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Faculty Q&A: Craig Sellers, PhD, RN, AGPCNP-BC, GNP-BC, FAANP

  By Margaret Calkins
  Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Craig Sellers, PhD, RN, AGPCNP-BC, GNP-BC, FAANP, has dedicated more than four decades to the field of nursing as an educator, researcher, and specialty director of the adult master’s practitioner programs at the School of Nursing. His extensive work in primary and palliative care for individuals with HIV/AIDS and older adults has established him as an expert in qualitative research methods, which he has imparted to his students over the years. Sellers is currently focused on training providers for community and geriatric care and has recently led a project called ENGOAL, aimed at enhancing health literacy among older adults.

Can you share with us your journey into nursing education and academia, and what inspired you to pursue a career in this field?

In high school, I volunteered every weekend in the emergency department of our local hospital. I wanted to continue volunteering when I came to Rochester, so I signed up to work at Strong Memorial Hospital. During the spring term of my freshman year, I learned that the University of Rochester had a nursing school and made an appointment to speak with Eleanor Hall. She agreed that a nursing career would be good for me and shortly after that, I transferred into the UR Nursing program. During my undergraduate, I grew to like medical nursing. By the time I graduated, my senior clinical was on 8-3400 and the nurse manager asked me to stay there as a staff nurse. I spent the next ten years at Strong, eventually moving to the Medical ICU.

I worked as a Nurse Practitioner at Rochester General Hospital for a few years in nursing administration and the emergency department. I started to hear about what became known as the “AIDS epidemic,” and in 1991, I joined Community Health Network, a primary care clinic in Rochester that cares for people with HIV and AIDS. It was difficult to see patients dying, and I developed an interest in caring for older adults and palliative care. At the same time, I wanted to return to school, so I enrolled in the UR School of Nursing’s PhD program. While there, I learned about qualitative health research and completed my dissertation focused on how people with HIV and AIDS made decisions about advanced directives and end-of-life care. While working on my dissertation, an opportunity to become the specialty director for the Master’s ANP program became available. Taking this position also allowed me to begin my teaching career at the SON and I’ve been here ever since.

Over your 35 years at the School of Nursing, and even more at the Medical Center, what have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your role as an educator and mentor?

My favorite thing is running into NPs working in the community who have been my students. I can’t usually remember exactly when they were students here, but I’m not sure that matters much!

Your bio mentions your expertise in qualitative research methods. How do you incorporate these methods into your teaching, and why are they important for nursing students to learn?

Qualitative research, particularly in health care, is so cool. Researchers using this type of inquiry investigate the experiences that humans have; it is not focused on statistics, probability, or prediction. We like to describe how people cope with illness and other health experiences. We often discover the material that can be used to develop surveys and other studies that will reach many people. Qualitative health researchers often help to inform policy and legislation. Students need to understand how qualitative research is conducted and how it can be useful, with both strengths and limitations, as they learn to become advanced practice providers. In a recent assignment, students found studies about how patients managed their hypertension or coped with depression, or cared for their aging parents with dementia.

As the Specialty Director of the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP Program, what are some of the key principles or values that guide your approach to curriculum development and program management?

Primarily, I believe in the concepts of adult learning theory. My students are typically working nurses, parents, and may even be caring for their own parents. They don’t have time for busy work. So, when I construct assignments, I try to be as flexible as possible (particularly with due dates) and make the assignments meaningful. When we develop curriculum, we try to be cognizant that we need to work as a program team, so that we don’t work in our own academic silos.

Your recent project, ENGOAL, aimed to engage older adults as health researchers and advocates. Can you tell us more about the goals of this project and the impact it has had on the community?

This was one of my favorite projects ever. My team (including faculty from the SON and the Warner School) worked with two cohorts of underserved, community-dwelling older adults from Rochester. We taught them about the health care research process so that they could become “citizen researchers.” We documented that their health literacy increased over the course of the program, and they were able to become better advocates for their own health care, in addition to “finding a voice” caring for their communities. Several of our “graduates” have continued to work in supportive roles in the community and at the medical center.

Interprofessional education appears to be a focal point of your work. How do you integrate interprofessional collaboration into your teaching and clinical practice, and why is it essential for healthcare providers?

Nurse practitioners, almost without exception, work in an interprofessional environment. It is critical that our students can function in this environment and show that they have a unique body of knowledge to bring to health care and to use that knowledge to care and advocate for their patients.

What advice would you offer to aspiring nurse educators who are passionate about teaching and advancing nursing education?

Treat students as the adults they are. Guide them with your experiences and knowledge. Don’t forget about your own wellness along the way.

Looking ahead, what do you see as the future directions or challenges in nursing education, particularly in the context of caring for community-dwelling adults and older adults?

I think the coming challenge, which is actually already here, is artificial intelligence (AI). This phenomenon has the potential to radically change how both education and healthcare work, not to mention the outsized influence it will have on all of us as human beings living in this current era.

As you prepare to retire, what legacy or impact do you hope to leave behind in nursing education, and what are your plans for the future?

I hope I have inspired my students to be thoughtful, curious, and caring clinicians—providers that people would want to take care of their own loved ones. I believe that both nursing and education are sacred callings. My goal has always been to leave things better off than when I found them.

I love to travel, so my next big trip is to visit Iceland. We’ll be renting a car and plan to drive around the whole circumference of the country, stopping along the way to see, well, the sights – waterfalls, glaciers, fjords, whales, and maybe even an active volcano! Professionally, I plan to continue working as a per diem NP in the Emergency Department at SMH – this will keep me up-to-date and grounded! I love editing, so I will continue reading manuscripts submitted to several journals and join the editorial board of a gerontology education journal. And, back to the wellness theme, I’m talking up mindfulness meditation and yoga to sustain me in my “older adult” years.

Categories: Alumni, Nursing Leadership, Nursing Education

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