Wildcat Nurse Carrie Langley: A Passion for Practice and People Points Toward a Bright Future

Sept. 8, 2021

2021 has been a busy year for University of Arizona College of Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) student Carrie Langley, PhD, MPH, RN-BC. Not only did she finish her PhD program and began the DNP program a scant week later, but as the past  Director of Health and Social Services for Cochise County she helped lead the county’s efforts against COVID-19; adding to her track record of academic inquiry and public service, the Robert Wood Johnson scholar and Jonas Philanthropies awardee was recently appointed as a public member to the State of Arizona Committee on Probation (COP) for a two-year term. A subcommittee of the Arizona Judicial Branch, the COP examines current probation procedures with an eye toward improving quality and consistency of probation procedures statewide.

“During my career I’ve observed the deficit in services that are available for individuals, so that’s a big part of my motivation. I feel that we can do better in rural communities, and maybe I can be part of that," ~ Carrie Langley, PhD, MPH, RN-BC.

“There’s a gap between probation departments and the health care professionals,” Dr. Langley, who also holds a Master’s in Public health, says. “Coming from a perspective of public health, and as a nurse scientist, I hope to inform policy and procedure by sharing either what I learned in my research or what additional research I’m doing to really try to bridge that gap. I’d like to try to help them understand what mental health issues probationers are going through when they transition from jail to probation.”

Dr. Langley’s DNP project focuses on individuals who experience mental illness who are transitioning from jail to the rural community, making her an ideal person for her committee role. With a longstanding passion for improving access to mental health care in rural communities, Dr. Langley plans to develop an educational intervention to improve the support provided through the transition process. She will begin her process by reaching out to both probation officers and nurse practitioners and other health care providers to gauge their awareness of the other professions’ knowledge.

“What do probation officers know about what happens in primary care or mental health?” Dr. Langley says. “And then what do our mental health nurse practitioners know about probation? I’ve seen both sides now in prior work. Coming from a nursing background, I’d like to build that collaboration. My goal is to create a training program to enlighten both sides about the various requirements of both so they can collaborate to better help their patient.”

Dr. Langley’s past position as Director of Health and Social Services for Cochise County prepared her for her current role.  While serving as incident commander for the County’s COVID response efforts in Benson, Bisbee, Douglas, Sierra Vista and Wilcox, she also had the opportunity to learn about the justice system and the interworking of the jail services and how they do and don’t connect with rural communities. “Being in that position opened my eyes to managed care organizations that operate our Medicaid programs, which most individuals who are experiencing these mental health issues are involved with,” she says. “There’s a lot of complexity in those health care plans. How people can access services, and what’s paid for what isn’t, can certainly be a barrier.”

Born and raised in rural West Virginia, Dr. Langley knew she wanted to become a nurse when she was in high school. She began her career as an emergency room nurse in Fayetteville, NC. She later commissioned into the Army Nurse Corps where she served eight years in a variety of positions in clinical areas, and later, leadership roles. Since 2009, she has lived and worked in southeastern Arizona. Langley was drawn to UArizona Nursing because of its rural health focus and its strong mentorship opportunities.

“It was a joy to mentor Carrie Langley during her doctoral program at the UArizona College of Nursing,” says Marylyn Morris McEwen, PhD, RN, FAAN, Dr. Langley's academic advisor, dissertation chair and RWJF Scholars mentor. “Her dissertation research, ‘Transitions from the Rural Jail to the Rural Community for Adults with Mental Illness,’ included examination of the Arizona rural justice system. Dr. Langley will participate in examining current probation procedures, develop policies and procedures to improve quality, and promote standardization, consistency, and coordination of probation procedures statewide. Dr. Langley’s rural nursing and public health leadership has been recognized by state, regional and national organizations.”

Asked about her relentless drive to succeed in both the academic and professional realms, Dr. Langley’s response is simple. “I really enjoy helping others and I really enjoy scholarship” she says. “During my career I’ve observed the deficit in services that are available for individuals, so that’s a big part of my motivation. I feel that we can do better in rural communities, and maybe I can be part of that.” As for her passion for learning, Dr. Langley, who closed the book on her PhD program in January and started the DNP program a week later, is passionate about education’s power to improve the lives of others. 

As a recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson scholarship, which focuses on growing the next generation of nurse leaders, she knows the value of mentorship and leadership. And as an assistant professor of practice with UArizona’s School of Sociology’s Care, Health & Society program, she puts that knowledge into practice, guiding students who are interested in entering the helping professions. “I’m really interested in growing the next generation and making sure they have what they need to be successful,” she says. But beyond that, she’s interested in the health and betterment of the health professions as a whole. It’s a hard-won knowledge. “It’s something we’ve seen coming out of the pandemic,” she says. “You can burn out really easily. We have to take care of each other broadly, not just in nursing or medicine or in the hospital environment, but exclusively throughout the helping professions. That also fuels me, the belief that we have to keep people motivated to want to be in these professions.”