S.11 E.1: Nursing, Public Health, and the Liberal Arts

Learning for Life @ Gustavus podcast host Greg Kaster interviews Gustavus alumna and nursing professor Lynnea Myers '05.
Posted on November 2nd, 2021 by

Dr. Lynnea Myers ’05 of the Department of Nursing at Gustavus talks about her undergraduate experience as a nursing major there, her clinical training and research in the U.S. and Sweden in, respectively, pediatric healthcare and neuroscience, the nursing profession and public health, new nurses amid COVID-19, her experience with Sweden’s health care system, and why a liberal arts education is excellent preparation for nursing.

Season 11, Episode 1: Nursing, Public Health, and the Liberal Arts

Greg Kaster:                       Hello, and welcome to Learning for Life at Gustavus, people teaching and learning at Gustavus Adolphus College and the myriad ways that Gustavus Liberal Arts education provides a lasting foundation for the lives of fulfillment and purpose. I’m your host, Greg Castor, faculty member in the department of history.

In preparing for this episode of the podcast, I came across a quotation in the journal, Dimensions of Critical Care in Nursing, from a nurse reflecting on being called a hero amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s weird to be called a hero and have people thank you, and really inside, I’m just like, ‘Literally, I’m just doing my job.’ That is what I went to school for. This is what I’m doing with my life. They say it’s the year of the nurse. We just did not think it would be this kind of year.” This quote struck me as a particularly apt way to frame my conversation with today’s guest, my colleague, Dr. Lynnea Myers of the department of nursing at Gustavus, which happens to be her alma mater as well.

After graduating in 2005 with a major in nursing, Dr. Myers went on to earn a master of science in nursing from Duke University and then not one but two doctorates, the first in nursing science from Vanderbilt University and the second in developmental neuroscience from the Karolisnka Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. A licensed registered nurse and certified public health nurse with an interest in pediatric nursing, child development and neuroscience, Lynnea is also an active researcher who has published numerous single author and co-authored articles in referee journals in her field. She is an accomplished teacher, as well whose students, thanks to her dedicated efforts, are afforded opportunity to acquire hands-on public health experience beyond the classroom and campus. Indeed, her efforts have been recognized by the Minnesota Campus Compact, which honored her with its President’s Civic Engagement Steward Award in 2014.

Noteworthy, too, is her leadership as past president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners. She is, in short, a first-rate professor, scholar and nurse, and I’ve been very much looking forward to talking with her about her life and work, the nursing profession and public health in nursing amid the ongoing pandemic. So Lynnea, welcome to the podcast. It’s so great to have you on.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Thank you so much for having me join you. I know I mentioned to you previously, but I’ve listened to these a lot over the past year or more than a year, and it’s been so fun to learn more about alumni of the college as well as staff and colleagues, faculty. So thank you for doing these, too. It’s been really enjoyable.

Greg Kaster:                       Oh, thank you. Especially thank you for listening. It’s just been such a pleasure. It’s not something I expected to do or really planned to do, but it’s just been such a joy, so much fun for me as well to learn about colleagues and even, I don’t know, you and I probably, if we exchanged a few words here and then maybe, but I don’t think we’ve ever sat down and talked. You weren’t a student in any of the history classes, were you?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     No. Unfortunately, I never got over to the history department. I did art history, but…

Greg Kaster:                       All right. That’s close. We’ll take that. But yeah, so it’s going to be fun for me to learn even more about you than I already have just in preparing for talking with you. So what has it been like for you as a nursing prof amid COVID? I’m just curious. I guess we were all online starting March 2020 when we kind of abandoned ship, but since then, did you stay all online or hybrid or in person?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. I have offered my classes online, but they’ve actually technically been hybrid because our students, fortunately, have been able to continue to go into the clinical setting. So they’ve gotten kind of hands-on learning in that environment, and then the classroom has been a little bit more online for my courses. Some of my colleagues are back doing more part online, part in classroom learning with the students. So it’s a mix in our department.

Greg Kaster:                       Okay. And just from what I’ve read, you’re familiar with online learning and teaching because for one thing, your dissertation, your doctoral work at Vanderbilt, was that all online?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. It was a really… It technically was an online distance program. So there were four times in the course of that program that we actually went live to Nashville to the Vanderbilt campus and spent a week in person with the faculty, with our classmates, but the remainder of it was online but synchronous.

Greg Kaster:                       Okay.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     I really enjoyed that style of learning, and it’s probably a little bit of why I’ve continued to teach that way just because, especially with our nursing students, I think it gives them a little bit more flexibility to take advantage of some clinical opportunities that might happen on what otherwise would typically be our class days at Gustavus. I’ve used the flipped classroom concept a lot in my teaching where I record lectures, have the students watch those, and when they come in person or virtually to our class, then we can spend more time doing discussion and active learning.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah, that’s all really interesting, and I never had taught online before and sort of swore to myself, “If I ever do it…” But it actually went fairly well, and as I’ve said to others on the podcast, I’m sure I’ll continue some aspects of that as things hopefully return to normal. The other thing that just occurred to me listening to you, of course, is just, maybe we can get into this later, just the way so much medicine now is online, really. Yeah.

Dr. Lynnea Myer:     I men, I think that’s something that… If you look for some silver linings in this whole pandemic, the transition that’s happened in healthcare in terms of it being able to be offered in such a virtual format and be available to patients through apps and doing visits with their doctors or therapists through their computer. It’s not for everyone, clearly, but it does work for some patients, and it’s a way, especially to, I think, open up care for people in more rural communities or harder to access areas of the country. So that’s one silver lining of this pandemic has really pushed forward that initiative. I actually had a speaker in one of my classes this past spring. She works with the Mayo Clinic, and she was talking about they had a goal of 2025 or something like that for their transition to virtual visits and doing these online visits, and they were able to get that up and going in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic just because there was such a need for it.

