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Nursing student fights childhood obesity by changing conversations in the clinic

January 4, 2013

One nurse is setting out to change the way health care providers in New Orleans talk to patients—inspiring instead of mandating healthier lifestyles to curb childhood obesity. Loyola University New Orleans Doctor of Nursing Practice student Monica Alleman won a $4,000 grant Jan. 1 from the American Nurse Practitioner Foundation to teach health care providers at John Ehret High School health center in Marrero, La., counseling skills to help reduce the causes and effects of childhood obesity at a local level. The idea was born from Alleman’s capstone project as a part of the Loyola DNP program.

Louisiana is the ideal testing ground for solutions to the childhood obesity epidemic, according to Alleman. Louisiana has the fourth-highest statistics for childhood obesity rates in the nation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports.

“Monica’s passion for children and fighting obesity is contagious,” said Gwen George, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, assistant professor and DNP program coordinator.

The project focuses on the idea that when health care providers speak to patients in ways that illicit the patients’ own solutions versus commanding solutions, it results in healthier patients. The technique is called motivational interviewing skills—borrowed from counseling practices—and Alleman is teaching health care professionals at John Ehret High School how to use it.

“We can more effectively engage patients in healthy living and I believe it’s by us the providers changing how we communicate with our patients,” Alleman said. “Research shows the more patients talk about their own change, the more likely they are going to start to try to change.”

Using motivational interviewing techniques, a conversation with the nurse may include phrases like, “What kinds of things worked for you in the past?” and “How can you make that change in your life?” That kind of conversation in the clinic avoids guilt, shame and judgment surrounding what is childhood obesity, according to Alleman.

“Loyola University New Orleans DNP students are educated to embrace such research-supported interventions in behavioral health to improve the outcomes in health care delivery systems, thereby accelerating quality, reducing costs and increasing appropriate access,” said Ann H. Cary, Ph.D., MPH, RN, professor and director of the School of Nursing.

Partial support for the DNP program is funded by the Division of Nursing, Bureau of Health Professions, Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Health and Human Services to Loyola University New Orleans under grant number D09HP18996-01-00, and Post-Masters Doctor of Nursing Practice: Access to Comprehensive Care Systems for $1,213,924 for 2010-2013.

The application deadline for the Loyola School of Nursing post baccalaureate-to-DNP or post masters-to-DNP online programs is Feb. 15.

Contact Mikel Pak, associate director of public affairs, at 504-861-5448 for more information.

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