Update: On Friday, June 14, Dr. Sharon Hitchcock won the March of Dimes Nurse of the Year for Education award!
On May 14, University of Arizona College of Nursing Clinical Assistant Professor Sharon Hitchcock, DNP, RN-C, was nominated for the 2019 March of Dimes Nurse of the Year award for her outstanding contributions to the field of education. Dr. Hitchcock is among 24 finalists culled from more than 250 nominations for this year’s recognitions.
With a mission to fight for the health of all moms and babies, the March of Dimes Nurse of the Year initiative recognizes exceptional nurses throughout the state, celebrating the profession and creating awareness of the strides made in this growing field. A natural fit for this arena, Dr. Hitchcock’s focus on infant safety stretches back years, although her formal work as an educator on the subject is more recent. Dr. Hitchcock’s desire to educate nurses and parents about the importance of infant safety grew while working as a bedside nurse in the mother/baby obstetrics unit at Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“Our graduates have been trained to be leaders that care about patients and our healthcare system and as educators, we need to make sure they have the knowledge and critical thinking skills they need." ~ Sharon Hitchcock, DNP, RN-CU
“I saw a need for an educator on our unit and actually created my own position,” she says. “I found that I absolutely loved teaching my peers and bringing new grad nurses in and helping them get started.” Earlier in her career, she says, the thought of standing in front of a group of people as a teacher gave her the chills. “But then when I was actually forced to, I found that I really enjoyed it.”
It was in her capacity as a hospital educator that she met Arizona Nursing’s Connie Miller, DNP, RNC-OB, CNE, CCCE, who encouraged her interest in furthering her nursing career as an educator. After earning her master’s degree, Dr. Hitchcock joined the College of Nursing faculty. Four years after that, she completed her DNP degree. She has now been with the college for six years and says, “Teaching nursing students has brought me more joy than I ever imagined.”
“Sharon is passionate about her day-in, day-out work at the University of Arizona and the nursing students she serves,” says Dr. Miller. “She takes pride in the creative ways she teaches, her drive to help students become scholars, and she looks for ways to engage and excite students regarding obstetrical topics.”
Educating nursing students about the importance of providing new parents with sleep safety guidelines is Dr. Hitchcock’s abiding passion. “There are about 3500 deaths a year of mostly preventable deaths related to infant sleep,” she says, noting that this breaks down to 10 U.S. infant deaths per day. “This is a complex, and sometimes controversial topic, and there’s a lot of education that parents need. Nurses are at the forefront of this. If we were able to adequately educate parents, we could prevent most of these deaths.”
In service of this important goal, Dr. Hitchcock and her colleague Melanie Welch, MSN, RN, teach Arizona Nursing’s Obstetrics course for Bachelor of Science in Nursing students. “Our students probably get a bigger dose of sleep safety than some other schools, without apology,” she says. “We make it fun. We come into the classroom with a basinet that’s unsafe, we come in as a mom who is resistant to the safe sleep recommendations, and we role play. The way we prepare them in the classroom works, because when we go into the hospital setting they’re well-prepared to talk to parents, and they do it! It’s a matter of knowing what the recommendations are for protecting your baby and using a little bit of that nurse persuasion.”
Additionally, Dr. Hitchcock is involved in the issue of infant safety on both the national and state level. She is part of the national Association of Women’s Health Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses and in Arizona she is a member of the state’s Safe Sleep Task Force, which works to promote safe sleep though home visiting programs that work directly with families and in hospitals around the state.
Dr. Hitchcock’s advocacy extends to her research interests and scholarly contributions. She has penned several articles about the importance of infant sleep safety and conducted presentations on the subject for nurses at Tucson Medical Center and via a live webinar for the National Institute of Health. With Karen Owen, BSN, RNC, a colleague at St. Joseph’s Hospital, she also developed and copyrighted a crib card printed with the safe sleep recommendations intended for use with hospital basinets. The simple-yet-effective innovation was co-opted by healthcare organizations across the country and was adopted by the Arizona Department of Health Services.
All of her efforts boil down to a passion for education. Asked what the March of Dimes nomination means to her, Dr. Hitchcock says, “I am humbled and I feel very honored. I am passionate about this topic and my desire to decrease infant mortality.” As an educator, she strives to not only prepare students with the technical skills they need, but also with the sense of caring they need as they go forward to work with patients.
“Our graduates have been trained to be leaders that care about patients and our healthcare system,” she says, “and as educators, we need to make sure they have the knowledge and critical thinking skills they need. I tell our students, ‘We’re sending you out with a bachelor’s degree, and that means you’re going to go into our health care organizations to be great nurses, and leaders that can solve big problems.’”