Greg Kaster:                       Wow.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     It is cool to see how that innovation could really be pushed forward when the need was there, but yeah.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah, and I think we’re desperate for silver linings here.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yes.

Greg Kaster:                       I mean, that just interests me in general because thinking about the 1918 pandemic, which I’m certainly not an expert in that history, but just what stayed the same, what didn’t stay the same. It would just be so interesting to see what the longterm, not just short term, but long term impacts of all this will be including, as you’re suggesting, the area of healthcare. Even thinking in my own case just how exciting it was to hook up online with a vaccine provider and then see my records and “Oh my gosh. Wow, this is awesome.” But of course, I presumed we all have access to online.

Dr. Lynnea Myer:     Exactly.

Greg Kaster:                       To wifi, which is another part of it. So you went to Gustavus, which I didn’t know until I was doing research about you for the podcast. Tell us a little bit about first where you grew up and secondly, how you found your way to Gustavus.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. So I grew up not very far from Gustavus. I grew up in Gaylord, Minnesota on a farm. And I was the first generation of my family to go to college. So I had an older brother that went to college, and I had some cousins, but in terms of parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, no one had ever done that before. So Gustavus was always kind of where I was going to go. Growing up so close by, we drove to the campus a lot, and I always thought it was a real beautiful place and loved that it was still close to home but far away as I wanted it to be. I also had a really special cousin, she’s now my daughter’s godmother, but she went to Gustavus and graduated with an education major, and I just really looked up to her.

Greg Kaster:                       Who’s that? What is her name?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Well, her maiden name was Gina [Reeling 00:08:56], but now she’s Gina [Wimstead 00:08:57], and she teaches with the Sibley school district, and actually now she’s doing a Reading for America program that she leads.

Greg Kaster:                       Oh, excellent.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah.

Greg Kaster:                       So Gaylord is what, how far is Gaylord, how many miles roughly north, right? North of…

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah, about 25 miles away from Gustavus. So not far.

Greg Kaster:                       Right. Yeah, but as you say, you can’t walk there. As far as… You could ride your bike maybe.

Dr. Lynnea Myers.:     Although, I did enjoy a few times if I needed to go pick something up from home, I could do it in an hour round trip and that was great.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah. That’s true. I was kind of the same. I went to Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois, which was, I don’t know, maybe an hour or so from the suburb of Chicago where I grew up. So yeah, same thing. I could bring laundry home if I wanted to pretty easily. But also feel like I was far away. And like you, my mom, as I’ve said many times on the podcast, she attended a two year teacher college. My dad did not go to college. So I don’t know whether I’m technically a first gen college grad, but I sort of consider myself that. What kind of farm was it? Because my mom grew up on a farm, and it’s still in the family.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. Well, it was a hobby farm. So there was no reacher crops, but a lot of animals, in some ways, an Old McDonald farm, except we didn’t have horses, but pretty much everything else.

Greg Kaster:                       Oh, really? So cattle, pigs, chickens.

Dr. Lynnea Myerse…:     Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sheep. Lots of… My mom was kind of into unique poultry. So we have guinea hens, and we did have Canadian Geese for a while. And now she’s down to just chickens and I think some regular geese.

Greg Kaster:                       That’s neat. So you didn’t think about becoming a vet, or did you? With all those animals.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     No. I mean, as much as I grew up on a farm, I liked people better. So I really had always thought I wanted to do something in healthcare, although, no one in my family had been in healthcare. I knew I enjoyed math, and I enjoyed science, and I enjoyed working with people, but I especially also knew I liked kids and pediatrics. So I kind of had my mind set when I was coming to Gustavus that I was doing something in the health careers and didn’t know much about nursing because again, I just didn’t have a lot of exposure within my family, and I was really lucky to not have a lot of major health issues as a child.

Greg Kaster:                       Yes, good.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     I just kind of stumbled upon nursing and actually was walking into the career center one day to learn more about what I could do with a nursing degree and found this role as a nurse practitioner, which I knew nothing about, but I learned that they could work in pediatrics. So I just set my mind to it that I’m going to be that someday.

Greg Kaster:                       I love these origin stories how you knew you wanted to go into public health, but you didn’t know much about the nursing major, nurse practitioner. What is a nurse practitioner? Let’s pause and help us figure that out.

Dr. Lynnea Myerse…:     Yeah. So they’re a nurse who has received advanced training, and it can be at the master’s level or now there’s even a doctoral level that they can be trained at. And the role of the nurse practitioner can be really varied. A lot of times they work in primary care settings. So they do, for example, when I was working as a pediatric nurse practitioner, I was doing a lot of well child exams, seeing kids for their one year, two year, 10 year checkup. But you can also do acute care visits, so things like sore throats, ear aches. There’s also nurse practitioners that specialize and go into areas like ear, nose, throat. So they focus on problems in that area or nurse practitioners that become specialists in OB-GYN or other areas. I mean, nursing has all sorts of advanced opportunities that individual can do that aren’t even just nurse practitioners. We have nurse anesthetists. We have nurse midwives.

So there’s a lot of opportunities to take that nursing degree and go on, but what’s nice about the nurse practitioner role is you actually have a level of independence where you are able to see patients, prescribe medication. Often, you work in collaboration with a physician, but Minnesota, many years back, nurse practitioners can practice independently if they have the right qualifications to do so.

Greg Kaster:                       Oh, that’s interesting.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. Yeah.

Greg Kaster:                       I think that’s good. I mean, I’ve sometimes wondered, why can’t a nurse prescribe… I mean, preaching to the choir here, nurses so often know much more about the patient than the doctor.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Right.

