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Career in Nursing: Student explores the many facets of a career in nursing

Posted: Oct. 2, 2012

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Eduardo Chavez

His mother was a nurse and his father a teacher, but Eduardo Chavez had other ideas about what he wanted to do with his life. After graduating from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s of science degree in biology/entomology, he pictured himself happily spending the rest of his life in a lab studying ants.

“I was really interested in the social interaction of ants and how they adapt to their environments,” Chavez said. “Ants have traveled with humans across the globe.”

Prior to making that lifetime commitment, however, he joined the Peace Corps and spent the next 27 months in Paraguay teaching beekeeping and running a honey co-op. In his spare time, Chavez was asked to oversee public health-related projects such as workshops on general hygiene and women’s health, and he discovered how much he enjoyed the interaction with the townspeople.

While in Paraguay, Chavez also witnessed the impact an extended drought was making on the population, and especially children. What little drinking water existed had become contaminated and was causing severe bouts of diarrhea. As a result, parents began to restrict the amount of water their children drank, only to have them dehydrate, sicken and die.

“It was a real eye-opener. I began to see what people go through because they lack not only supplies and access to health care, but even basic knowledge about how to prevent illnesses,” Chavez said.

With this change of perspective, came a change in career plans. Chavez returned to his home state and enrolled in The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Nursing, where he obtained a bach­elor’s in nursing and then entered the graduate program. In the meantime, armed with his RN license, Chavez began working with both adults and children. He is currently a nurse in the emergency room at Dell Children’s Medical Center. The variety in different settings appealed to him as he thought about a direction for his career. It also caused him to think about the processes used to deliver care and the factors that influence how well those processes are followed, which gave him an idea for his doctoral dissertation.

The United States is at a major crossroads as health-care systems begin to change, reforms are introduced and the pace in hospitals increases. Chavez is concerned that these changes will place addi­tional expectations and pressure on bedside nurses without providing them the necessary leadership skills required to help them perform their job well. As a doctoral candidate, he is researching and identifying the behaviors of successful bedside nurses — behaviors that when identified, described and taught, will enable other nurses to succeed at this critical level of patient care.

“The traditional way of looking at nursing leadership usually includes nurse administrators and managers,” said Chavez. “But I’m more interested in which behaviors make a difference at the point where care meets the patient.”

Explaining that the literature on this topic is lacking, Chavez’s dissertation mentor, Dr. Linda Yoder, associate professor of nursing and director of the graduate program in nursing administration and healthcare systems management, believes that Chavez’s work could go a long way toward increasing patient safety, quality of care, and efficiency. It will also add to the body of nursing adminis­trative science and ensure that schools of nursing are teaching the behaviors at various levels.

“People think these leadership behaviors are obvious, but they really aren’t,” Yoder said. “Eduardo is plowing an unplowed field.”

For Chavez, the project underscores the variety of jobs and possibilities that a career in nursing affords. He is excited about the hands-on aspect of the profession, but also appreciates the flexibility to pursue research. And so, like his parents, he will be both a nurse and a teacher after all.

“Nursing allows — and almost requires — you to do both. I don’t know if that can be said of many other professions,” he said.

This spring, Chavez was named the School of Nursing Outstanding Graduate Student. He also received the Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence Award, a scholarship program launched in 2008 by Barbara and Donald Jonas to create outstanding faculty, advance scholarship and spark new and innovative practice.

“Receiving the Jonas Nurse Leaders Award was an extraordinary honor and presents many unique opportunities to represent the School of Nursing at a national level as well as advance my academic goals and professional development,” he said.

Ultimately, the award will help Chavez get closer to his goal of becoming a nurse researcher and a professor — a combination that will undoubtedly make an impact on the future of nursing.