Year of the Nurse Profile: UArizona Professor Cynthia Elliott Honored by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners

March 20, 2020

Continuing our celebration of the World Health Assembly and the American Nurses Association’s Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, we’re zeroing in on one of our stellar University of Arizona College of Nursing faculty members, Cynthia Mote Elliott, DNP, MSN, FNP-C. Dr. Elliot is a dynamic Wildcat Nurse on two important fronts: as a clinical assistant instructor, she monitors distance nursing student in their clinical rotations, and as a nurse practitioner in her private practice, Abundant Health Family Practice, where she cares tirelessly for patients from birth through the lifespan. This year, Dr. Elliott’s hard work earned her the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) prestigious State Award for Excellence, which is given annually to a dedicated nurse practitioner in each state who demonstrates distinction in their area of practice.

Dr. Elliott began her teaching career at UArizona Nursing in 2016, but her passion for nursing stretches back to childhood. “My mom was a nurse when I was young,” she says. “I remember watching her and thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to take care of people.’ I really enjoy the whole idea of wholistic medicine – emotional, physical, spiritual.”

Dr. Elliott began working toward her nursing goals after graduating high school and her thirst for knowledge hasn’t abated since: Between 1984 and 2016, she earned her associates in nursing, her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), her Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) and finally her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). In between she spent 24 years as a registered nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital, gaining patient care experience in such diverse specialties as orthopedics, rehabilitation, intensive care, emergency room, respiratory, burn unit, and plastic surgery.

"I love every aspect of both acute and chronic care, but I really like the ability to care for those who are deaf, because they already have a limited access to care and communication.” ~ Cynthia Mote Elliott, DNP, MSN, FNP-C

At the same time, Dr. Elliott worked for 10 years at an Ear Nose and Throat office, during which she gained yet another valuable – and unique – skill: fluency in American Sign Language. “When I was working ENT, they would have deaf patients who required interpreters,” she explains, “so I thought, ‘I’m going to take sign language classes at night so I can communicate with this population.’” Her commitment was strong enough that she focused her doctoral project on communications barriers facing deaf patients.

Sign language has become a cornerstone of Dr. Elliott’s private practice, which she started in 2009. With a staff of five, she cares for a roster of nearly 2,600 patients. “My oldest patient was 104 when she passed,” she says, “and my youngest patients are newborn. I love every aspect of both acute and chronic care, but I really like the ability to care for those who are deaf, because they already have a limited access to care and communication. I give them the same care I give all my other patients and I speak their language, so I know that when they leave they understand their care.”

On top of her part-time duties as a UArizona Nursing faculty member, she estimates that she spends 50-60 hours a week at Abundant Health Family Practice. But that doesn’t mean her UArizona clinical students receive any less love. “I consider my students the same way as my patients,” she says. Outside of her supervising faculty duties, she regularly meets with students to discuss difficulties they may face and to encourage them on their nursing journey. “I really care about how well they do in school,” she says. “And I make sure I do whatever I can to help them succeed. It’s an honor and a privilege to help raise up our next generation providers.”

The relationships Dr. Elliott develops with her students extend beyond the classroom. Since 2014, she has invited students on an annual one-week medical mission to Costa Rica, where she cares for Santa Elena Coffee Farm migrant workers with no access to health care.  Last year, with help from four UArizona Nurse Practitioner graduates, she provided care for 576 people.

That passionate commitment to not just patients and students, but people as a whole, is one of the reasons a UArizona Nursing colleague nominated Dr. Elliott for the AANP’s 2020 Nurse Practitioner Award for Excellence. Asked what the honor means to her, she says, “It’s very humbling to have the organization that I’ve been a member of for 12-13 years choose me. It makes me want to be better at what I do and make sure I’m taking care of these patients the way I should to the very best of my abilities.”

Dr. Elliott will be honored for her achievement during the 2020 AANP National Conference i­­­­­­n New Orleans, LA, on Friday, June 26.