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Donna Guerra ('93 BSN), a new faculty member in The University of Alabama in Huntsville's (UAH) College of Nursing

Michael Mercier | UAH

Donna Guerra ('93 BSN), a new faculty member in The University of Alabama in Huntsville's (UAH) College of Nursing, witnessed first-hand the after-effects of two of Alabama's most horrifying natural disasters: Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the Tornado Outbreak of 2011.

"During Hurricane Katrina, I was working as a surgical nurse at South Baldwin, the local hospital in Foley, AL. I was in a supervisory role, and worked during the storm. The hospital was on full lock down, but the surgery department remained fully staffed and did perform emergency surgeries during the storm," Guerra said. "Our area was spared of major destruction and our injury counts were few, but we were acutely aware of the challenges and devastation that our colleagues in Mississippi and Louisiana were experiencing.
"The 2011 tornado outbreak did not directly affect the area I was working in, but I was in graduate school at The University of Alabama (UA) in Tuscaloosa…I saw the aftermath of the storms and the devastation left in its path."

Guerra, a first-generation college student in her family reluctantly decided on nursing as a second alternative for a career. She initially wanted to study pharmacy. "When I was in high school, I worked for a family-owned pharmacy, and one of the things I loved about it was interacting with people and helping them. As a college student, I quickly learned that chemistry was not my forte. I began to consider other professions in healthcare, and nursing was a natural progression to continue to help others."

As a high school student Guerra didn't take any advanced placement or college preparatory courses in high school. But her family valued education and have always been very supportive and encouraged her to pursue her educational goals. Guerra was the recipient of numerous graduate scholarships while attending nursing school, such as the Nurse Educator Scholarship from the Alabama Board of Nursing, Hill Crest Foundation Endowed Scholarship, Jennifer Lee Davis Memorial Scholarship, and South Baldwin Regional Medical Center Auxiliary Medical Scholarship.

"I had a wonderful experience at UAH as an undergraduate student, and I am fortunate to have received a strong foundation in my nursing education," Guerra said. "Teaching at UAH seemed like a natural fit for me, and I enjoy being back in the College of Nursing. The nursing faculty at UAH is made up of the finest clinicians and educators in nursing. It is my privilege to work alongside and learn from them."

Guerra has worked as a nurse specialist in some very interesting jobs, including as a clinical coordinator and case manager at Healogics The Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine Center, and the Director of Infection Prevention. Both jobs were at the South Baldwin Regional Medical Center in Foley.

At the Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine Center, Guerra served as the Clinical Coordinator and Case Manager. "I found a true passion for wound care, and enjoyed the nurse-patient relationships that working in a community setting allows."

She was responsible for the daily activities of the outpatient wound clinic and nursing supervision of patients receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Guerra received specialized education focused on wounds and the care of the hyperbaric oxygen patient. The center opened in January 2013, and was the only facility to offer specialized, advanced therapies for patients with chronic, non-healing wounds. "Previously, these patients had to travel more than an hour away to receive advanced care. During my tenure, the center received the Center of Distinction Award for 2013 and 2014, which is based on quality indicators and patient outcomes, and consistently maintained 100 percent patient satisfaction scores in nursing services."

Guerra served as the Director of Infection Prevention at South Baldwin Regional Medical Center. She was responsible for implementing and maintaining the infection prevention program for the hospital. "I think this is one of the most demanding roles in nursing administration. Quality improvement and patient safety is crucial in healthcare, and this is the primary role of an Infection Prevention practitioner. It was both challenging and fascinating to collect large amounts of data, review the data over time, and implement quality improvement initiatives." Guerra worked closely with clinicians across healthcare disciplines and gained valuable knowledge that she applied to her nursing practice. "One of the other aspects of this role that I enjoyed was continually learning about evidence-based practices to improve patient outcomes and sharing my knowledge through nursing development activities. It allowed me to combine my loves nursing, learning and teaching."

One of the most important things Guerra learned while working in the nursing profession was the importance of proper hand hygiene. "Working in infection prevention makes you keenly aware of the communicability of diseases and infections. Although it is a very simple act, hand washing is the most important and effective way we can prevent the spread of disease - whether you are a healthcare provider or a layperson."

This semester, Guerra is teaching UAH seniors in Community Health Nursing and first year nursing students in Nursing Informatics. "I love community nursing, and really enjoy teaching students about an area of nursing that they have not yet experienced. Community health allows them to see nursing in a different way than they are used to. Prior to this course, they are primarily learning to care for patients in the acute care setting, so they are able to learn about nursing through a completely different lens. It is exciting to hear their enthusiasm and surprise at just how different the care they provide is in the community."

She said Nursing Informatics has also been a fun course to teach. "I have enjoyed teaching students about how technology influences healthcare and nursing practice. This is the first semester UAH has included Nursing Informatics in the curriculum, and it is extremely important for students to learn. The course teaches technology concepts that are critical to nursing practice."

Guerrra expects to earn her EdD from UA in December. Her dissertation and research integrates her passions of wound care and education. "I want to explore undergraduate nursing students' experiences with learning about wound care," she explained. "The current research indicates that practicing nurses have a low knowledge level and confidence level in caring for patients with wounds. I want to add to the body of knowledge related to wound care learning, and improve nursing education if the project finds deficiencies."

Guerra is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International and Phi Kappa Phi.


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