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November 21, 2014
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The path from ASN to PhD

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The path from ASN to PhD
One nurse drives change along the way

At first glance, the Northwestern State University (NSU) satellite campus in Leesville, looks like a typical college outpost. Look a bit closer, and you’ll see cribs stacked in every available empty office space. Something else you might see is an expectant mother waiting to meet with nursing instructor Wendi Palermo, PhD, RN. 

Palermo’s office doubles as headquarters for her Cribs for Kids project, a program intended to help local families keep infants safe by eliminating one of the risks for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), co-sleeping. 

“Early in my nursing career I worked in the ER,” said Palermo. “I was shocked at the number of babies we saw coming in DOA, and I just never forgot that.”

Some might say that taking care of others is in her blood. Palermo started as a candy striper at the age of 12, working alongside her mother – also a nurse – at a nursing home in Caldwell Parish throughout high school. She then pursued nursing with passion and purpose at NSU. After graduating with an ASN, she joined the staff at Natchitoches Parish Hospital. 

While I’m educating expectant mothers about infant care and safety, I try to get to know them a little bit,” said Palermo. “Serving the community in this capacity gives me the chance to go beyond the immediate need. I encourage young women to think about the future; I ask them what they want to do, and we talk about careers."

Click here to read about how Wendi began
work on the Cribs for Kids project.
It was when Palermo learned she couldn’t apply for a job as a school nurse with her ASN degree that she considered going back to school for more education. 

“I was stunned,” said Palermo. “I had zero intentions of ever leaving clinical practice in the ER, but I was upset. I could push medications and help resuscitate patients in the ER, but not work in the school setting because of my degree. The next day I picked up a schedule and re-enrolled at NSU. I realized continuing my education was essential if I wanted to grow as a nurse and do more for my patients.” 

After receiving her BSN, Palermo moved with her husband to Calcasieu Parish where she again worked in the ER of a local hospital and entered McNeese State University’s (MSU) MSN program.
 
“Around that same time, I began to question the standard procedure of not allowing family members at the bedside during codes,” said Palermo. “Research showed that family members cope better with death when they are at their loved one’s bedside.”
 
Palermo chose the code bedside procedure and its effects on the family as the topic for her clinical research project. As a result of her work, the hospital now has a policy in place that allows family members to witness resuscitation efforts. 

“At first I was hesitant to tackle this issue, but I recruited other nurses to help me and we were rewarded with success,” said Palermo. “Looking at what we had accomplished, I began to see how efforts started by one person could really make a difference.”

It wasn’t too long until Palermo got the itch again to return to school to pursue her PhD and make a difference in the lives of newborns. 

“I never forgot about those babies who came into the ER,” said Palermo. “So in thinking about a subject for my PhD research, it came to me to explore Louisiana’s high infant mortality rate and the variables that affect it. I wanted to find out if nurses were having any influence, so I developed a predictive equation to determine who was at the most risk for infant mortality and also if the number of healthcare providers and hospitals made a difference.

“The research showed that access to a higher number of RNs had a positive effect on the SIDS rate. This information inspired me to find a way to personally contribute to positive outcomes.”

It was during review of the data that Palermo realized many babies’ deaths were related to co-sleeping and the Cribs for Kids project was born. Throughout her nursing career, Palermo’s mother has been an inspiration to her. She pushes her daughter to continue to learn and give back. 

“Doing this for my community is a true calling,” said Palermo. “My mother has a saying, and I think of it often. ‘Yo no vengo aver si puedo sino porque puedo vengo - I did not come to see if I could - but, because I know I can, I came.’”
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