Greg Kaster:                       That’s been my experience, anyway, not just in the hospital setting. So that’s interesting. I did not know that about Minnesota. Did you play nursing or doctor when you were growing up? I mean, you must not have had any traumatic pediatric experiences.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     No. But you know what I did play a lot of was teacher. So I think in the back of my mind, I was probably always really interested in teaching. And that is also something that drew me to the nurse practitioner role because I knew so much of the care that I would provide to patients would be about teaching, but it obviously stuck, and I took teaching to the next level.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah. I can relate because I used to play teacher also, and I don’t know what it was. I mean, when I was a kid. I remember one, it was my great aunt’s house or my aunt, and she had a whole bunch of teacher, student desks in the basement. We could really turn it into a school room. Yeah.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Sounds like my childhood, too.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     My daughter was just asking me what I liked to play when I was little. And my mom also had two student desks in our basement and a little chalkboard.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah, that’s it. Same.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     It was great fun.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah, that’s our teacher education right there, for better or worse. So I’m curious about your… I mean, gosh, your work is just amazing. We’ll talk more about that in a second, your doctoral work.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Sure.

Greg Kaster:                       But I mean, are you atypical? Most nurses don’t go on to get graduate degrees and PhDs, or am I wrong about that?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     I think a lot of… I do think a lot of our Gustavus graduates will go on eventually to get a master’s or this doctorate I mentioned. It’s called the doctorate of nursing practice, but the PhD still remains a more difficult degree for nurses to obtain. And I think part of it is just, when you graduate with a degree in nursing, a lot of people go right into the field and start working. Sometimes, you assume leadership opportunities just through experience working in a setting. So it’s not always that people need to go back, but if you want to teach or you want to do some of these advanced practice roles I talked about like a nurse practitioner, a nurse anesthetist, then that’s the real impetus for a lot of people to go back and get an advanced degree in nursing. But I would say a lot of our… We collect this data, but I don’t know that I have a formal statistic, but it’s a fair number of our students that go back, maybe not right away but in the five to 10 year horizon to get master’s or doctorates and be able to go on and do advanced practice.

There are a few that go on to get PhDs. It’s kind of fun when we sometimes are scanning lists of other schools of nursing and, “Oh my gosh! This is a Gustie! She has a PhD in nursing! That’s so cool!”

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah, you’re one of them. You have two.

Dr. Lynnea Myers.:     Yeah! Yeah.

Greg Kaster:                       I’m sorry, go ahead. You have one of your what?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     No, one of my PhD classmates from Vanderbilt, he went to teach as a school in Texas and mentioned, “I think I know somebody here. She’s on faculty, and she’s got her undergraduate from Gustavus.” And sure enough, she’s a Gustie, and that’s great that they’re everywhere.

Greg Kaster:                       That’s awesome. Well, the nursing program at Gustavus is first-rate, and maybe before we get into the specifics of your graduate work, talk a little bit about your experience, both your experience as a nursing major and just in general your Gustavus experience as an undergraduate.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. I mean, I loved Gustavus, and it was quite an amazing place to get my undergraduate degree, but I really enjoyed being a student in the nursing program. I think the opportunities that we had for clinical experiences were top notch, and they still are. We’re still at all the same places that I was able to go to as a student, which is fabulous. I mean, the top hospitals in the metro area, but also some rural settings. So we got a really nice taste of urban, suburban healthcare as well as more rural healthcare and how those are similar and different.

Greg Kaster:                       Yes.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     We had outstanding faculty at the time that I was a student. My favorite professor being now my colleague, Barb [Sust 00:17:50].

Greg Kaster:                       Yes.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     And I really have to give Barb credit. One thing that she did, and I think part of it is because she was actually going back for her PhD herself while I was a student in the program is she started independent research studies with students, and I just thought that sounded really interesting as a junior nursing student at Gustavus, and I thought it would be fun to work with Barb. And it truly was a life-changing experience to actually come up with a research project, work alongside her to develop it, implement it, analyze the data. I was able to do a presentation for it at a national conference, which in some ways was life changing because it was right near Duke, which was a place that I had applied to for graduate school and wasn’t sure if I was going to go to because I’d never been there although I knew it had a really good reputation and had a fabulous nursing school.

But because this conference was right next door, I actually was able to go visit the campus, fell in love and made my decision for me to…

Greg Kaster:                       I love it.

Dr. Lynnea Myers.:     Yeah.

Greg Kaster:                       It’s just contingencies like that. Oh, it’s great. Just happy coincidences. Yeah, this emphasis on… I mean, I know students can have this experience at a big university, too, but there’s something about working closely with a professor at a liberal arts college setting and doing that research. And clearly, you learned how to do research. I mean, you do a tremendous amount of research and published a great deal, not to mention, you need to know how to do that for your doctoral work. What were some of the clinical experiences you recall as a student that stand out, if any do?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. Well, I think the most transformative one was probably our final semester nursing experience which our students still have where you spend a pretty significant amount of time, I think our students now spend about 120 hours, and I’m sure it was fairly similar when I was a student at the time. I don’t remember it mostly because I didn’t need to know it as much as I need to know it now, but you work one-on-one with an assigned nurse at a hospital setting, and mine was at St. Francis in Shakopee. That was just an amazing experience to really just kind of pull all my learning together, apply it to the care of patients. You start out with one patient and then you start to increase to two or three or four patients and learn how to care for a typical shift of patients that you would have as a nurse working on the floor. And it was just such a powerful experience, like I said, to see all this learning come together and actually be able to perform the role of a nurse at the end of these four years of my education.

Yeah, that was a really special one. Of course, I loved Peds. So then my pediatric rotation, it was at Children’s, and it was a great place.

