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Lara Carver and Anne Diaz

UNLV Magazine – Fall 2008
Story by Afsha Bawany

Photo by Aaron Mayes

Degree: '08 Ph.D. Nursing, first Ph.D.s in Nursing

Vacations and lunches went on hold. Late nights were consumed by computer work. And the daylight hours were spent juggling full-time jobs and family needs. For three years, Anne Diaz and Lara Carver plowed through grueling back-to-back semesters on their way to becoming the state's first nursing Ph.D. graduates. Their accomplishment is one example of how UNLV is addressing a critical health care system need: by training professors for the next generation of nurses.

Their path has now evolved from research to implementation. Diaz is one of 170 Clark County School District (CCSD) nurses tending to more than 300,000 students. Her dissertation focused on leadership training and emotional intelligence of school nurses.

"The public doesn't know what school nurses do and how vital they are to the education and success of the students," Diaz said, adding that nurses are sometimes the only health care professionals on a school campus. They become advocates for children, learning about their health concerns and teaching students how to manage their health.

She is developing classes to train school nurses in assertion and personal management skills, negotiation, and interpersonal relationships. Such leadership skills help nurses identify and manage emotions while ensuring an optimal learning environment for the children under their care, Diaz explains. She also is an adjunct professor for the nursing program at National University in Henderson.

Carver, a former CCSD school nurse, is now nursing program director at National University, which admitted its first nursing undergraduates this summer. Her dissertation examined generational differences in nursing faculty and their impact on the current shortage of nursing professors.

Though there have been aggressive efforts to recruit faculty at a younger age and retain older professors, the variations in needs and working styles of each generation have been ignored, Carver found. For example, the younger generation may be more technically savvy but also would benefit from more mentoring from experienced faculty. Addressing these issues can improve a faculty member's job satisfaction and productivity, Carver explains. She is using her research in the program she's directing now.

Carver and Diaz were recipients of the Yaffa Dahan Scholarship, which helps students with the costs of materials needed for a dissertation. The scholarship's namesake was an alumna and volunteer advisory board member for the Division of Health Sciences who died last year. The award was a valuable tool, Carver and Diaz said. Thanks to the scholarship, Diaz was able to work just parttime during the last year of her doctoral work.

Lori Candela, chair of the department of psychosocial nursing, said Carver and Diaz are going to make "a tremendous impact" on the community through their teaching roles. A nationwide shortage of educators has resulted in qualified nursing students being wait-listed or turned away. UNLV has 26 students in its doctoral program this fall. In addition to expanding the pool for faculty, and therefore nursing student enrollments, the Ph.D. students are researching "new and better ways to interact with patients to improve the quality of their lives," Candela said.

For Carver and Diaz, the degree carries personal significance as well. Carver's 11-year-old son grew up watching his mom pursue a master's and Ph.D. degree. Her dissertation, she told him, was an "important book" with meaning beyond the words.

Diaz sees herself as a "pebble in a pond" and wants to have a huge ripple effect through the next generation of nurses. "Hopefully they'll take that and impact those they interact with, who will then impact others," Diaz said. "Every time you're better at your job, other people are affected positively."