Dr. Joanne Duffy delivers the keynote address at SFSC’s Conference on Caring.

On April 27, more than 150 nurses, some new, other not so new, and some aspiring ones too, got a lesson in caring at South Florida State College.

They had filled the seats of the SFSC University Center Auditorium to hear from Dr. Joanne Duffy, a nurse scholar widely known in health care circles for her work on quality care.

Dr. Duffy gave the keynote talk at SFSC’s first Conference on Caring, a daylong series of talks and panel discussions delving into the role nurses play providing quality care to their patients.

The conference had its roots nine years ago, said Dr. Michele Heston, dean of SFSC’s Health Sciences programs. “In 2008, a small group of SFSC nursing faculty got together to craft a shared vision for the college’s nursing program,” Dr. Heston said. “The concept of caring entered into every single conversation.”

From that discussion, Dr. Heston said, grew a relationship with Dr. Duffy, whose research on the nexus between nursing and quality care has found a place in collegiate nurse education programs and adapted into the day-to-day operations of hospitals and health systems across the country.

“Caring enters into everything a nurse does,” Dr. Duffy told the audience. “No wonder that nursing is one of the most trusted professions according to polling data.”

Racing through a PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Duffy tried to distill for the students and nurses years of research that led to her “Quality-Caring Model,” a theory-based approach that focuses on the part nursing has in the provision of quality care. Duffy’s theory centers on values, attitudes, and behaviors that guide the caring nurse’s interaction with patients and their families.

“Delivering high quality health care depends on caring relationships,” Dr. Duffy said. “Nurses are the largest group of health professionals who interact with patients 24/7, and they are the key to quality caring.”

Tapping into her theoretical work, but also drawing on her experience as a floor nurse, Dr. Duffy peppered her talk with stories driving home her point that a caring relationship is what makes nursing what it is.

“As a new nurse, I found myself caring for a woman who was dying from cancer, even as her two daughters where waiting outside her room,” Dr. Duffy recalled. “I wasn’t trained to deal with that situation, but my just being there for her as a caregiver and listening to her created a caring relationship.”

Dr. Duffy remembered the patient as composed, accepting her fate, and, in her death, teaching her something about nursing. “One of the joys in being a nurse is learning about life,” she said.

Shea Young, an SFSC nursing student and president of the college’s Student Nursing Association, came away from Dr. Duffy’s presentation with a sharper sense of what lies ahead of him.

“Nursing is so much more than a career or just a job, it’s really a lifestyle when you think about it,” Young said. “At its core, you have an ever present sense of caring for patients and their families.”

Young was one of dozens of SFSC nursing students from the college’s varied nursing education programs who turned out for the caring conference. Students have the option to pursue careers in nursing at SFSC through several routes: Bachelor in Nursing Science (BSN), Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), practical nursing, and practical nursing to registered nursing programs. Joining the students were nurses from health care facilities in Highlands, Hardee, and Polk counties.

Conference goers also heard how Duffy’s caring model can be adapted across an entire health system. A team from Lakeland Regional Health System (LRHS) shared their experience in weaving the model into the Polk County-based health care network’s day-to-day operations.

“We adopted the caring model and, as a result, have seen outcomes improve, with our system winning numerous awards,” said Dr. Janet Fansler, a nurse and executive vice president for LRHS.

Later in the day, Sharmin Jones, a nurse and patient experience manager at Florida Hospital in Sebring, joined two of her colleagues on a panel introducing the concept of “creation health,” an approach to caring that aims to touch upon all aspects of patient care— mind, body and spirit. Jones, earned her BSN at SFSC in 2016 and delivered the student Commencement address at that year’s graduation ceremony.

On May 4, SFSC will graduate 61 students from its BSN, ADN, and practical nursing programs at the spring Commencement ceremony. At the end of her talk, Dr. Duffy had a message for the graduates and for the students still in the classroom.

“As you go out into your careers, hold what’s true about nursing close to your heart,” Dr. Duffy said. “Caring nurses put what is true about nursing at the center of their work lives.”

The conference was sponsored by Florida Hospital Heartland Medical Center and the SFSC Foundation.