Greg Kaster:                       That’s in Minneapolis, right? Children’s?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah, yeah. Yep.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah. So this may be a stupid question, but do all nursing programs have clinical experience? Is that just a given?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     They have to have some kind of clinical experience, but whether or not it’s in person, so students actually get to go to a hospital or a clinic to actually practice skills on real people, or if it’s simulation-based, varies a little bit. Our program is still pretty strong in the in-person clinical piece, although we have built in some simulation. Part of that is the simulated learning environment is a great way for students to practice new skills and to learn in kind of a safe environment with low risk, but they still obviously need experiences working in person with people and actually getting to do skills in person. So clinical experiences are required, but how they look can vary from school to school.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah. Okay, that’s quite interesting to me, and I’m thinking of sort of airline pilots, too, who get so much of their experience in the simulator and then the real time flying real airplanes with real people.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Exactly. Exactly.

Greg Kaster:                       Both of those sound, if I could choose a nurse, I’d want her/him to have both I think. And by the way, this all reminds me… I don’t know if I’ve shared this story with anyone on the podcast [inaudible 00:22:05]. My one clinical nursing experience, not really, but I was on the Gustavus faculty personnel committee some years ago, and my colleague, Ann Marie, now retired, then in French, she and I were designated to observe the teaching of a nursing professor, Judy Gardner, who’s terrific.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Oh, yeah!

Greg Kaster:                       Judy was probably there when you were there, right?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. Yes, yep.

Greg Kaster:                       Now retired. Judy Gardner was at a hospital up here. I can’t remember which one up in the Twin Cities where I am now. So she was coming up for tenure, and she was on the maternity ward. So there I am, my colleague Ann Marie, and talk about feeling like a fish out of water. I just felt… I mean, at least Ann Marie can claim to be a mother. She’s a mother. I knew not… I’m walking into these hospital rooms. We’re following Judy as she does her work, and her students and I just with new mothers and their babies. Oh my God! I just had even more respect for what nurses do, but also couldn’t wait to get the heck out of there. I felt so, so self conscious and awkward.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     I feel like I’ve heard this story in some way, shape or form probably from Judy at some point.

Greg Kaster:                       Oh, maybe from Judy.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Not in a bad way, but just how thorough the personnel committee is with their evaluation.

Greg Kaster:                       Oh my God. Yes. That was thorough. Yes, right. Anyway, in your case, you’ve talked a little bit about what motivates nursing majors in general to go one for graduate degrees. What was it in your case specifically that took you to Duke and then Vanderbilt?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. I think when I thought about the nursing career, I think I had immediately thought about taking on some kind of position of leadership as well as having a little bit more autonomy. I was really young. So I did something kind of untraditional, kind of following up on what you said of I finished my Bachelor’s degree and then went right on to my Master’s degree. Typically, people take a year or two, at least a year or two, and like I said, some of our graduates, it’s more kind of the five to 10 year time frame. So I went right away because I was super eager. As evidence probably by my CV, I’m a lifelong learner. So I think I was just ready to continue my learning trajectory. Yeah, that I think was probably the main reason I went on right away is just because, like I said, I was eager to learn more. I wanted to be in a position of leadership, and that’s kind of the path that I saw was where I needed to go to kind of pursue that next level.

Greg Kaster:                       And you certainly caught the research bug already with Barb [Sust 00:24:52] and the program. So your work at Vanderbilt, let’s start there, your dissertation, your doctoral work there seems quite interesting. We know some kids, some parents who have autistic kids, but talk to us a little bit about what that work is about and its significance.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. Yeah. So I designed a research project that was looking at how parents and healthcare providers communicate. Kind of during this period when a parent or someone else first identifies a concern with a child about their development to when that child is formally diagnosed with, in the case of my dissertation, I was looking at autism spectrum disorder. And I think the idea from the study actually came from some of my early days practicing as a pediatric nurse practitioner. I still can very vividly remember doing developmental screening on a young child and finding a delay. I think it was in the area of motor skills, so how they move their arms, legs, head, so forth. And I communicated my concern to the family, and then I never saw them or heard from them again.

It kind of didn’t sit right with me. I mean, part of it was what could I have done better? How could I have met that family more where they were at so that the next steps that that child needed to go through in terms of evaluation or therapy actually happened? So that was kind of the impetus I think for my research project, and I think that’s something, I mean, when I actually did the project, it’s something that I had heard from some of the families is ways that providers, and it could be pediatricians, nurse practitioners, some of them talked about psychologists that they worked with, how things that they said or communication that they had with the families either served as a facilitator and helped the family seek out the services that they needed to seek or to support their child, or served as a barrier and prevented that family from getting care for a variety of reasons.

So that’s what my project explored. I did one-on-one interviews with parents, and then I also had them fill out some surveys using some kind of standardized questionnaires to look at things like the communication process as well as their level of stress around having a child with developmental delay. So that was the project. And then eventually, I was able to publish a paper out of that, kind of just detailing the findings from those interviews with the parents.

Greg Kaster:                       What were some of the key findings? First of all, the role of communication in healthcare is just, I mean, cannot be overstate how important it is.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Exactly.

Greg Kaster:                       Did you take any comm studies courses [inaudible 00:27:48] or not?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     I didn’t, but I would say that a big part of our program, especially in the early semesters, is focused on communication and therapeutic communication with patients and families. So even though we’re not formally required to take communication studies, we do have quite a bit of coursework around ways to enhance communication with our families and parents.

