PhD in Nursing Science Program

Spotlight on Our Students

Meet our Class of 2011 - 2012

The PhD in Nursing Science Program at Vanderbilt is committed to academic excellence. We prepare our students for intellectually rewarding academic and research careers. Our students engage in a variety of scholarly activities and collaborate with faculty in nursing and other disciplines. Through mentorship and collaboration, our students learn critical skills and gain the knowledge they need for a successful and productive career in nursing.


Mary A. Andreano, MSN, RN, CHPN, CCRC

Athens, OH
Track: Clinical Research Track
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Nancy Wells

mary andreano

My name is Mary Agnes Andreano and I currently live in Athens, OH. I am employed as the program coordinator for the online MSN at Ohio University, College of Health Sciences and Professions, School of Nursing. I have worked for over a decade in hospice and palliative care, both at the bedside as well as in executive management roles. It was a natural progression for me to move from hospice into pain research at Cooper University Hospital /University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. This experience has afforded me the opportunity to present at multiple conferences. I have been involved with many clinical trials involving both chronic and acute pain management. Since this experience in clinical research, I have been driven to understand the attitudes of caregivers towards caring for patients in pain. I have found this attitude to be vastly different among caregivers depending on the diagnosis of the patient. This question has energized me to complete my MSN at Vanderbilt with a concentration in clinical research management, and now onto my PhD. I chose Vanderbilt because of the institution’s reputation and resources available to support clinical research in the area of pain.


Leanne M. Boehm, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC

Spring Hill, TN
Track: Health Services Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Lorraine Mion

Leanne Boehm I am a native of Erie, Pennsylvania and currently reside in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Though I started my career as a medical intensive care unit nurse, I am currently working as a research nurse specialist with the ICU Delirium and Cognitive Impairment Study Group at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. I decided to start a career as a research nurse because I wanted to extend the impact of my work to patients and families whom I would never physically meet. It was during my time in this role that I realized I wanted to become a nurse scientist. By pursuing a PhD, my ability to improve care of critically ill patients might become more far reaching.; The excellent reputation of Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing, diversity of faculty, and my previous experience in the Clinical Management Master’s Program made VUSN the right choice for my PhD education.

As a nurse scientist, my desire is to conduct research that will advance health practice and strengthen the delivery of nursing care in the United States and around the world. I foresee the bulk of my research dedicated to care delivery and experiences of patients in the intensive care and acute care settings. Specifically, I would like to study outcomes associated with the implementation of a delirium resource nurse in the acute care setting and whether delirium protocols or the restructuring ICU care can influence the cognitive, physical and social outcomes of critically ill patients.


Abby Howe-Heyman, MS, CNM, RN

Los Angeles, CA
Track: Health Services Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Melanie Lutenbacher

abby howe-heyman

My most recent position was as Associate Professor at Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing in New York, NY. Before I began teaching in 2008, my clinical work included being a midwife and founding partner of Clementine Midwifery in Brooklyn, NY and a staff midwife at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, Bronx, NY. My area of interest is evidence-based practice in obstetric nursing and stems from my experience both as a teacher and as a practitioner. Despite the push toward the use of evidence in most areas of nursing, obstetrics is lagging behind. Is this because of the high-pressure nature of obstetric nursing? Is it due to systemic issues such as malpractice? Is it a communication problem between disciplines? Or something else entirely? I chose Vanderbilt because it is a top-ranked doctoral program that has a distance-learning model. It is possible that my family will need to move in the next few years for my husband's job and I wanted a program that allowed me to continue my studies regardless of where I am living. I was accepted to all four of the programs to which I applied, but Vanderbilt's distance program seemed to put the most emphasis on community building and personal relationships. In addition, the financial support offered to me at Vanderbilt was significantly better than that at any other school. I'm looking forward to a challenging but exciting adventure over the next four years.


Robin S. Mickelson, MS, RN

Pasadena, CA
Track: Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Betsy Weiner

robin mickelson

I recently moved from Pasadena, CA to Monteagle, TN. I worked as an informatics nurse specialist for three years customizing, implementing, supporting and evaluating EHR systems. I was disturbed by the lack of usability in these systems and resultant barriers to information retrieval, actionability of information and clinicians natural cognitive flow. I was interested in Vanderbilt because of its bioinformatics department and history of successful software development, nursing department’s renowned reputation and national ranking, well-funded, research oriented institution, conversations with ex-faculty members and students and a fully online program. My research interests center on usability and participatory software design for EHR systems as a means to facilitate clinician workflow, actionability of data and clinician cognitive processes. In addition, I am interested in the open source software design process.


