Debra Myers, DNP, ’93, ’98, ’00, ’12 is a dynamo, plain and simple.
As the coordinator of two facilities located at the Heart and Vascular Center at Winchester Medical Center, she helped WMC’s parent organization, Valley Health, avoid $8 million in potential costs between 2010 and 2013, during which time she was in the process of earning her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Shenandoah’s Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing.
That’s just par for the course for Myers, who remembers always wanting to be a nurse — when she played as a little girl, she pretended to be one. “It was my passion to take care of people, even at a young age,” she said from one of the clinic rooms she regularly uses. She started her career early, by taking nursing classes at Dowell J. Howard Center while attending James Wood High School in Frederick County, Virginia. After graduating from James Wood in 1988, she kicked off a lifetime of nursing practice. She became a licensed practical nurse in 1989. That was the only nursing certification/degree she didn’t earn at Shenandoah. From there, she earned her Associate’s Degree in Nursing (registered nurse — RN) in 1993, her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1998, her Master of Science in Nursing and Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) certification in 2000 and her Doctor of Nursing Practice in 2012.
Myers said she initially chose Shenandoah because it was nearby and she had kids at home. “After that, it became home. It was a great program,” she said.
Myers said each time she earned a new degree, up through her master’s/FNP, she would attend school Mondays through Thursdays and work weekend overnight nursing shifts at WMC — typically 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.“So Mondays were hard,” she said, her face breaking into one of her frequent smiles. In addition, she and her husband, who works full-time in law enforcement, also own a landscaping business on the side.
“Being stressed is the way I roll,” she said, a laugh bubbling behind her words. “It just works for me.”
During her first 12 years in nursing, she worked in the Medical-Surgical Unit and with post-open-heart-surgery patients. When she went back to school to be an FNP, she decided she needed a more wide-ranging type of experience, so she became a WMC emergency department nurse as she continued her studies. It was scary, she said, but “I needed the babies … I needed the elderly … and I loved it.”
After becoming an FNP, she went to work full-time for a Winchester neurology practice, but still worked per diem as an RN in the emergency department. She says her time in both places was invaluable, and that whenever she talks to nursing students, she advises them to have neurology and emergency department experience, because through each, they’ll learn much of what they need to know as nurses.
In 2004, she established a Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) clinic, and in 2007, she added a new transition unit to the mix. Both of the clinics were housed at a Valley Health facility on Cork Street until about three years ago, she said. All the clinics started with bare-bones staffing and still run lean. The CHF clinic operates with two administrative associates, two nurses and Myers, while the transition unit has the same two nurses, same two administrative associates, Myers, a nurse navigator and another nurse practitioner.
The transition unit helps people who are discharged from the hospital, but who don’t have primary care providers. Its staff helps patients fill out financial forms to get needed assistance, connect with low-cost (sometimes free) medications, and find transportation and accommodations. Many patients are homeless, and the unit’s staffers often help patients access the resources they need. The result, in recent years, has been fewer readmissions among these patients and a major cost avoidance for the hospital — the $8 million noted earlier — a finding that Myers and Jessica Watson, director of WMC’s Chronic Disease Resource Center (of which Myers’ clinics are a part) presented in early February at the American Nursing Association’s Quality Conference in Orlando, Florida.
When asked how she felt about helping save so much money, one of her bright smiles again appeared. “I liked that,” she said. But it wasn’t just about the financials for her. The cost savings also meant that the patients were healthy enough to not need hospital care.
The clinics also pointed her toward getting her doctorate. Myers said she was working at her clinics with Doctor of Pharmacy students from Shenandoah’s Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy and their enthusiasm sparked her interest in returning to school. Happily, when she returned Shenandoah to study for her DNP, her class included two classmates from her FNP class. So, the trio of nurse practitioners earned their DNP together. Myers worked a regular Monday through Friday schedule at the clinics this time around. She would fit in clinical work for her degree during early mornings or late afternoons, and have 10-hour workdays when classes didn’t meet.
“She had an extraordinary work ethic and a commitment to doing it right,” said Pamela Webber, Ph.D., who oversaw Myers’ DNP capstone project. Webber, Myers said, “made sure I worked to my fullest potential, and I am thankful to her for that.”
It’s not nose-to-the-grindstone, work-for-work’s sake, however. Myers’ face lights up when she talks about how she gets to see patients daily — she’s not a hands-off administrator in any way. “I love coming to work every day,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
— Contributed by Stephanie Mangino