Greg Kaster:                       That’s all good. All good. So what did you find? I mean, was there a key problem in the communication between the parents and the practitioners? Was there one kind of problem that stood out?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     I think, it’s probably not a super shocking, but people wanted to know that their concerns were heard and that people thought their concerns were valid. So I had lots of parents provide examples of where they felt that providers did a really good job of that and parents felt like a partner in the care of their child. Some parents talked about wanting to feel like they were the expert on their child and that the provider acknowledged that and didn’t try to poo-poo their concerns or tell them they didn’t know what was going on with their child.

Greg Kaster:                       Right. Yeah. You’re takin the words out of my mouth because I was just thinking, it can occur… Well, it certainly happened to me as a historian and professor with [inaudible 00:29:07], but where you need to acknowledge the person’s, especially a parent’s knowledge, and yet, they might be wrong. They may not have an accurate or full grasp of the situation. I just think that’s tricky for the practitioner, and I imagine some are just better at it than others, but how do you make the parents feel they’re heard even while if necessary kind of gently… I don’t know what the answer is, correcting their understanding or improving upon their understanding maybe.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. Yep. I mean, it does really come down to it’s an art, and I think every patient needs care kind of tailored to their special needs. There are some people who can receive information a little bit more blunt, and there’s people who need it… There was a great article that I cited a lot in my dissertation study. It was called Sugar Coaters and Straight Talkers. And you’re like, “Yep, that really is.” Parents can kind of fall into one or the other camp there or somewhere in between. Your job as the provider is to figure out where that parent is and how to meet them where they’re at in that communication.

Greg Kaster:                       That’s excellent. That’s a great title, and again, it applies to our teaching, right? Sometimes you have a student who can take the blunt criticism, and other times you need to sugar coat. I remember once long ago, I could tell this student felt so bad about the… This was my first or second year at Gustavus. So bad about a D that I so sugar coated it that by the end, the student said to me, and I quote, “I’ve never felt so good about receiving a D in my life.” That’s probably not good, actually. I was really sugar coating. Anyway, it’s super important. So you did that research, got your doctorate. And then what led you to, am I pronouncing it correctly, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah, yeah. Exactly.

Greg Kaster:                       What led you to… That’s neuroscience. Yeah, go ahead.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah, well, I was actually kind of looking ahead to a place to do a sabbatical leave and just, I knew Gustavus had this Swedish connection, obviously, and Karolinska had come up several times as a place that students had done internships at. So I was kind of looking around on their website and actually found a PhD position that was about to take place in developmental neuroscience but a focus on early detection of autism. But instead of the communication process with parents, this one was looking at physical features in children that would help us potentially identify signs of autism or other neuro-developmental disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, how to identify those early.

So my husband and I were both kind of at a stage in our careers. We were thinking, “Gosh, it could be kind of fun to go to Sweden.” He has family who lives there, we really liked while we were there. We were kind of interested in living abroad [crosstalk 00:32:19] and having that kind of international experience.

Greg Kaster:                       What is his career?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     So David graduated from Gustavus, too, and he now works with United Health Group in the finance. So he worked with them before we moved to Sweden. He actually got a job in Sweden through a Gustie connection, and then he’s now back working with them since we’ve returned with United Health Group.

Greg Kaster:                       Is his last name Myers, too? Is it David Myers?

Dr. Lynnea Myers.:     It is David Myers. Yeah, he was a math major.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah, I may have… Anyway. So yeah, that’s another great story about Gustavus people who… All schools, I guess. It’s true of [inaudible 00:32:58] graduate school. So you met, or you went to Sweden. Tell us a little bit about the institute. I don’t know much about it. I mean, is it a hospital or just a research institute?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. It’s a lot like what the Mayo Clinic is here in Minnesota. So it’s actually one of the most highly regarded medical institutions in the world and actually has a really cool partnership with the Mayo Clinic. So for people here in Minnesota, I think the Mayo Clinic is a good place to kind of compare it to. It’s the major kind of medical university. So they train the majority of healthcare providers in Sweden. There’s other institutes that train, too, but it’s kind of, I would say, the most prestigious one. But it’s based on Stockholm, and they do fantastic research on a variety of topics. But the study that I worked on, so I mentioned it was on early identification of children with autism and other neuro-developmental disorders, we call them. It actually was based on a twin study.

So Sweden’s really famous for twin studies, partly because they have these great registries at the national level where you can find twins. I think there’s also just a nice… People in Swedish society, at least, feel this importance and value in research and want to contribute to it. So there’s a real willingness to participate in research. I mean, for the studies I was working on…

Greg Kaster:                       That’s interesting.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. Yeah, they’re really lucky in some ways. For the studies I was working on, it was with a lot of children. So parents have this really generous parental leave where they can take time to participate in studies or get time away from work, which isn’t in the same way always possible here in the U.S.

Greg Kaster:                       No.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Exactly. I worked on this twin study where they recruited twins from all over Sweden who were, what we call, typically developing as well as twins who had known or suspected neuro-developmental disorders like autism and ADHD. And what was really interesting is there were some twin pairs that one child has the disorder and one child does not. Those became really interesting twin pairs because then you try to look at what’s different between the two. But the study has recruited over 200 twin pairs. It’s one of the largest studies of this kind in the whole entire world. So it was really interesting to work on that project. I looked at medical exams that were done on these twins that looked for abnormal physical features, which was a very interested project for me as a nurse because so much of our training is focused on the assessment process and identifying normal and abnormal findings. So it really aligned nicely with my training as a nurse, and they had never had a nurse in their department before, at least, do a PhD. So they were kind of…

How do I say this? They kind of went out on a limb bringing in a nurse. I think they were pleasantly surprised the skills that nurses have and can bring to the research environment, and I was really proud to represent nursing in such a positive way, too. But I primarily worked with psychologists and psychiatrists. So I was a little bit of an anomaly, but a welcome one I think.

