Sonja Albright: Doctor of Nursing Practice
The academic degree is properly called a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Last December, among the first cohort which graduated with that degree from Pittsburg State University were board certified nurse practitioners, Jama Bogart and Sonja Albright. A profile on Bogart will appear later while this article focuses on Albright.
“No, I don’t insist on being called doctor,” began Albright. “And I’m not leaving to go to the big city or change my practice. In fact, that’s why I enrolled. This program is not about research, becoming a professor or administrator, it’s clinical. It’s given me greater skills so I can better serve my patients.”
In 2006, the first DNP programs were admitting their inital students.
Since Albright and Bogart already have master’s level degrees in nursing, the DNP program was an intense 18 months.
“Jama and I were kind of nuts,” said Albright. “We worked our regular full-time practice and were full-time students as well.”
She pointed out how medical knowledge increases every year, and not just for doctors.
“As a board certified, family nurse practitioner, I don’t just give shots, draw blood and hold people’s hands,” said Albright. “I diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions, order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medication and other treatments and make referrals.”
The rapid expansion of medical knowledge, the rising complexity of patient care along with the increasing shortage of doctors has produced a demand for advanced practice nursing.
Asked about skills gained from her academic program, Albright mentioned epidemiology, leadership and research evaluation.
Epidemiology is the study of how diseases affect the health and illness of groups of people.
“When I began my practice, I focused on symptoms but after a while, you begin to ask yourself, what’s going on here, both with the condition in general and the specific health of the patient,” said Albright.
A focus on epidemiology has empowered Albright’s knowledge to be a better clinician.
Albright found the information on leadership, both taught and modeled in her program, to be of practical use. She learned leadership includes resolving conflict, empowering people with knowledge and skills as well as delegating responsibilities.
For some time now, Albright has been working one-on-one with students in advanced nursing practice programs.
“This is another area where I get to use all I learned in the DNP program,” said Albright. “As Preceptor, I am not just the student’s clinical supervisor, I need to be a role model and mentor.”
Typically, a student comes several days a week and, with permission, works alongside Albright as she sees patients. Usually, each clinical practicum lasts three months and there are generally two in the student’s program.
“Over the years I’ve precepted about 25 students and one thing I tell them is you must never get tired of seeing what I call ‘normals,’” said Albright.
Seeing a high volume of relatively healthy patients has given Albright what she terms her radar. She said it is easy to understand what is going on, where to look and what to do next when a patient says he has fallen and his wrist hurts.
Said Albright. “But I challenge my students to get to the point where an alarm sounds in their heads to look into something, even when the patient is not naming it as a problem. And you only do that by seeing a lot of ‘normals,’ meaning healthy people in general.”
The final area Albright cited as a benefit from her DNP program is in being able to evaluate research.
“It not only seems like, but there actually is new research published every week,” said Albright. “But you have to be able to evaluate evidenced-based studies and practices critically, to see if it is valid for your patient.”
The DNP program gave her statistical and other analytical tools.
The capstone of her academic program was conducting, writing up and analyzing a study. In Albright’s case, she worked with Dr. Benjamin M.Wilson, a board certified family practice physician in Nevada. Her project had to do with shoulder injections while the dissertation she wrote was well over 40 pages.
“It’s one thing to analyze someone else’s study, it’s another to conduct and write up a study and have yours evaluated by experts,” said Albright.
The phrase “speaking truth to power” is usually set in the context of disagreeing with a powerful political leader. But what about when that power is the patient? Does Albright think she is to follow the agenda of the patient or does she have a responsibility to raise uncomfortable subjects such as unhealthy lifestyle practices?
“I do have a responsibility to mention unhealthy practices but as the saying goes, ‘This is a free country,’” said Albright. “By that I mean I do need to speak about weight or diabetes or hypertension but if the patient refuses to take advantage of information or resources there’s only so much I can do.”
For over 37 years, Dr. Warren Lovinger has regularly managed a nursing home practice of some 60 patients on top of his clinic patients. Last fall, Lovinger tapped Albright to assist in this by visiting patients and attending to needs at Moore-Few Care Center on a weekly basis.
Said Albright, “Dr. Lovinger is an amazing clinician and he is definitely a teacher. I am honored to do this work and I thoroughly enjoy it.”
Besides working at NowCare Clinic and Moore-Few, Albright also serves at Heartland Behavioral Healthcare Services and in the Behavioral Health Unit at Nevada Regional Medical Center.
She was asked how finds time to treat patients at multiple facilities and find time for her daughters. Brianne is 25, about to marry and is in nursing. Brooklyn is 18, a senior at Nevada High School and is preparing to go on her first mission trip to Costa Rica in July.
“It all fits into a nice schedule,” said Albright. “I don’t feel stressed. All of it is a real blessing.”
And with that, she was off to see her next patient.