Connecting The Dots

March 28, 2008
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As far back as Jean Nagelkerk can remember, she wanted to be a nurse. Her motivation was altruistic: She simply liked the thought of helping and taking care of people.

Since being named Grand Valley State University’s vice provost for health last fall, Nagelkerk has been busy creating additional collaborations for the university in the health care education and research community that includes area hospitals, community agencies, Grand Rapids Medical Education Research Center, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and the Van Andel Institute.

Nagelkerk has actually been working in her current capacity since April 2007 when she was named interim vice provost for health.

Her primary role as vice provost for health is to connect with the external community and find ways to strengthen and broaden GVSU initiatives with community partners and to develop new collaborations with GVSU’s nursing, health professions and life sciences programs and centers.

She works to expand the opportunities for clinical placements for all GVSU students pursuing careers in health care — and that’s a hefty undertaking. GVSU’s Kirkhof College of Nursing has some 1,600 undergraduate and graduate students, and the university’s College of Health Professions has 1,300 undergraduate and graduate students in eight programs: clinical laboratory science, health professions, occupational safety and health management, occupational therapy, physical therapy, radiologic/imaging sciences, recreational therapy and physician assistant studies.

Nagelkerk’s search for clinical placements has already taken her outside metro Grand Rapids — to the lakeshore, to Cadillac and Ludington and other cities.

She also serves as GVSU’s point person for MSU’s medical school in terms of educational experiences, scholarship opportunities for students, and opportunities for joint research projects.

For instance, Nagelkerk is meeting with representatives of the MSU med school this month to develop interdisciplinary educational experiences. The two parties are talking about collaborating on a simulation that would involve nursing, physician assistants and medical students.

“They’ll do some kind of case study on a mannequin in our simulation facility. Then they’ll debrief, and each one will bring their disciplinary perspective to the case,” she explained.

“Research has shown that when interdisciplinary teams work cohesively together, there is better communication, fewer errors and better outcomes for patients. Members of the team come to understand each other’s roles and work more effectively in those parameters.”

There’s the potential for the MSU med school, for example, to be included on a team currently comprised of GVSU nursing students and Ferris State University pharmacy students. The students work with elderly clients to sort out the different medications they’re taking and identify prescription mixes that could cause harmful side effects or other potential problems over time.

In every collaboration or partnership, present or future, GVSU faculty supervise, coordinate and structure the learning experience, Nagelkerk said.

“We’re also looking at different potential services for the community, though we haven’t nailed them down yet.” 

Nagelkerk earned a diploma from Mercy Central School of Nursing in Grand Rapids in 1977, and launched her career as a staff and charge nurse at Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo. She went on to serve as a nurse instructor at the former Blodgett Memorial Medical Center School of Nursing in Grand Rapids, then as nurse coordinator at Palms of Pasadena Hospital, director of medical-surgical nursing at Morton Plant Hospital, and relief supervisor at University General Hospital, all in Florida. Nagelkerk joined St. Petersburg Junior College as an adjunct faculty member in 1987 and then moved on to an associate professorship at the University of Tampa.

Between 1979 and 1996, she earned a bachelor of science in nursing, a master of science in nursing, a Ph.D., and a post-doctoral family nurse practitioner certificate.

Nagelkerk returned to Grand Rapids in 1993 and joined GVSU as an associate professor. Three years later, she started working as a family nurse practitioner at Spectrum Health in addition to her teaching job at the university. In 1997, she was elevated to the status of professor and director of graduate programs at GVSU. She was promoted to the position of director of development and grants in 2000, then to the position of assistant vice president for academic affairs in 2005. In April 2007, she was asked to serve as interim vice provost for health. She was named vice provost for health eight months later.

Nagelkerk believes her experiences in the hospital setting, combined with her experiences in the academic world, have prepared her well for her current position.

“My experience at Morton Plant Hospital as the nurse administrator really helped me learn both the acute care and ambulatory care systems of a hospital. I worked with a lot of community health agencies in that position, too,” Nagelkerk recalled.

“I understand academics and I understand the business of health care.”

Gayle Davis, GVSU provost and vice president for academic affairs, said that Nagelkerk has been working hard to make contact with all the key health-care-related players in the community in any number of ways.

“She has been everywhere in the community for us, and that community extends over to the lakeshore and up to our university center in Traverse City, and actually all around the state, especially when it comes to nursing and the allied health professions.” 

Davis said Nagelkerk is “right on top of it.” Through her experience as a nurse faculty member and in hospital administration, as well as her engagement in the community, Nagelkerk is well connected and always knows what’s going on, Davis said.  

“When you know a field well, you hear an idea or see a situation and can identify opportunities either for enriching the experience or collaborating in ways that will synergistically improve the community.”

David D. Baumgartner M.D., vice president of medical affairs for Saint Mary's Health Care, has worked with Nagelkerk on the board of the Grand Rapids Medical Education and Research Center and in several areas of collaboration related to the expansion of the medical school in Grand Rapids.

“Jean is very interested in a multi-disciplinary approach to care,” Baumgartner said. “She's extremely collaborative and approachable. She is always open to new ideas. She's personally made me more connected and aware of the activities that Grand Valley is involved in regarding the training of health care professionals. This has allowed for more of an opportunity to connect the dots regarding both health care training and areas of potential research.”   HQX

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