Greg Kaster:                       That’s all just terrific, and it occurs to me to kind of point out the obvious. Not only have you done two doctorates, but you’ve done them in just top-notch programs, not to mention the Duke program. That is really neat. I mean, now that you have described the institute, I do know that I’ve heard of it because of the twins angle. My wife, Kate, who as you know taught at Gustavus, now retired, she has a twin brother, and I do remember we’ve talked about that, some of those studies. It’s also just cool, I mean, imagine a country where the population is not only interested in and willing to participate in research but has the time to do it. Hm. That’s… Note to self.

so you come out of the experience. Now, in between… I’m just trying to grasp the chronology here a little bit better. You’re doing some practice as a nurse in between the two doctorates or before the first one?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. Primarily… [crosstalk 00:37:16]

Greg Kaster:                       Or was it just a bunch of straight research?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. No, when I graduated from Gustavus, I went and got my Master’s, but I simultaneously worked as a nurse on a pediatric hospital unit. And then once I graduated from Duke, I worked as a nurse practitioner in a couple clinics in the metro area. And then I shifted to more the public health realm and worked with the Minnesota Department of Health for several years in the area of child health, but I was doing a lot of teaching, traveling around the state and teaching healthcare providers. And then when I started at Gustavus because I went from the health department to Gustavus, I had worked a little bit in pediatric home care. And then once I started my PhD, life just got too busy to keep up the clinical practice. So I stepped away at that point and hoped to return actively to the clinical setting in the future, but haven’t quite made it there yet.

Greg Kaster:                       What do you miss about the clinical experience compared to the research?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah, I mean, I really miss the interaction with the patients. I love teaching in any way, shape or form. So that, I probably want to talk about the interaction as the hands-on teaching I can do with families or other individuals. I do think it’s quite fun to work in the clinical environment and bring those stories back into the classroom. I mean, I have a good memory and can remember patient experiences from when I was practicing, but it is really fun to bring active clinical knowledge to the students.

Greg Kaster:                       Without violating any confidence, do you have a particular memory of a patient experience or your experience with a patient you want to share, or you have shared with students?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah, I do. I talk a lot with my students. I never thought when I decided I would do pediatrics that I would want to work in the area of oncology. I just thought especially with pediatric oncology that would be a really hard area to work with, and yet, my very first job as a new graduate nurse in a pediatric setting was on a floor that had, what we call, general pediatrics. So it was things like Appendectomies and respiratory pneumonia type infections, but it was also children who had different types of cancer. And I was just amazed at how much those children just became so special to me. I mean, I can still see the rooms they were in and think about the conversations we had sometimes late at night, but it’s not one particular story. It’s just what a touching area of nursing that is. There were times I hope I brought some kind of healing to those children and their families or some kind of peace to them as they were going through a very challenging stage in their life. Yeah, yeah.

Greg Kaster:                       No doubt you did. No doubt you did. I admire you and others who do that kind of work. I’m not sure I could do it. Yeah, gosh, I just think of my own few experiences in the hospital over the years, nothing serious, but just the importance of nurses. I mean, you see nurses. The doctor, you see, at least when I was in the hospital, you might see a little bit, but it’s primarily nurses and just the way they can comfort you especially an experience I had in high school, really had a funny, funny nurse who knew just how to meet me where I was as a teenage high school male who didn’t want to be there.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Exactly.

Greg Kaster:                       In the hospital. I can still picture her and hear her. Any case… So you mentioned… I want to talk a little bit about the work with Minnesota Public Health. Is it fair to say Minnesota has a deserved high reputation in public health as a state?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Oh, yeah. Definitely. I mean, I don’t have experience working for another state health department, but having worked on the inside of the Minnesota Department of Health, there’s amazing people that are working there, dedicated leaders who have amazing knowledge and skills, and we’ve been really fortunate even in our nursing program. Before COVID, we were able to do a tour of the public health labs at the Minnesota Department of Health, and then we also had a nurse panel because we have some really outstanding alumni of our college and some of the other local liberal arts colleges who are nurses that work in leadership roles at the health department, and we’ve been able to do what we call speed dating sessions where students get to learn about these nursing leaders in public health and just get a little taste of the quality of public health at the state level in Minnesota. So it’s been really fun to share that with our students and get them kind of excited about a potential future career in public health and where it could take them.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah. Gosh, I don’t know. I have, as I’ve said before, a layperson’s interest in public health, partly just reading the newspaper and just thinking about how flawed our healthcare system is, needlessly so in so many ways, it seems to me. I don’t mean Minnesota, but just nationally, especially compared to a place like Sweden. Not just Sweden, other countries which would spend less and have better outcomes in terms of life expectancy.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Exactly.

Greg Kaster:                       So to continue down this public health path a bit, let’s imagine you’re in charge for the purposes of this conversation. What are some of your priorities if you want to improve public health nationally in this country? What are some of the glaring problems or issues that need to be addressed, and how would you go about addressing them?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Oh, this is a good question, probably a fairly controversial one. I’m not sure.

Greg Kaster:                       That’s not an exam question.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Although, you’re giving me a great one for my students this fall, if they’re listening to this podcast, then they get a little study guide for the next exam. No. Yeah, good questions. I mean, I think a lot about my experience with healthcare in Sweden just as you were talking about how they have really good outcomes and don’t spend as much money. Some things that I saw there, but I know these are all kind of somewhat controversial issues here in the U.S., but even just the value of something like a universal health record, I just found that so fascinating when I walked into a doctor’s office in Sweden, be it a general practice provider that I’m going to see for a sore throat, or I had both my children in Sweden, so going to see the midwife there, they could access my entire health history through this one record, and all the information that they needed about medications or past health issues that I had was just readily available for them right there.