Deonna Moore, MSN, ACNP-BC

Smyrna, TN
Track: Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Ann Minnick

deonna moore

My current position is lead nurse practitioner for the Vanderbilt Kidney/Pancreas Transplant Program. Through participation with the Vanderbilt Transplant Center Outcomes Research Group, I have had the opportunity to mentor under several leaders in the transplant community and pursue research in living donation and cost-effectiveness. This work has allowed me to present my research at local and national transplant conferences. It was through these experiences that I developed a passion for research and the knowledge that research can impact practice, quality and patient outcomes. VUSN’s commitment to excellence in research made Vanderbilt an ideal place to pursue my PhD. The option of a synchronous distance program also provided for the best work, home and school life balance. I have specific interests in organ donation, health disparities specifically disparities in health literacy, outcomes and cost-effectiveness research.


Robertson Nash, MBA, MSN, ACNP, BC

Nashville, TN
Track: Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Vaughn Sinclair

nash robertson

My current position is Nurse Practitioner, Medicine/Infectious Diseases Comprehensive Care Clinic/One Hundred Oaks Assistant in Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. I am motivated by the experiences gained working with chronically homeless persons and persons struggling with HIV/AIDS. Disparities in healthcare outcomes for marginalized populations are both real and extreme, and I want to identify what specific clinical interventions nursing can bring to help reduce inequity and improve outcomes. I am a proud graduate of VUSN. There are many PhD faculty working in areas that complement my research interests and I feel supported and encouraged in my endeavors. My research interest is attenuating the physiological effects of social marginalization in clinic-based environments.


Susan E. Piras, MSN, RN

Cookeville, TN
Track: Health Services Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Jana Lauderdale

susan piras

My current position is Assistant Professor of Nursing, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, TN. My experiences and observations as a nurse educator have driven my interest in becoming a researcher. What brought me to Vanderbilt was its reputation for excellence. My research area is evaluating the use of role modeling as an intervention for changing/enforcing health care practices. My desire to obtain my PhD in nursing at Vanderbilt University is driven by my passion for nursing research. As a fledgling to the world of research, I look forward to developing the knowledge and skill set needed to conduct research in nursing. My experience as an educator has piqued my interest in exploring the relationship between role modeling and health care behaviors, specifically enforcing and redirecting behaviors related to safe practice. While studying at Vanderbilt, the faculty support and vast resources available to me will allow me to partake in a research-centered learning experience.


Benjamin S. Schultze, MSN, RN, ACNP-BC, CCRN

Minneapolis, MN
Track: Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Sheila Ridner

benjamin schultze

My current position is Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, University of Washington Medical Center, Cardiothoracic ICU. When working with patients, I am always perplexed that some patients improve, while others die, and yet have the exact same form of treatment. This is particularly an interest of mine surrounding the phenomenon of ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome). What treatment modalities are we missing in this patient population? Is there a genetic link that we have yet to identify? Or is the whole disease process inappropriately combined as one syndrome? Is the ARDS of a trauma patient different than the ARDS of a patient with pneumonia or pancreatitis? These questions have me intrigued and will hopefully be the basis for many experimental designs to come. I also have significant international experience that I would like to continue to build upon as a researcher. Whether as an educator in the US Peace Corps or a volunteer following a disaster in Haiti, I would like to also work on delivery quality care to developing communities. Vanderbilt has an excellent reputation. Additionally, the fact that the PhD program is focused on distant learning was a huge asset. The schools around me require that I give up my full time job for my PhD. The problem with that model is it takes me out of the hospital situation in which I want to conduct my studies. I need to stay engaged as a nurse practitioner in order to keep the research questions fresh in my mind.


Anna Tielsch-Goddard, MSN, CPNP-PC

Garland, TX
Track:  Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Sheila Ridner

anna tielsch-goddard

My current position is Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Children's Medical Center, Dallas. I was always interested in research as I began my education as a biology major where research inquiry was heavily encouraged at Westminter College. After four years of labs in the biological sciences, I knew I wanted to continue into a PhD program one day. I decided on a career as a nurse practitioner because of the impact nurses can have on their patients through prevention, wellness and patient education. I was a research assistant during my MSN program at Yale and knew that one day I wanted the training involved to become PI of my own research questions. The quality and experience of the faculty, VUSN's reputation and success record for helping students reach their career goals combined with small class sizes that enable more one-to-one individualized attention with professors were all reasons why I chose Vanderbilt. My research interest is pediatric resiliency protective factors and promotion interventions.