Student Spotlight: Dawna Rutherford

Dawna Rutherford

Dawna Rutherford had no intention of entering nursing education. The plan was to travel the world, working as an obstetrical nurse. She earned her BSN from the University of Massachusetts, entered the Air Force as a nurse and officer, and began working with patients and families—the plan was set in motion. It wouldn’t take long, however, for Rutherford to discover a new dimension of nursing that would set her on a different path.

Part of Rutherford’s job was not only to care for her patients and their families, but also to serve as an educator and advocate. Teaching CPR classes to her colleagues and the civilian populations introduced the possibility of becoming an educator. “As a novice nurse, it was rewarding to see how educating individuals empowered them to properly care for themselves,” says Rutherford. “As a military member, I had the honor of serving our country, locally and globally, through education.” Her new path was now clear. After separating from the military, she continued to train other nurses and families.

Working as a traveling nurse, Rutherford arrived on the East Coast, where several of her nursing colleagues were enrolled in UC’s Nurse Practitioner distance learning program. Although Rutherford’s cross-country travels didn’t leave any free time to commit, her colleagues’ high praises of UC’s nursing program stayed in the back of her mind.

In 2015, Rutherford was working as a professor when Dr. Donna Shambley-Ebron came to speak to her students about UC’s doctoral program in nursing research. Rutherford ended up being just as interested in the program as her students were. Dr. Shambley-Ebron took the time to speak to her individually, and she realized that she wanted more from her own education.

“It sounded challenging, but I’ve never run from a worthy challenge which would expand my breadth of knowledge and ability to work with a larger audience,” says Rutherford. “Although I left the sandy beaches of Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I realized a terminal degree would allow me to not only educate future nursing students, but also to shape the future of healthcare. Needless to say, I am here in Ohio!”

Rutherford is now using her time at UC to research the effects of bullying on nursing students in clinical settings. She develops intervention methods to mitigate these effects, allowing nursing students to have a healthier and more productive clinical experience. Rutherford also studies women’s health, the long-term effects of violence and trauma, and treatment of chronic illnesses.

“Nursing education has a pivotal role in developing healthcare leaders in our current society and for the near future,” she says. “The world is becoming more complex, and nursing is no exception. It is critical to be well-versed in using technology to improve healthcare delivery. Nurse educators can guide the next generation to look at healthcare from the perspective of individuals both locally and globally.”

As she strives to guide others, Rutherford has received guidance herself. Within the College of Nursing, her professors have made themselves available to offer help and answers for any type of question. As a Provost Graduate Fellow, she’s received support and advice about navigating graduate school. “In education, it is amazing how much everyone can learn from each other,” she says. “I’m not making this journey alone.”

Rutherford recently received photos from former students in their caps and gowns, graduating with their BSN. Memories came back to her of these students just entering the university. Now they were ready to go out into the world as nurses. She marveled at the change. “I’ve been given the opportunity to pursue my passion,” she says, “and in return, give to the future generation of nurses.”

Written by Dakota Wright