PhD-DNP trailblazers show tenacity, dedication and caring

Dean's Blog |
Judith Karshmer

How to describe the inaugural scholars of our concurrent enrollment PhD-DNP program? “Trailblazers” is how we often refer to Sara Crance and Yingyan Huang. They are going where no ASU Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation student has gone before. Frankly, there aren’t many like them in the nation.

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But as wonderfully accurate “trailblazers” is to describe Sara and Yingyan, it falls short in capturing their tenacity, dedication and caring -- they are nurses, after all! -- as individuals and as health care professionals in service to science and advanced nurse practice in adult-gerontology.

The Phd-DNP program, which was two years in the making, leverages an endowment made by Charlene and J. Orin Edson to ASU to fund advancement in dementia research. With graduates prepared at the Phd level to do bench research and then as DNPs quickly put that knowledge into treatment plans for their patients, our concurrent enrollment program should help address the unacceptably long period between research and practices.

Sara has practiced nursing for more than 10 years, including time as an adult ICU nurse, holds an MSN and is a part-time Edson College instructor. Yingyan is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where she earned a BSN. She also was an Alzheimer’s dementia undergraduate research assistant. Through the endowment, Sara and Yingyan, who started the PhD-DNP program in the Fall 2021 semester, were awarded scholarships of $235,000 each for their studies.

Sara and Yingyan approach their trails from different places as nurses and individuals. But they have similar sources of inspiration and a family devotion to lifelong learning. Both trace their first steps on paths that lead to the current scholarly journey to places far from Arizona and half a world apart from each other.

Sara grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains where thoughts of becoming a medical doctor were encouraged. College and business experiences led her down other paths and to what she believes is her true calling – to be a nurse like her mom.

“There was always a big piece of me that wanted to do a PhD, but I also love the clinical aspect of nursing,” Sara said. “This is an amazing opportunity. For me, it checks all of the boxes, fills all the buckets.”

Sara’s research interest is palliative care in dementia patients and how that kind of supportive care could be used throughout disease progression and not just the last six months of life.

“Medicine as we know it is constantly evolving,” Sara said. “Maybe this will be an even more innovative approach for patients and produce original research that contributes to patient care.”

Like Sara, Yingyan’s mother is a source of inspiration for her pursuit of dual doctoral degrees and meeting the extra challenges of being an international student. She said her mother is a lifelong learner. “Even now, she is retired, and she has never stopped learning” said Yingyan, who came alone to the United States from China when she was 15 to attend high school and then college.

Yingyan’s research interest is related to studying how to optimize and apply cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia in adults with insomnia and/or cognitive impairments due to Alzheimer’s disease pathology.

“I just find that fascinating,” Yingyan said. “There are just tremendous needs as quality of life gets better, there are just tremendous needs in the aging population and I think it’s a great a time to jump into this kind of research. … By creating value to society, that makes me happy. I know I’m doing something for the greater good, beyond myself. That’s another thing that motivates me.”

When they complete the dual enrollment program, Sara and Yingyan will emerge as leaders addressing a looming national crisis of caring for our elders with dementia. We’re in the process of selecting the second cohort who will follow.