Doctoral Student, Inspired by Jesuit Tradition, Cares for the Underserved

FEBRUARY 24, 2017 – Courtney Pladsen (G’11, G’18), MS, RN, CRNP, greatly values the nursing education she has received at Jesuit institutions.

Currently in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program at the School of Nursing & Health Studies, Pladsen earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Boston College and later received her master’s degree in nursing from Georgetown’s Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Program.

“My time spent at Boston College was very influential, and in the Jesuit tradition of men and women for others, there were opportunities to work and provide medical care to the underserved,” she says.

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“Throughout the four years, I went on four service trips to Central America in varying capacities, working in an orphanage and developing clean water projects, safe cooking stoves, or vaccination campaigns,” Pladsen says. “When I look back on those experiences, over 10 years ago, I can directly link them to my passion and drive in my current work.”

Pladsen, who began her professional nursing career in Washington, D.C., in an emergency department – her “first love,” says the hospital-based experience prompted a desire to explore prevention.

“After three years in the ED, I began to understand that because the ED is one of the few places in the health care system that cannot turn away a patient, you see all the failings of the health care system,” she says. “Once I started to see those system failures, I wanted to move into a more upstream role where I could work to prevent those ED visits.”

Health Disparities

This realization caused Pladsen to apply to Georgetown’s FNP Program, which gave her the opportunity to do a clinical rotation at Unity Healthcare, a federally qualified health center. “I found my dream job,” she says, noting she has now worked there for five years.

She offers “medical outreach to people experiencing homelessness,” as well as primary care services for families, most of whom are immigrants from Central America.

“When doing medical outreach, I see patients in soup kitchens and do walking outreach with a team and provide medical care to some of the city’s most vulnerable residents who are often struggling with mental illness,” she adds.

This past December, she began as the clinical coordinator for a new effort called the “women’s respite program,” which “provides medical care to the homeless within a homeless shelter for women who are medically vulnerable and acutely ill.”

Social Determinants

Pladsen says her time at Unity has broadened her view of health care to include the social determinants of health (SDH).

“I began to see the context in which our patient’s live and understand how education, housing, access to healthy food, social support, environmental safety, and economic opportunity all play larger roles, compared to direct health care services, in the health outcomes of an individual,” she says.

To expand her knowledge about the social determinants, Pladsen began Georgetown’s DNP Program.

Possible Political Career

So far, she says she enjoys the program’s strengths in policy and ethics, as well as Georgetown’s focus on cura personalis – or care for the whole person: mind, body, and spirit.

“In the DNP Program, I am learning more than I ever anticipated,” she says. “The curriculum incorporates classes about health care policy, leadership, ethics, information systems, epidemiology, and research. My scholarly project focuses on educating clinical staff at Unity about the social determinants of health and health care disparities and implementing a social determinants screening tool organization wide.”

Pladsen says she sees various opportunities after Georgetown.

 “After completing the DNP, I hope to continue working as a nurse practitioner providing care to the most vulnerable, but I am also aiming to work on the government level addressing SDH through policy and advocacy,” she says. “I may even run for office one day, because we sure could use more nurses in our highest offices of leadership, and I cannot think of a better profession to do just that.”

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