Following an Early Calling To Be a Nurse, Brenda Janotha Now Educates Future Nurses

From a young age, Brenda Janotha ’08, DNP, knew she wanted to help people. She pitched in to care for two of her cousins, who had neurological conditions, and later volunteered at a local hospital. In addition, her upbringing reinforced the value of higher education, with her parents and grandparents impressing upon her the importance of earning an advanced degree, which propelled her to pursue a doctorate at Columbia Nursing. Now, as the Director of the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Program at Columbia Nursing, she uses her expertise in interprofessional education to help nursing students realize how working with peers across health care professions can make them better clinicians, thinkers, and communicators to help patients and their families.    

What made you want to become a nurse?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to care for people. When I was growing up, I had two younger cousins who were born with neurological conditions. I spent a lot of time helping to care for them, observing and participating in their homecare services, including nursing, occupational, physical, and speech therapies. I went on to volunteer at a local hospital as soon as I was old enough, and, all through nursing school, I worked as a nursing assistant and dental assistant. I would say I have always had a “calling” for the nursing profession, ever since childhood.

You received your Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) at Columbia Nursing. What made you decide to pursue your DNP here and what was your experience like?

After a year as a Registered Nurse in a busy Emergency Department, I realized there was so much more I could do to help. As an eager learner, I seized every opportunity to gain knowledge to better treat patients in that setting. I would ask anyone who was willing to teach me. This included examining patients with specialists, observing as many procedures as I could, reviewing diagnostics test results, and weighing in on diagnoses and treatments. I quickly became an Adult Nurse Practitioner.

After seven years practicing in primary care with full scope of practice, including hospital privileges, I read that Columbia Nursing was offering a DNP. I was honored to be provided with the amazing opportunity to study at Columbia Nursing. Not only did I want to earn the DNP because I felt an obligation to gain as much knowledge as possible, but I felt an accountability to my profession to earn a terminal practice degree. As a DNP graduate in 2008, I have been asked many times how the degree changed my practice. I honestly can say that my practice prior was very linear, with patient outcomes being my sole priority. After earning the DNP degree, my practice evolved, becoming multi-dimensional.

During my time as a Columbia Nursing student, I forged life-long collaborations that have been the cornerstone of my achievements. The faculty, administrators, and alumni all helped to shape my career trajectory through modeling and mentorship.

How does it feel now to be the Director of the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Program at Columbia Nursing and teaching students?

I am passionate about the nursing profession and advanced nursing practice. Nursing is uniquely positioned to effect change, not just in the lives of our patients but for entire populations. Primary care ensures a healthy future for all, a belief in which I am strongly invested and which will guide me in shaping the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Program at Columbia Nursing. Having a background in educational administration, the prospects of the Directorship are exciting, and I feel privileged to be responsible to the future generations of Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioners. 

You received the Lifelong Learning in Interprofessional Education Award from the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the Association of American Medical Colleges. You also presented at the Interprofessional Education Day of Action at CUIMC. What makes you a proponent of team-based learning and practice and how have you championed collaboration?

I think my fierce support for interprofessional practice stems from my clinical experiences. I see first-hand how a team of collaborating health care professionals can enhance care for patients and families. Health and wellbeing are multi-dimensional and require a multi-disciplinary approach. I have demonstrated successes with cooperative learning pedagogies, specifically team-based learning (TBL). TBL is a multiphase teaching strategy that requires active student participation and collaboration. The development of the team is essential to the success of TBL. Educating students in a manner that best reflects future collaborative practice not only promotes teamwork and communication, it improves the human experience.

Two of your focuses are pedagogy and curriculum development, and you hold a Doctorate in Education. Can you provide a few examples of innovative techniques you’ve employed or curricular modules you’ve created and their impact on student learning?

After I earned my DNP, I did some teaching and quickly realized I wanted to better understand how learning occurs. I returned to earn an Education Doctorate in Human Development and Educational Psychology. Nurse Practitioner education should integrate innovative pedagogy with best practice, using measurable student outcomes to guide instruction.

My expertise with TBL has equipped me to work with the Teaching and Learning Center at Columbia University and educators from all specialties, not only the health sciences, to develop novel teaching modules that encourage student engagement and learning. I have offered individual course modules, as well as Interprofessional Education (IPE) seminars using TBL strategies to scaffold learning through high performing team interactions.

One such module is a Nutrition module for students across professions at CUIMC: dental, medical, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, public health, and social work. The Nutrition module requires the students to collectively use their knowledge of Nutrition to successfully perform on an assessment quiz. The teams are diversified by profession and then given scratch-off answer cards that provide instant feedback. The teams report their final scores, with more points awarded for correctly assessing conditions on first attempts. The teams then work on a comprehensive clinical case, sharing their findings with input from faculty and other teams. This module is a team activity that creates professional synergy, while providing opportunities for significant learning by engaging the teams.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

All of my successes can be attributed to support from family, friends, and colleagues. My parents and grandparents instilled in me a strong work ethic, and, despite none of them having been given an opportunity to earn a college degree, they all imparted the importance of advanced education. I have been able to pursue all of my career endeavors because I have a spouse and daughters who inspire me and constantly encourage me. I am so excited for the future and hope to continue to grow professionally as a provider and educator.