Altering our DNA destiny


Bertha E. “Penny” Flores, Ph.D., RN
John B. Chavez, D.N.P., RN

NIH selects nurses to train at acclaimed genetics institute
Everyone will fall risk to some sort of health condition or disease at some point in their lifetime. Whether it is high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or Alzheimer’s, if your mom, dad, grandparent or another relative had it, the chances are higher that you might someday receive the same diagnosis. That’s because genetics, or heredity, play a role in determining your disease destiny.

Nurses are at the frontline of detecting many of the disease risk factors patients present during their regular doctor visits because nurses are normally the first health care workers the patient sees at the clinic. They discuss with the patient his family history, current symptoms and lifestyle factors that may contribute to his well-being.  Among patients’ most trusted health care workers, nurses possess the skills and knowledge to help patients prevent many of the hereditary diseases for which they may succumb. Yet, not all nurses are trained to apply genetic evaluation when meeting with patients.  Two faculty members from the School of Nursing, Bertha E. “Penny” Flores, Ph.D., RN, and John B. Chavez, D.N.P., RN, FNP-BC, are leading efforts to integrate genetics training into the School of Nursing curriculum so graduates are well versed in the fundamentals.

Dr. Flores is an assistant professor whose research focuses on women’s health, cultural competency, health literacy and health issues of the elderly. Dr. Chavez is an assistant clinical professor who specializes in preventing reversible diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and obesity in patients. He focuses on applying genetics and genomics and advanced diagnostic and blood testing as well as incorporating diet and exercise into patients’ treatment plans.

The two were selected to attend the National Institute of Nursing Research Summer Genetics Institute sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and held this past summer on the campus of the NIH in Bethesda.  They were nominated by School of Nursing Dean Eileen Breslin, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, and among 25 nurse researchers from prestigious institutions across the country hand selected by the NIH. There they attended lectures presented by some of the world’s leading geneticists and took part in hands-on molecular genetic laboratory techniques.  “This was the first time I was in a genetics lab. I was fascinated,” Dr. Flores said.

In labs Drs. Flores and Chavez practiced techniques in micro and serological pipetting and culturing and learned how to isolate cells. They also studied related terminology and examined national policies and laws impacting genetic research and testing.  Dr. Chavez said he was impressed by the rate at which the field of genetics has progressed.  “It’s amazing how far the technology and data have come over the years,” he said. “Advances are allowing health care providers to better tailor care for their patients. It is important for nurses to be involved and up-to-date,” Dr. Chavez said. “When nurses are in the know, they can help explain lab results to their patients and make recommendations because they can understand the process behind the tests.”  Both Drs. Flores and Chavez said they are grateful to the dean and their colleagues for supporting their participation and recommend more nursing faculty attend future institutes.

“In some cases, hereditary factors of some diseases can be slowed or prevented with the right intervention,” Dr. Flores said. “Nurses are essential in disease prevention and patient care so comprehensive training, including in genetics, is important to personalizing care. This is key to our patients’ health now and in the future.”

Article by Natalie A. Gutierrez

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