Preparing the Next Generation of Nurse Practitioners

by Nancy Fowler

When students begin to fully realize the decision-making power they’ll have as nurse practitioners, it can be overwhelming. Even with their wide array of nursing experience, they may not be used to having the final word on a patient’s healthcare, according to Assistant Professor of Nursing Nina Zimmermann, EdD, APRN, ANP-BC.

“Suddenly, they’re like, ‘Wow,’” she said. “It really hits them.”

Nurse practitioners are nurses with additional education and training that transitions them into a medical provider who assesses, diagnoses and treats patients. Nurse practitioners are more important than ever before to the nation’s healthcare system, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges.

Several factors are responsible for the escalating need, Zimmermann said. “We have a physician shortage and an ever-growing elderly population, especially in rural areas,” she said. Those individuals have a greater life expectancy than previous generations and have a greater chance of suffering from heart disease, cancer and respiratory problems because of their lifestyles, she said.

While preparing Maryville students for advanced practice, Zimmermann and Assistant Professor of Nursing Carol Berger, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, wondered how they might ease the process of moving students toward greater responsibility.

“We wanted to help them understand it takes a while to fill the shoes of a provider; you’ve got to break in those shoes by walking in them,” Berger said. “So we said, ‘Let’s do a podcast.’” In January 2021, they distributed the first episode of “Nurse Practitioners Changing Practice.”

“The podcast is designed to encourage students to be excited about the profession,” Berger said. “And let them know their work can make a difference.”

The first order of business was figuring out how to create and distribute a podcast. Turns out that online instruction necessitated by COVID-19 had already familiarized them with a solution. “We were doing all our teaching over Zoom,” Berger said. “So you might say that the pandemic launched the whole idea because we were already comfortable with the technology.”

For each podcast, Zimmermann and Berger meet in a Zoom session and record it, then upload the audio file to a half dozen hosting sites like Anchor and Spotify. The sessions are also available as YouTube videos.

Many episodes feature nurse practitioners whose work has resulted in concrete change. Guests Margaret Benz and Sue Kendig have impacted health policy. Chris Hemmer created guidelines for back pain intervention. Berger’s own research helped improve the dental health of rural children in Missouri.

While Berger has experience in radio and TV through a book publishing business she owned with her husband, Zimmerman, was new to the role of show host. But it took only one episode to settle in. “We were just having a conversation about things that we knew from life experiences as nurse practitioners,” Zimmerman, said. “And then it got easier and seemed more natural, and we realized we don’t need a script.”

Despite a collection of nationally known guests, Berger and Zimmerman, were surprised to discover the most popular podcast episdoes involve just the two of them. “The ones where Carol and I talk about how it feels personally to see 15 to 20-plus patients a day, or, ‘How did you feel as a new nurse practitioner that first year?’” Zimmermann said.

Now, almost one year later, Berger and Zimmermann have produced nearly 20 podcast episodes. The podcast led to the creation of a robust “Nurse Practitioners Changing Practice” website, which offers additional resources including case studies, interactive games and recorded lectures.

There’s also a section that shares “clinical pearls,” small pieces of relevant information based on Zimmermann’s and Berger’s personal experiences and insights. “We want to provide content that helps students develop their clinical judgment skills,” Berger said.

Berger’s husband helps with website management, and her son conceived the website logo and does light editing for the podcast. “It’s a family affair,” Berger said. “If I had to pay my husband for all he’s done, I couldn’t afford it.” To make the podcast and other website offerings sustainable, T-shirts, hats and other merchandise will soon be available for sale on the site. Finding advertisers is another goal.

Podcast listeners already include students from around the country and even the world, and Berger and Zimmermann hope to keep drawing new fans from the Maryville community and beyond. Figuring out how to promote the podcast apart from the current word-of-mouth method is a priority as they record two episodes a month, on top of their teaching duties.

The podcast format is a good fit for students already busy with classes, clinicals and jobs, Zimmermann said. “They can listen to it while they’re enjoying other activities, like running on a treadmill,” she said. “It’s also an easy task for the hosts to fit into their own busy lives. To be honest, it doesn’t feel like work — it’s really fun! And we’re really excited as we draw more listeners and website visitors.”

Send this to a friend