Advancing health and wellness

Mark A. Heckler
President, Valparaiso University
June 2010

It remains a troubling fact that Northwest Indiana lags behind the nation as a whole in the health of its residents. Infant mortality, obesity, lack of physical activity, the high prevalence of tobacco use, alcohol abuse and teenage pregnancy are significant challenges that we must address to achieve our desired quality of life.

Valparaiso University's College of Nursing is taking a lead role in helping Northwest Indiana become a "healthy community," identified as one of Northwest Indiana's critical needs by the Quality of Life Council. Through student and faculty research, clinical care, health education programs and service activities, Valpo is improving our citizens' health now while also educating future nursing leaders. 

Researching new and improved ways to care for people is one of the primary ways that Valpo nursing professors and students are helping advance the wellness of Northwest Indiana residents.

Valpo recently celebrated its first class of Doctor of Nursing Practice graduates, a program that prepares students for the highest level of nursing practice and leadership. Each DNP student completes a project in which they investigate and implement changes in healthcare practices to improve patient outcomes.

One of these graduates, Dana Robinson, a nurse at Porter Hospital in Valparaiso, spent the past year examining how patients admitted to the emergency room with shortness of breath are evaluated and treated. Her findings and those of Valpo's other DNP graduates will help our healthcare professionals provide better care. 

Valpo's College of Nursing also provides direct health services through the clinical experiences our nursing students gain at facilities such as Porter Hospital and HealthLinc, a free clinic for medically underserved people located in Valparaiso's Hilltop neighborhood. 

These clinical experiences provide nursing students with a deeper understanding of the patients they treat and a greater ability to holistically manage care—to not only treat a specific medical problem but also understand how lifestyle, health behaviors and environmental factors affect a patient's overall health. This focus allows Valpo nurses to help patients achieve better long-term quality of life while also reducing health care costs.

Valpo's College of Nursing also maintains a commitment to community service through coursework and co-curricular activities. Every nursing student, for example, completes a health promotion project as part of a community nursing course. These projects have included presenting sessions for Spring Valley Shelter on the effects of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs; teaching stress management to clients at the Caring Place and Greenwich House; and performing blood pressure and osteoporosis tests at a LaPorte County Hospital health fair.  

While our healthcare professionals and students play an essential role in helping Northwest Indiana become a healthier community, there is much we can do individually. I encourage all members of our community to consider the personal behaviors and lifestyle choices that impact their health and the health of those around them, and to look for opportunities that will make healthy lifestyles more accessible to and prevalent among all of us who live, work and learn here.