And then it easily translated to when I needed to pick up a prescription, I could go to any pharmacy in Sweden without needing any kind of pre-notification, give them this identification number that I had, and because of this universal health record, they could pull up my prescription and give it to me. It was just amazing to see how a system like that just made my healthcare feel really comprehensive. I felt like my providers knew what was going on with me. I didn’t have to provide the same story over and over again. Even just simple things, like I remember when I actually had to call to set up our kids’ first visits back here in the U.S., for them to see a pediatrician here, how much time it took to even give things like the address where we lived and all the health insurance information. And in Sweden, it was just this number I gave, and within a matter of seconds, they had everything they needed about my children, and we could just be really efficient about what I needed to use healthcare for.

Greg Kaster:                       That all sounds like just incredible common sense to me. And what is it about our system, our medical culture or healthcare culture? What’s preventing it? I mean, why can’t we do that? Do you know?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah, there’s a couple of things, and I probably am not going to be able to list all of them, but I mean, people have brought up concerns about privacy because of that access to everything about an individual. I think Sweden’s lucky. It’s a country now, I think, of 11 million people versus the U.S. at hundreds of millions.

Greg Kaster:                       Right.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     They can do things a little bit differently because of that, but it’s an interesting model and could still be worth while. So those are I think some of the big obvious challenges that prevent something like a universal health record, but it does come up every once in a while that this is something we should have here in the U.S. and could be of value.

Greg Kaster:                       Absolutely. I think efficiency, and the other thing you said it’s just sort of for the patient, a psychological aspect of it which is you feel, I think you said, you feel like you have comprehensive healthcare. It drives me crazy every time I have to go to a doctor, even the same doctor. Fill out the same form, the same information. It’s kind of… And we do have computers.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Right, right. There could be ways to streamline this. Yeah. Yeah.

Greg Kaster:                       Exactly. Yeah. The other thing I’m interested in hearing you talk a little bit about with respect to public healthcare in this country is some of the challenges of rural public healthcare, which you’ve had some experience with. What are some of those big challenges? I’m concerned. I’m thinking just about what I’ve read in the newspaper about there being hospitals closing or clinics closing in rural areas people having trouble to get a vaccine even having to drive so far from a rural area to a city, let’s say. But just in general, what are some of the big challenges facing rural healthcare?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Something we hear a lot about, especially in the nursing education realm is it just trained staff and qualified staff who wants to work in these rural communities. Often, our new graduate nurses kind of gravitate towards the metropolitan areas. In some ways, an interesting place for a young person to live, but there are also big hospitals that have a lot of resources. When they go to work in a rural community, they get such a great experience as a nurse, but they have to wear a lot more hats and have a lot more kind of put on their shoulders earlier on than in some of these bigger metropolitan areas where there’s a lot more resources for new graduate nurses. Some of that, I think, just having enough staff and, like I said, the trained staff.

I do think, but you brought up the whole ability now with virtual healthcare and giving people access to providers that otherwise would be a long distance to drive to or go to see, but it’s of course, the caveat is you need the good wifi connection or some kind of ability to be able to connect with that provider.

Greg Kaster:                       Right. I was thinking about, I mean, exactly what I was thinking when I asked this question. I mean, it seems to be a place where online medical health could be really useful, obviously. I guess, you can’t just dial up an operation if, God forbid, you need one, but still. It’s just so important to have that infrastructure for the connectivity infrastructure and then if there aren’t enough qualified people in that rural area, to have a way to connect with them would be really important. Even here in the metro I sometimes do that. I’ll call, I don’t remember if it’s Blue Cross, a number where I can speak with a nurse or dial up a nurse for some advice about something without having to schedule a doctor’s appointment.

So you’ve done all this practicing. I want to zero in a bit on nursing and COVID. I gather you have not had any… Correct me if I’m wrong, have you had direct experience with COVID patients?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     No, no. I haven’t. Our students certainly have through their clinical rotations, and I know a couple of our faculty have helped with COVID vaccination clinics. So there’s some involvement in our department.

Greg Kaster:                       What’s your sense of what it’s been like, that quote I led with, but what’s your sense of what it’s been like, especially if you have some anecdotes about stories of some of our current students? But what is it like to be a nurse in this pandemic? I’m aware of the, I don’t know what to call them, they’re kind of like these, they’re like these little diaries that some nurses have, like video diaries, have kept. And just hearing them, especially early on in the pandemic, just the stories they told and what they, the nurses, went through, often being the only… No family member as the individual patient is dying, and there’s the nurse trying to comfort him or her. In any case, what do you know about and what have you learned about nursing amid this terrible pandemic?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     I think really, as you talked about, the power that the nurse has, not in a bad way but in a good way, of being able to be there and care for these patients in such vulnerable times. It’s interesting you bring this up, and we’re not quite at the stage of analyzing this data, but this kind of came to the forefront of my mind alon with some colleagues, actually one of my PhD classmates, about specifically our new graduate nurses. It’s already a huge transition when you graduate from a nursing program to go into a job as a nurse and just that mind shift of you’re no longer a student. Now you’re in charge. You’re working under your nursing license and caring for patients independently on your own, but we actually wondered what this transition especially for our graduates in 2020 who finished nursing school, starting working in the midst of a pandemic when there was still a lot of uncertainty and somewhat chaos too.

And we actually conducted a survey, and we ran it this spring, and we’re hoping to start analyzing the data now where we asked these new graduate nurses, so nurses from our 2020 class, 2019 and 2018 classes from a variety of institutions, actually, across the U.S. about what their transition to practice was like amidst this pandemic. I mean, I’ve read through some of the comments that we’ve received so far to some of the open-ended questions we had. And there’s a mix. Some talk about what an honor it is to be working in this area at this time and to be able to serve, and some talk about had they known that this is what they were going to walk into, this might not have been the choice that they would’ve made for a career. And that’s obviously heartbreaking to hear.

