James Madison University

Graduate Nursing Student Awarded Health Policy Fellowship

By: Lori News
Posted: December 8, 2014

Lisa Carnago was on track to become a biomedical engineer during her freshman year of college when her father suddenly became very sick. He went from working as a carpenter 60 hours a week to being completely disabled. Her father’s illness inspired Carnago to learn more about health care, and ultimately to pursue a career in nursing. Carnago’s father has since recovered and is in good health, and she is thriving in her nursing career.

This year, Carnago, a full-time graduate nursing student at JMU, was awarded the Virginia Nurse Advocate Health Policy Fellowship to pursue new and improved policies and procedures for health care in Virginia.

PHOTO:Lisa  Carnago

Carnago expects to complete her master’s degree with a Family Nurse Practitioner concentration in May 2016. After earning her undergraduate degree from East Carolina University in 2007, Carnago worked in five different hospitals and medical centers, including Shenandoah Memorial Hospital’s intensive care unit and emergency department.

The Virginia Nurse Advocate Health Policy Fellowship, the first of its kind, is associated with the James Madison University Health Policy Collaborative (HPC). The HPC was developed by the Department of Nursing, in collaboration with the Department of Health Sciences and the Department of Economics, to be a conduit for educating students, faculty and the community about health policy. The HPC is a foundation for research for practical policy solutions and provides a platform for students to engage in health policy debate both inside and outside of the classroom. Dr. Melody Eaton with the HPC will act as a faculty advisor during the Fellowship.  

The Graduate Program Director in Nursing, Dr. Patty Hale, nominated Carnago for the fellowship for her experience and passion as a nurse.

“She is passionate about advocating for patients and providing quality health care,” Hale explained. “[Carnago] is an experienced registered nurse, which gives her the clinical background to provide legislators with the information they need to vote on important issues that impact the health of all Virginians.”

Carnago explains why she made the decision to apply for the fellowship after being nominated: “I had an experience at a hospital I worked at recently that really got me wondering about the quality of care that we as nurses could provide and the barriers that keep us from doing the job that we know we should do.”

Carnago feels honored to receive the fellowship and she believes the collaboration will effectively involve nurses in policy decisions, allowing nurses to advocate for their patients.

Becky Bowers-Lanier, the president of B2L Consulting in Richmond, who funded the Virginia Nurse Advocate Health Policy Fellowship, made the final decision to accept Carnago into the program, with input from graduate program faculty. Bowers-Lanier says she is looking for recipients who are genuinely interested in the overall goal of the program, which is to improve the health care policy regulations for patients.

“I am looking for nurses who are either interested in policy and politics or who are more deeply involved with policy and politics. So interest is primary,” Bowers-Lanier explained. “Too few nurses are involved in this work, and it’s vitally important.”

In addition to the fellowship, the JMU Nursing Department also nominated Carnago for the Lettie Pate Whitehead Scholarship, which she was recently awarded for the 2014-2015 school year.

Carnago believes that improvements in health care policy are necessary because it has the opportunity to change the very nature of bedside nursing and improve the quality of care given to patients.

“As a former bedside nurse sometimes I feel like the bedside nurse is underappreciated and stretched too thin,” Carnago explained. “The nurse to patient ratio is sometimes too high and sometimes nurses are asked to do more with less and I feel like they need an advocate, as well as the patients in the beds.”