crowne Plaza in Cromwell, CT. Hundreds of nurses, executives and students attend the event each year.

The awards are named after some of the most distinguished and notable people in Connecticut nursing history, according to the association.

Stewart will receive the Florence S. Wald Award for Outstanding Contributions to Nursing Practice and DeNisco the Josephine A. Dolan Award for Outstanding Contributions to Nursing Education. Florence S. Wald, who died in 2008 at the age of 91, was a former Yale University nursing school dean who established the first American hospice unit. More than 3,000 hospice programs now are in place and serve nearly 1 million patients every year in this country. The American Academy of Nursing bestowed on her the title of “Living Legend.” Josephine A. Dolan was the first nursing instructor at the University of Connecticut and taught there for more than 35 years. She also was a nursing historian and her collection of artifacts is the foundation of the Museum of Nursing History that is named in her honor at the University of Connecticut. Dolan, who died in 2004 at the age of 91, also was a published author.

DeNisco, an associate professor and graduate program director, has been coordinating Sacred Heart’s Family Nurse Practitioner Program since 2000. In 2007, she received the American Academy of Nurse Practitioner Connecticut State Award for Excellence. She also is the immediate past president of the Connecticut Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Society (CTAPRNS.)

Stewart, who is an assistant professor, was named the Connecticut Nurse Practitioner of the Year in 2006 by the CTAPRNS. She also received the CEHP Alumni Leadership Award in 2006. She is the chairwoman of the CTAPRNS Government Relations Committee.

Stewart, who is honored to be recognized by her peers, remembers wanting to be a nurse when she was a child. “I always have had, since I was little, a penchant for caring for the vulnerable population and feeling like I needed to take care of the vulnerable or stand up and be an advocate for them. I can’t remember ever not feeling that way.”

Her expertise has been called into service for battered women, abused children and people with HIV/AIDS. “Many people ask me how I can do this, and isn’t it sad? I’d rather be the one attending to them because I know what to do and how to do it. It is better to have someone who is trained and willing,” she says of working with victims of child abuse.

As a certified HIV specialist, she has provided comprehensive medical care and support services to people with HIV. After stints at Stamford Hospital, she went on to be the director of clinical services for an AIDS center in Brooklyn, N.Y. She now has a clinical practice at the Southwest Community Health Center, which includes providing care for HIV and hepatitis C-infected patients. Additionally, she has works as a medical forensic examiner for pediatric sexual assault cases.

She likes to ask herself, “What did I do today to help someone?”

Stewart, who also worked for a brief time at Connecticut Hospice in Branford, is pursuing her doctorate in public health. She has taught full-time at Sacred Heart for three years, starting as an adjunct professor on an emergency basis while she was still in Brooklyn. She taught OB/GYN and pediatric courses in the nurse practitioner program, and was later offered a full-time job. She has taught nine different courses in her tenure, and proudly adds that she finished her doctoral work while at SHU. “I have had a great time here.”

She adds, “It is wonderful to have this job and the opportunity. In all of my jobs, I have worked with great people and great directors who have allowed me the flexibility to do what I love to do.”

DeNisco, who combines her love for clinical practice with teaching, says she is humbled to receive the award “because I have known other faculty members in nursing across the state who have received this award and from my perspective, they are the superstars. Nursing education in the state of Connecticut is a small community.  Nursing faculty know one another, so for me to get this award is a huge honor.”

She wanted to be a doctor when she was 5 years old. But she was the first generation in her family to go to college.  She says she is not unhappy with her choice to pursue nursing. “I have done a lot with my nursing career and have touched many lives.”

She worked in Appalachia during her first two years as a nurse in a small hospital in coal-miner country. She liked the public health component and “the connection you make with people.” Following that she worked for the US Public Health Service, setting up clinics for migrant farm workers and their families to receive care.

Like Stewart, she is dedicated to the underserved and vulnerable. Both have traveled to other parts of the world on medical missions. Stewart has been to Jamaica (and is returning in September) and Honduras and DeNisco has traveled to Guatemala and El Salvador.

DeNisco is the executive director of the College of Education and Health Professions’ Center for Community Health & Wellness which is a collaborative initiative with Sacred Heart. She has 22 years of clinical experience as a family nurse practitioner and has spent a good portion of her career focused on the medically underserved populations, among them farm workers, refugees and the homeless.

Gradually, she turned her attention to teaching. “What I learned in nursing school was that patient education was a vital component of nursing and it became my passion. I like that piece of nursing – teaching the patients about their disease process and ways to promote their health.”

That interest led her to return to school to be a nurse practitioner. “You could do more teaching as a nurse practitioner. You spend more one-on-one time with your patients. I admired the nursing faculty from way back so I started dabbling in teaching pretty early on in my career.”

Her first teaching job was at the City University of New York (CUNY) after completion of her Master’s degree. She had a full teaching load, worked there for two years and liked it. But she decided she needed to work as a nurse practitioner and ended up in Stamford.

Shortly afterward, she found a teaching position at the Bridgeport Hospital School of Nursing and taught there for eight years as a clinical instructor, primarily doing hands-on training with students. Simultaneously, she continued to work as a nurse practitioner. “I love patient care and I like to be with patients and I will always do that. And I feel that in order to be a credible educator I need to bring the anecdotal stories about patients to the classroom.”

In 1998, she came to Sacred Heart wanting to teach nurse practitioner candidates, and has moved up to being the first instructor to teach in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program. “I have enjoyed teaching here. I have grown a lot as an educator working here with my faculty colleagues. I have learned from them and from the students. I have learned a lot from each student I have had in class. They have taught me to be a better educator and to realize the potential in all students.”

When asked if she had any regrets about not pursuing a medical degree, DeNisco says that she believes she would have been a good physician but adds, “I am an excellent nurse practitioner and I am an excellent nursing educator and because of that, I have been able to impact more lives than I could have if I were in general practice as a physician. I’ve taught so many individuals that have gone on to touch so many lives – that’s pretty amazing.”

What’s next for the two CNA honorees? DeNisco says she and Stewart have discussed collaborating on a writing project. “One of my goals,” DeNisco says, “is to publish a textbook in the near future.” They have talked about one on vulnerable populations for doctoral students. “The textbook would focus on how to care for them and how to help them access health care. More importantly, how nursing leaders - these doctoral students - could have an impact on the health care delivery system for the vulnerable populations.”