Greg Kaster:                       Sure.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     And the whole point of this study was to… Our goal is to publish it in a journal that maybe targets more nurse managers in hospital settings of just kind of the stresses that these new graduate nurses are experiencing that are even more unique than normal because they’re working in this pandemic. Another thing that kind of stuck out to me was even just some of them talking about… It’s so important. I remember for myself, too, starting out as a new graduate nurse, to just kind of develop some relationships with your colleagues on the floor. In those early stages, social distancing, you weren’t eating lunch with people. You weren’t talking with your colleagues in the same way that you were. So that led to a lot of loneliness and isolation that some of these new graduate nurses felt, and that I think is something that nurse managers or other people that are working with these new graduate nurses need to be aware of and think about strategies to facilitate more ways of socialization for those new nurses so they feel welcome and they feel supported and they have a network within their work setting.

Greg Kaster:                       Boy, that is not something I had thought of. Yes, wow. There’s just the isolation that comes due to the social distancing and whatever, but also, what would that be like for a nurse just out of school. Wow. Yeah, that’s incredibly important point. Right. That would just compound the isolation and it’s the last thing you need is isolation amid all this, I mean really, just the horrors, the tragedies that transpire in front of these nurses, the doctors. What little I know about nursing and U.S. history relates to the Civil War, nurses on both sides, and one of the themes as these young women went off to their own scenes of carnage in Confederate and Union hospitals is the tensions between the nurses and the doctors. Is that still an issue? And if so, how is the nursing profession dealing with it?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     I would say, maybe not as much of an issue as it has been in the past. I think there’s such a push now for what we call this interprofessional communication, which is where we try to train all types of healthcare providers, from physicians to nurses to respiratory therapists, pharmacists, about how to communicate as a team where everybody comes with kind of these different skills and different knowledge. It’s something we do quite a bit of in our program, especially in some of the introductory courses to nursing, and it’s part of medical education right now. So I think there was an acknowledgement that that was an issue in nursing, or in healthcare, and certainly it still does happen where there’s some difficulties communicating across disciplines, but because there’s much more focus on this training on how to communicate across disciplines and work together to achieve the best outcomes for the patients, I think some of those challenges have been proved or have disappeared.

Greg Kaster:                       That’s encouraging. I think just the emphasis on teamwork rather than kind of, I don’t know what the equivalent, the doc equivalent of the sage on the stage professor would be, but yeah.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yes. Exactly.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah. I wanted to… We have about five minutes left here. And toward the end, I want to ask you about nursing and the liberal arts. It’s not every college. In fact, maybe few liberal arts colleges have a nursing program. How do you… And you were an alum. You were a student at Gustavus. Whether as a student or only as a faculty member, how do you connect nursing to the liberal arts? How are they connected in your mind?

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yeah. Well, I think when we look at what today’s nurse is doing, they’re leading healthcare systems as nurse executives. They’re directing public health strategies for counties and states and the federal government. So I think there’s an absolute need for our nurses to actually be trained in a liberal arts setting so that they have that kind of broad foundation to bring to their practice, that they have this ability to be a leader and have a world perspective in some ways about healthcare, about people, about just society in general. So I think actually the liberal arts setting is the perfect place for nurses to get their bachelor’s degree. I used so much of my Gustavus education that wasn’t just the nursing program in the care that I’ve provided to patients and the research that I’ve done. I don’t think I would’ve been able to be as well-rounded and pursue all the opportunities that I did in my career without that liberal arts foundation.

I think liberal arts is, in a lot of ways, the perfect place for us to be training and graduating nurses.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah, I mean, you’re preaching to the choir here when I think of my experiences, my good experiences, my best experiences with doctors and nurses. The best ones, they’re not just really good at what they do, knowledgeable, skilled obviously, I want that, but they’re also humane. I think the liberal arts at least has that capacity. It doesn’t always work to really humanize us even more and make us more empathetic, sympathetic, better communicators, all of the above, and even just again the best doctors I’ve had have just taken an interest in me as a person. So much of the so-called exam isn’t what I would think of as an exam, what I used to think of as an exam. It’s just them, nurses and doctors, speaking with me about my life, my lifestyle, et cetera, et cetera, learning about me as a person. So I mean, I couldn’t agree more, really. In my ideal world, every doctor and nurse would have a liberal arts degree.

The other thing you said that’s so important I think to think about, which I had not thought enough about is just the way… It’s a question I had, and you kind of touched on it, how the nursing profession has changed over time, how much really nurses are, in some ways, like executives, especially in the managerial positions. I mean, it’s not just the technology that has changed, but the responsibilities and roles.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Right. Exactly.

Greg Kaster:                       That have changed. So let’s hope this awful pandemic comes to an end and that nurses and doctors get the rest they deserve. It looked like they were getting some rest. Now the Delta variant is changing all of that, but let’s hope. And here’s to nurses and doctors. Thank you all, and thank you Lynnea for taking time to speak with me. It’s been really interesting to learn more about you and your expertise and your journey, not to far geographically from Gustavus, but your journey as a professional which is really, I think, quite inspiring. So thank you so much. Take good care. Hope to see you on campus in the fall.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Yes, great. Yes.

Greg Kaster:                       Yeah, that would be great. All right. Thanks a lot. Take care.

Dr. Lynnea Myers:     Bye-bye.

Greg Kaster:                       Bye-bye.

Learning for Life at Gustavus is produced by JJ Akin and Matthew Dobosenski of the Gustavus Office of Marketing. Gustavus graduate, Will Clark, class of ’20, also provides technical expertise to the podcast and me. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Gustavus Adolphus College.

###

Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

Leave a Reply