Faculty Spotlight with Roberta Christopher, Assistant Professor

Roberta Christopher associate professor.As soon as you start speaking to Dr. Roberta Christopher, her passion for nursing and health informatics shines through. She switched to nursing while she was in college because she saw how much her roommate, who was a psychiatric nurse, loved her job and felt invested in her work.

At the same time, her grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and she spent several months with her in the hospital, watching how nurses work.

“I felt called to nursing. Before my grandmother died, I was in class and I got up, went and changed my major and have never looked back,” Christopher, assistant professor, Keigwin School of Nursing at Jacksonville University, said. “It was the best decision of my life, I think. I love being a nurse.”

After college, she worked as a surgical nurse as well as in the emergency room, which gave her a broad foundation. However, her goal was to work in maternal-child nursing.

“I was just very passionate about moms and babies and helping them to start their lives out healthy,” she said.

She eventually moved into more of a research role, inspired by the faculty she worked with in college who mentored her through her undergraduate program and her graduate program.

“I just love exploration and looking for answers to questions that we haven’t necessarily been able to solve yet and I’m just very passionate about safe, high-quality care,” she said.

We sat down with her to discuss her field, Jacksonville University and what she’s currently working on, as well as her recent inclusion in the TIGER Scholars Workgroup.

Q: You’ve worked with different universities over the course of your career. What is it about JU that makes it stand out to you?

A: When I was in a hospital setting, I was fortunate to work with graduates and students from a diverse group of universities. The JU students and graduates just always stood out to me as very high-caliber, very evidence-based. These were predominantly nursing students. They were always looking ahead, very forward thinking. I just felt very connected and drawn to them, and so when I finished my doctoral degree, I just knew I wanted to teach at JU. I knew several of the faculty and they’re just such a tenacious, hard-working group of folks who are really dedicated to their students. When you look at a product and you see this high-caliber product coming out, that just let me know that they’re doing something right at JU.

From an online perspective, I think a best practice with our online programs are the live lectures. For example, I did my doctoral degree online and I never had a live lecture in the 3-4 years I did any of my coursework. That was something that was really lacking, so I really love that during the first week of online courses with JU, students have access to their faculty via live lectures. The students can see, they can talk, they can ask questions and throughout the 8-week course, we are connecting with them in a live personal format. I do not think that is something a lot of programs are doing, and I think this is really unique. Another unique thing about our JU online programs is the faculty that teach are predominantly full-time faculty. Thus, most professors are teaching our ground-based and online students alike, so there is a lot of consistency and rigor, and students know they are going to get their money’s worth and get a high-caliber program and degree.

Q: What advice would you give to an online student that’s different from advice you give to students on-campus?

A: I think the one key difference, and I experienced this personally and I have observed it, is when you are on campus. Your teachers are going to be seeing you most likely every week, face-to-face. So, they remind you and keep you on task. Online, sometimes I think it is more of a challenge that you have to be structured. Usually, faculty remind you of things, but I think you just really have to stay on task a little more. You don’t have someone who is looking you in your eyeballs making sure you’re doing things.

What I suggest to students is to get yourself into a routine. So, if discussions are typically due Wednesday and Sunday, you can organize yourself and your work – lay it all out so that you don’t fall behind or feel lost. I think that’s why it’s really important, as faculty, we help students feel connected with each other so they don’t feel like they’re all alone. I think one difference with on-campus programs is that students typically build relationships a little bit easier, so they maybe have stronger social support. Online, what was nice for me personally, is I started to recognize the same students who would be in my class and I’d reach out to them – don’t be afraid to reach out and build those connections with other students. You’re not alone out there – don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak to faculty. Whether you’re ground-based or online, the faculty really wants to be there for students in the same way – it’s just a little bit different.

The other thing I had to learn was to give myself a day off per week, or a brain break, so that I didn’t get burned out. I protected most of my Saturday to give my brain a break – you need one here and there. Whether ground-based or online, you need to restore and recharge. Finding your rhythm is important with online learning and ask for suggestions if you’re struggling.

Q: What projects are you working on right now?

A: A new perspective I’m very interested in, and that just came out at the IHI conference in December for healthcare improvement, is “joy in work.” My research interest has really been around how present we are in our work and how that might impact quality and safety for the nurse and the patient. Typically, in research, we’ve always looked at things in the practice environment like how a lot of people get burned out. Why do people leave? Well, with an appreciative inquiry approach, which is a newer different kind of mindset to looking at problems instead of looking at why people leave or why people get burned out, we really want to look at what brings joy to work. What really engages people in their work? What is a positive practice environment that really is supportive of quality and safety? What does that look like? At this time, there’s not really a lot of instruments that measure joy in work, specifically in healthcare. I’m really excited to kind of be one of those pioneers in that field of research.

Another field of research related to informatics that I’m getting ready to embark on is looking at a needs assessment of the competencies for nurse leaders in hospitals or clinical practices and our faculty in academia who teach nurses, specific to informatics. A project that I did here in Florida indicated that nurse leaders and academics didn’t rate themselves on the higher end of those competencies. I think because it’s an emerging field, we need to catch up these leaders and academics that are teaching the next generation of nurses.

Q: Congratulations on your induction into the TIGER Scholars Workgroup! Can you tell us a little bit about this group and what they do?

A: The TIGER Workgroup is a group of educators from around the country from a host of different levels of universities. We have collaborated with HIMSS to bring these scholars together to look at the key initiatives and best practices for academic preparation for health informatics as a whole. We look at how we can leverage theory, knowledge, experience and education to offer some best practices and resources for the HIMSS and Health Informatics communities in general.

They pulled the workgroup together – I’ll be working on the sub-committee who will be focusing on all the different resources, so that, instead of everything being scattered all over the web, that we would review and highlight some of the best practice resources that professionals can use in academia/clinical practice. One stop shop for good quality, vetted. I’m excited to be a part of this esteemed group.

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