Superheroes of Nursing: Christine Thornam Named The Educator

The manager of Clinical Education at Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brighton, Colorado, Christine’s job responsibilities are multi-faceted and include coordinating a number of programs. Her primary focus is designing and facilitating the hospital’s graduate nurse transition-to-practice program. She also oversees the Clinical Scholars Program, a program that Christine began two years ago. Clinical scholars help to offset the shortage of faculty in nursing schools by training bedside nurses to provide clinical instruction to nursing students in the hospital. Christine is deeply involved in the preceptor program as well. It’s an effort to educate bedside nurses as well as non-nursing personnel to make them effective coaches for new hires. “Being a preceptor in our hospital is an important role,” Christine notes. “It is how we welcome newly hired personnel into our workforce.”

Christine’s job revolves around developing and implementing educational programs—much of them in electronic format thanks to Christine’s doctoral degree in education with a focus on educational technology and instructional design. She is also active in the hospital’s shared governance committees, chairing both the Research Council and the Coordinating Council, and has conducted and published original research related to education. She is currently working on a multi-site study being conducted in conjunction with the Jean Watson Caring Science Institute. The study’s objective is to determine if there is a relationship between the caring behaviors of nurses and nursing-sensitive indicators. “Part of my hope as a principle investigator is to get nurses who might think that research is beyond their realm to understand that they can be part of a research project,” Christine explains. Christine believes that the study is also a way to demonstrate the connection between caring science and patient outcomes. “We want nurses to see that this is not only a theory but that, if they practice the theory, it makes a difference in the lives of their patients,” she explains.

In fact, Christine can’t stress the importance of research enough. “I talk about evidence all the time,” she says. “Whenever I’m in a conversation, I ask about the data that supports a statement. It’s great to be passionate about something but, if you can’t back it up with evidence, it doesn’t go very far.”

From Candy Striper to Nurse PhD

Christine always knew that she would eventually work in a caring profession. In high school, she became a candy striper volunteer. After graduation, she enrolled in the nursing program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. It was a competitive program that accepted only 90 students in her class. After graduating, she began her nursing career at University Hospital in Omaha and immediately enrolled in a BSN program while working full-time.

Just as Christine was about to complete her bachelor’s degree, the dean of the school of nursing asked when she planned to get a master’s degree. “Until then, I hadn’t even thought about a master’s degree,” she says. It made an impression on Christine. A number of years later, she did enroll in a master’s program in pediatric pulmonary nursing at the University of Washington. She later became a faculty member at the University of Colorado School of Nursing and also worked on projects at the Health Sciences Center and on U.S. Department of Education grants to develop instructional media. It was there that she found herself gravitating toward instructional design and online learning. Fellow faculty members encouraged her to pursue a doctoral degree. At first, Christine was hesitant, unsure that she was “PhD material.” After a lot of thought, she decided that a doctoral program in education would be most beneficial to her nursing students.

Throughout her career, Christine has found two qualities to be most important: caring and presence. She explains presence as being in the moment, giving the other person your full attention and listening without judgment. “It’s easy as a teacher to think that you’ve got all this knowledge, but that’s not teaching,” she explains. “Teaching is about listening to what your learner needs. You have to be present and caring to help someone learn.”

The Quintessential Nurse Educator

In nominating Christine, Susan Dillon, the hospital’s director of Education, wrote: “Christine is the quintessential nurse educator,” citing her education, experience, knowledge, skill, attitude, and character. She went on to add that Christine “excels at instructional design, teaching, facilitating, and evaluating education programs, strategies, and activities. Christine is creative, intuitive, trusting and trustworthy, and embodies a caring spirit focused on serving others. I have learned more from Christine than any other nurse educator.”

Like most superheroes, Christine is modest about her accomplishments. When asked about her reaction when she learned that she won, she says, “I was pleased that someone would even think of nominating me.” Again, her generous spirit comes through. “I feel that knowledge is not owned by anyone,” she says. “It is there to be shared. I’ve been blessed to have gained a lot of knowledge. I’ve had wonderful opportunities. The Education Department is an outlet for me to share what I know with other nurses.”

Christine hopes that being named a Superhero of Nursing will draw positive attention to nursing and to other nurse educators as well. “The award has made me feel special but, really, there are so many nurses out there who are superheroes.”

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