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Kathy Jo Ellison

Associate professor
School of Nursing

Kathy Jo Ellison, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., is an associate professor in Auburn's School of Nursing. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee and her master's and doctoral degrees in nursing from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, or UAB. Ellison taught at both the graduate and undergraduate levels at UAB, Tennessee and Auburn. She has been on the Auburn faculty for about 20 years. For the past six years, Ellison has led nursing students on a mission trip to Ecuador. Outside of nursing school, Ellison serves as chair of Auburn's Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research. She is the mother of twin daughters who will be starting at Auburn this fall.

1. What attracted you to study nursing and eventually teach it?

I'd say it was God's calling. I had a keen interest in science - physiology and social sciences - and God led me to see nursing as the best fit for my interests and talents. I have never regretted the decision as nursing has provided me with many opportunities to grow as a person and be creative while helping others achieve better health outcomes in their lives. After five years as a practicing nurse, I got the chance to teach a clinical rotation for a local junior college and immediately fell in love with teaching. It gave me an even greater opportunity to influence the health of others by facilitating students' development in becoming the best professional nurses they could be. Because Auburn attracts such wonderful students, our faculty has educated nurses who are really making a difference across Alabama and beyond. It is really a blessing to love what you do and be in an environment that offers such great opportunities to make a difference doing it.

2. Talk about your experiences in Ecuador with nursing students. Who benefits more - the students or the natives?

Leading the mission trips to Ecuador has been the highlight of my nursing and teaching career as it combines everything I am as a person. For six years now, I have taken eight to 16 nursing students in the spring on a service learning trip to impoverished communities around Quito, Ecuador, where we provide women's health clinics and health education to women and their children. The team works with Servants in Faith and Technology (SIFAT) in Alabama and Ecuador and consists not only of nursing students, but also nurse practitioners, pharmacy students, child workers and others. We have expanded our influence for two of the last three years with students in Building Science joining us and doing construction projects in the same communities. I can definitely say this experience is a win-win for students, faculty and the communities we serve. Students, as well as those of us who have gone for several years, always report positive experiences interacting with our Ecuadorian partners and feeling we are receiving more than we are giving in serving the women and children there. The students get to address cultural, social and spiritual care issues, as well as the physical health concerns in ways not possible in a week-long experience in Auburn. I did not get involved with this kind of service opportunity until I was over 40 years old, and one of my personal goals in life now is to help others learn at an earlier age how you can use what you know in giving back to those less fortunate than you.

3. What prompted you to research the use of technology in caregiver education?

My interest in caregiving developed from my own experiences as a caregiver for my parents. My dad died after a long battle with cancer when I was in my 20s, and my mom died a few years ago after having dementia for more than 13 years. I know firsthand the stress and difficulties caregivers and their families face. I am privileged to work with a super team at Auburn including Extension, social work and nutrition as we seek to address this significant challenge facing America today - the number of people providing informal care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged-family member in the home is rapidly increasing with a corresponding lack of support services available to assist them. Our team has conducted several projects improving caregiver education and support to promote positive outcomes in these families. After a statewide project where we took caregiving workshops to every county, we realized that even though the workshops were effective, the most vulnerable caregivers were not being reached by the traditional methods. That prompted us to use technology to reach these caregivers. We began with piloting the workshop and materials on an iPad application to take our education and support to caregivers in their homes.

4. What have been the results of your research?

The caregivers, including elderly caregivers, really enjoyed using the iPads and reported the program improved their knowledge and skills in taking care of their care recipient and themselves as well. We are currently seeking funding to expand our pilot as well as develop electronic learning communities for rural caregivers.

5. Auburn has an Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research (IRB) that reviews all research involving human subjects. How does your expertise in nursing help or challenge your ability to serve as chair of the IRB?

I think my nursing background is most definitely an asset. My nursing education, which included both physical and social sciences, helps me understand a variety of perspectives toward research. Also, as a nurse, I have expertise working with people who are stressed and uncomfortable with what they are dealing with, and I have found that situation to occur for many, especially students, when they are dealing with IRB issues. As Auburn is increasing its health- related research, my experience serving as a nurse on a local hospital IRB for more than eight years has enhanced my ability to serve as chair of Auburn's IRB.

July 16, 2012