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Evidence-based nursing

Alumna takes on leadership role at MD Anderson

Carla Patel

Carla Patel, DNP, APRN, ACNP-BC, RNFA, always looks for ways to serve and to learn. The U.S. Army veteran and alumna of Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston is now using what she learned in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program to help facilitate knowledge sharing among nursing professionals at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

After four years of military service, Patel earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Houston Baptist University. She then worked as a critical care nurse at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and was inspired by colleagues to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) at UTHealth Houston to become a nurse practitioner.

“I was just amazed at the additional knowledge I gained and the impact it can have on patient care,” Patel said.

She was motivated to transition to MD Anderson thanks to a clinical rotation at the cancer center, an experience she pays forward regularly by precepting students studying to become adult/gerontology acute care nurse practitioners.

“MD Anderson had several nurse practitioners who had been working for several years and a robust system of support,” said Patel. “Nurse practitioners now are an essential part of all aspects of patient care.”

Her quest for continual learning eventually led her back to Cizik School of Nursing to earn her DNP. She was impressed by the rigor of the program, its reputation, and the opportunities for in-person collaboration and networking. Although COVID-19 hampered her cohort’s ability to get together, Patel values and maintains the relationships she established with classmates and faculty.

“Carla has been highly driven for achievement in both her educational and practice endeavors,” said Associate Dean for Graduate Studies Susan D. Ruppert, PhD, FNP-C, ANP-BC, FAANP, FAAN, who served as Patel’s DNP faculty advisor. “She has always remained connected to Cizik School of Nursing as an alumna, providing clinical and mentorship opportunities for our students and graduates.”

Throughout her career, Patel has focused on thoracic and cardiovascular surgery and has published several papers on the topic. Her DNP project compared the use of digital vs. traditional analog air leak detection devices in postoperative patients who had undergone pulmonary lobectomies. She found that use of the digital devices reduced cost and length of hospital stays. Her results were published as the cover story in the December 2023 issue of “Critical Care Nurse” (Use of a Digital Air Leak Detection Device to Decrease Chest Tube Duration).

Patel has worked at MD Anderson for nearly two decades, aside from a two-year break to return to military service as a critical care nurse in Germany caring for service members injured in Afghanistan. In November 2023, she was promoted from inpatient medical director for MD Anderson’s thoracic and cardiovascular surgery unit to her new position as associate director for evidence-based practice. In this new role, Patel will lead evidence-based practice education and initiatives throughout the institution. She will develop internal curriculum that incorporates findings from in-house researchers and other nurse scientists, and she will facilitate ongoing educational opportunities for MD Anderson nursing professionals to reinforce evidence-based best practices.

“Our chief nursing officer, Dr. Carol Porter, is very conscience of the talent that we have here,” Patel said, noting the substantial number of nurses at MD Anderson who are DNP prepared. “We want to leverage that knowledge and experience with a robust evidence-based practice model that nurses can follow and participate in.”

Patel’s advice to other nurses is to “keep the spark to continue learning.”

“There are just endless possibilities of what you can do,” she said.

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