UAH DNP student Ayana Red has developed an oral care procedure for the elderly who live in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Ayana Red

"So little time and so much to do," are lyrics penned by famed jazz musician Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, but it has become the silent mantra of nurses everywhere — especially geriatric nurses who give dedicated specialized care for an aging population.

Meet Ayana Red, a graduating senior in The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) College of Nursing, who noticed rather quickly that the oral healthcare of geriatric patients was essentially being overlooked in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

"I wanted to make a significant impact in the care staff’s knowledge of oral care practices in older adults as well as improve oral health outcomes in geriatric patients," she said.

If successful, Red’s UAH College of Nursing scholarly project would put in to practice a substantiated oral care procedure in addition to a staff oral care training program for a long-term care unit.

"My goal is to improve staff knowledge of oral care practices in the elderly and improve oral health outcomes in older adults during a two-week period," she said. "I presented a 30-minute oral health educational session to the nursing staff and oral health knowledge was measured before the session and 14 days after the session," Red noted. "I also developed a set of evidence-based oral care guidelines for staff to follow and created an oral care documentation checklist and oral care monitoring twice daily for two weeks.

"The oral health status of participating residents was measured three different times to determine if staff education and the evidence-based protocol would contribute to improvement in the oral health status of residents," she added. Red’s project was successful in increasing staff knowledge of oral care practices and improving oral health outcomes in this vulnerable population.

According to the online newsletter Annals of Long-Term Care, the U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher publicly addressed poor oral health and dental disease in residents of long-term care facilities as far back as 1999. His report "Oral Health in America" called on policymakers, healthcare professionals, and citizens to take greater responsibility in the oral care of the elderly.

A native of Jackson, MS, Red has been a family nurse practitioner for nine years. "I first became interested in nursing while working as a medical laboratory technician in a local hospital in Mississippi. Although I worked in the lab, I was able to see daily how nurses made such a significant impact in patient’s lives and daily experiences.

"I was lucky enough to shadow a few of the nurses during this time and they greatly attributed to my appreciation and insight into the nursing profession," she said. "I have a strong interest in science, and I enjoy helping others, therefore, I felt nursing was the perfect career choice for me."

Red obtained an Associate’s degree in Medical Laboratory Technology from Hinds Community College, two undergraduate degrees from Mississippi College; a BS in Biology and a BSN. She earned an MSN from Alcorn State University (Alcorn, MS).

After researching many colleges, Red felt the UAH College of Nursing’s programs and aims fit in perfectly with what she wanted to carry out in a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. "I was looking for a DNP program that would allow me to have a special focus on leadership, scholarship and evidence-based research and the UAH program meet these criteria and more," said Red. "I believed the college’s DNP curriculum would offer a rich combination of learning and clinical practice. The DNP curriculum also provided me with a flexible plan of study that fits into my busy lifestyle.

"My experience at the UAH College of Nursing has been great. The program’s faculty has been very supportive, involved and invested in their student’s success," said Red. "The school’s administration and faculty have gone above and beyond. Every one of my professors has always been accessible and eager to help in any way. The same is true for my fellow students. My peers are awesome. I’ve learned so much from their expert knowledge and skills in their respective areas of practice and I’ve been able to forge some friendships along the way that I will cherish forever."

Red noted that the DNP curriculum at UAH is the best. "I’ve learned so much throughout this program. Every course builds on the next and now I have the knowledge to deliver quality health care to my patients through translational research. My education at UAH has prepared me to lead, deliver and improve patient care in my community and clinical practice," she added.

"Dr. Ayana Red is a nurse who will change the health outcomes of older adults who reside in a nursing home. She has developed an evidence-based oral care protocol as a DNP Project, and data indicate oral health can improve significantly in just two to four weeks by attending to oral care twice daily. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to work with Dr. Red. She is an amazing person with such a promising future," said Dr. Pamela O’Neal, UAH Associate Professor of Nursing.

Red’s advice for high school students considering a career in nursing is to volunteer in a healthcare setting and experience nursing firsthand. Be ready to work hard. If you truly enjoy helping people, this is the career for you. If you decide to move forward go for it and don’t give up."

Red plans to formally present her findings on oral healthcare practices of geriatric patients to administration officials at her project facility and associated facilities. "Soon, I plan to give a manuscript about my project findings to a professional nursing journal for publication."

"I will make practical and effective use of everything I’ve learned at UAH to continue to improve health outcomes in geriatric and older adult populations," said Red. "I will continue to promote quality healthcare and advocate for my patients."

Red’s future career plan includes becoming a nurse educator.

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Dr. Pamela O'Neal
College of Nursing