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Tech’s Haskins earns prestigious spot in Rural Health Fellows program

Louisiana Tech associate professor and registered nurse Tara Haskins, one of only 17 professionals selected nationwide by the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) for its 2018 Rural Health Fellows program, grew up watching her grandmother serve as a nurse in the small family clinic that tried to meet the health needs of everyone in her home parish of Bienville.

Stitches after bike accidents. Bruises after falls. Colds and back pain and broken arms. Thank goodness, a nurse was nearby.

“The women who were nurses in that clinic served a very important role, supporting the health of the patients and families of that rural community,” Haskins said. “There was never any question regarding the path I would take in college.”

Since joining the faculty in Tech’s Division of Nursing in 2011, Haskins has been willing to provide consultation through the University for the Bienville Parish School Health program. Serving in her home parish caused her to look for a way to make a bigger impact in rural health; that caused her to apply for the Fellowship. Now she becomes one of only 17 fellows selected to participate in what the NRHA describes as a “year-long, intensive program aimed at developing leaders who can articulate a clear and compelling vision for rural America.”

“This class is truly inter-professional,” Haskins said, “comprised of future fellows from all aspects of healthcare and research.”

The opportunity for Haskins is a plus for an area such as north Louisiana; rural health challenges can be great because the relatively sparse population is disbursed over a large geographic area.

“Rural areas such as ours are often very under-served with respect to health care,” Gary Kennedy, dean of Tech’s College of Applied and Natural Sciences, said. “We are very fortunate to have Dr. Tara Haskins, who goes above and beyond her normal nursing education duties here at Tech to reach out to the Bienville Parish School System nurses to help them enhance their program.”

“Her background and expertise in mental health nursing, coupled with her experience addressing the healthcare challenges in rural areas, has prepared her in a unique way for this opportunity,” Donna Hood, Tech’s director of nursing, said. “She has great enthusiasm and energy. The opportunity to expand her leadership in this area will have a positive impact on the nursing program at Louisiana Tech and has the potential to impact the health of our region.”

In this Q&A, Haskins shared more about her career, the NRHA, and how she feels the fellowship — and its mission — can affect us all.

Education and Louisiana Tech background

  • BS, nursing, Northwestern State, 1987
  • MS, psychiatric mental health, University of Texas-Arlington, 2007
  • DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice), University of Tennessee (Memphis), Health Science Center, nursing practice in forensics, 2012
  • Joined Louisiana Tech 2011, Lincoln General-Glenwood Endowed Professor, 2011

Tell us something of your nursing philosophy.

I’ve been a nurse since graduating from Northwestern in 1987. In healthcare, nursing fosters a connection with people unlike any other healthcare provider. Some of it is the amount of time we spend in conversations and direct patient care. But after 30 years of nursing, I believe it comes from being genuinely interested in an individual’s story in a holistic manner — physiological, psychological, sociological, environment, and economics. A patient can have the best of intentions to improve their health, but without the resources or support, they will stay on an endless cycle, never really improving their health. As a young nurse learning and growing in my profession, I focused on knowledge and giving the best acute care possible. As a much older and seasoned nurse, I am interested in impacting the healthcare system from a systems perspective, creating long-lasting improvements in healthcare policy for a larger population.

What does your job for the University involve?

I teach nursing fundamentals and the neurological/psychosocial nursing course at our Division of Nursing. I also provide consultation through Louisiana Tech for the Bienville Parish School Board School Health program, which recently incorporated telehealth to serve the healthcare needs of students, teachers, staff, and families of Bienville Parish. It has been a great learning opportunity, working with this cutting-edge programming and returning to my roots in my home parish. I contribute twice monthly to the “Bienville Democrat” in my editorial column, “Healthy People, Healthy Parish,” to educate, inform, and improve the health for the residents of Bienville Parish on a wide range of healthcare topics. I serve as a community member of “Healthy Communities,” sponsored by the LSU Ag Center and aimed to improve the lives of residents of Ringgold in Bienville Parish. Rural healthcare, rural culture, and rural communities have been a threaded interest since my doctoral work.

What is NRHA?

NRHA is a non-profit organization working to improve the health and well-being of rural Americans. It provides leadership on rural health issues through advocacy, communications, education, and research. NRHA’s membership is made up of more than 21,000 diverse individuals and organizations, all of whom share the common bond of an interest in rural health.

Tell us what you will be doing this year?

This Fellowship begins Feb. 5 at the National Rural Health Association Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., with a week’s-worth of orientation, meetings, and advocacy training. Throughout the year, we will work with mentors, electronically and through conference calls, to work on projects, leadership instruction, and to get legislative updates. Teams will form based on expertise and areas of interest to work on policy development for rural America. We will all meet in May in New Orleans for the National NRHA conference to participate in constituency group meetings and continue our teamwork. This group of Fellows will graduate in February 2019 in Washington D.C. at the Policy Institute. The NRHA supports Fellows by providing registration for all three national meetings.

How will this opportunity help your students?

I plan to bring my experiences to the classroom to link our roles as registered nurses to legislative advocacy and policy impact for healthcare, public health, and mental health.