Spotlight on Our PhD Students

The PhD in Nursing Science Program at Vanderbilt is committed to academic excellence. We prepare our students for intellectually rewarding academic and research careers. Our students engage in a variety of scholarly activities and collaborate with faculty in nursing and other disciplines. Through mentorship and collaboration, our students learn critical skills and gain the knowledge they need for a successful and productive career in nursing.


Meet Our Class of 2013 - 2014

Jennifer BarutJennifer Barut, MSN, RN-BC
Nashville, Tennessee
Track: Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Sheila Ridner


I am a Nursing Professional Development Specialist in the VUMC Department of Nursing Education and Professional Development and based in the psychiatric hospital. I have always been interested in research and have long felt a desire to pursue a PhD. I knew the time was now after being involved in VUMC’s Evidence Based Practice Fellowship as a mentor. Working with Dr. Nancy Wells and others in that program really inspired me. I chose Vanderbilt because I heard from several graduates that the program is excellent. My research interest is to study factors affecting treatment adherence (specifically resilience, hope, spiritual connectedness) in individuals diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

Alvin JefferyAlvin D. Jeffery, MSN, RN/APN
Nashville, Tennessee
Track: Health Services Research Track
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Lorraine Mion


I just relocated from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a full-time student and have two part-time jobs. I work as an education consultant for Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (where I just finished working full-time as a unit-based educator in a Pediatric ICU). I also work for Tennessee State University as an adjunct clinical instructor teaching pediatrics at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.

While I originally had no intent of pursuing a PhD or doing research, my experience with a quantitative descriptive study (to assess pediatric nurses' ability to recognize sepsis) for my master's degree sparked my interest.  As I was completing the study, I had the realization of, “this is one of the coolest things I've ever done!" At that point, I was hooked and wanted to learn more about questioning and studying other aspects of nursing.

While the decision was difficult, what ultimately helped me choose Vanderbilt was that at least three faculty members are studying phenomena related to my POI. I think this advantage, combined with all of the resources of being a part of the greater Vanderbilt community (which is so well-known and respected) made this the perfect fit for me at this point in my journey. I am interested in the organizational/systems factors that influence clinical decision-making and I'm thinking there could be a big component related to technology at this time. Ultimately, I would love to help clinicians have the right information at the right time to make the best decision for the patient/family.

Kasey JordanKasey Jordan, RN, MSN
Colbert, Georgia
Track: Health Services Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Peter Buerhaus

I currently work in nursing education in Athens, GA.  My background is in public health nursing where I worked with adolescents at high risk for school dropout and poor health outcomes in both school and community settings. The challenge of trying to make a practical difference in the lives of the individuals I worked with motivated me to explore innovation and care delivery strategies in community health settings.  I chose to pursue a PhD so I can more fully develop these interests in the hope of contributing to better quality of care.  Vanderbilt’s top notch research program and supportive environment for students is a wonderful environment for a developing nurse researcher.

Lynnea MyersLynnea Myers, MSN, RN, PHN, CPNP
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Track: Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Drs. Sharon Karp and Shelagh Mulvaney

I work as an Assistant Professor of Nursing at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota teaching pediatric and public health nursing and nutrition. I also serve as the Director for the Gustavus Adolphus College Summer Institute of Nursing, a summer program providing high school students the opportunity to explore the profession of nursing.


As an undergraduate student at my alma mater (and now my employer- Gustavus Adolphus College), I had the honor of working with my mentor, Dr. Barbara Zust, on an independent nursing student research project (Dr. Zust is now my colleague at Gustavus). I was able to design, implement and analyze this project and present it at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research. It is through this project (which focused on the effect of oral contraceptives on the multi-variates of depression) that I really developed a passion for nursing research and scholarly inquiry. I continued to conduct research in my master’s program, as well as through my current role at Gustavus and wanted to further develop and expand my skills as a researcher. I am also very passionate mentoring undergraduate students on independent research in hopes of inspiring some of them to pursue advanced education in nursing.


As a pediatric and public health nursing professional, the number of faculty with these areas of expertise at Vanderbilt was extremely appealing. From the first emails I sent inquiring about the program and my research interests, the faculty were responsive and eager to talk with me. They were genuinely interested in my research topic and were eager to provide information throughout the application and interview process to help guide my decision. Additionally, the format of the program is very conducive to my lifestyle and will allow me to continue to teach undergraduate nursing students (which I am really passionate about) while pursuing my own lifelong learning goals. I am interested in looking at developmental screening practices of pediatric health professionals and ways to overcome barriers that exist related to developmental screening.

John NatavioTeofanes (John) Natavio, MSN, RN
Detroit, Michigan
Track: Clinical Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Nancy Wells

My legal first name is Teofanes but I like to be called John. I am currently a clinical instructor for Wayne State University College of Nursing. My interest stems from working with cancer-related fatigue patients and their under-management of cancer pain. I chose Vanderbilt because of the nursing program’s reputation for solid academic rigor and research funding. My research interest is pain with a peripheral focus on objective pain assessment of nonverbal patients.

Heather NimmagaddaHeather Nimmagadda, MS, RN-BC, CPNP
Long Grove, Illinois
Track: Health Services Research  
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Anne Miller

I am currently a hospital-based nurse educator and nurse practitioner. My decision to pursue doctoral studies is a culmination of my personal and professional experiences.  I knew that I wanted to pursue a PhD in nursing over 20 years ago when I completed my baccalaureate program. My research interests are driven by my experiences and include workarounds and human factors as they relate to patient safety, coordination of care and patient outcomes.

I chose Vanderbilt University School of Nursing for the excellent faculty members, reputation and ranking in nursing education, research opportunities, and affiliations. Vanderbilt has many renown faculty members to support and mentor me on my journey as a distance learner. Vanderbilt is a perfect match for my interests and learning needs!


Jennifer WerthmanJennifer Werthman, MS, MBA, RN
Nashville, Tennessee
Track: Health Services Research
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Ann Minnick

My first name is Jennifer but I like to be called Jenny. I am a nurse manager at Vanderbilt Medical Center. I am motivated by hospital operations, care delivery and all of the challenges that surround our current healthcare structure. I have two incredible mentors, one in healthcare finance and the other a long time nurse that have consistently challenged me to rethink “how we have always done it” with regard to healthcare delivery. I chose Vanderbilt because it offers exceptional faculty who were performing research in my designated area of interest. I am interested in health policy, nursing workforce and care delivery models.