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Doubling down on doctoral nursing degrees

Annual Report - Winter 2013

By Mindy Loya

Melissa McLenon, D.N.P., has been committed to her patients throughout her 20-year nursing career.

When the acute care nurse practitioner in the Department of Critical Care began a doctoral program in 2009, McLenon continued working full time. In 2012, she earned her doctorate in nursing practice. 

And while she continues to be a vital part of a multidisciplinary team in the Intensive Care Unit, she has greater responsibility and a new set of tools that help her make an even greater impact.

Melissa McLenon, D.N.P.
Photo: F. Carter Smith

McLenon says nurses have always been patient advocates, but advanced degrees that incorporate quality improvement, collaborative outcomes-driven research and leadership skills turn these advocates into innovators. 

She calls herself and other doctorate-level nurses “change champions” — expert clinicians and researchers passionate about improving the quality of care delivered around the world.

“With my degree, it’s not about solving an issue one patient at a time,” McLenon says. “Now, I can find solutions for entire patient populations.”

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine forecast the future of nursing, saying the United States will need nurses educated in research and evidence-based practice, system improvement and health policy to care for an aging population with increasingly complex and chronic conditions. The group issued a national challenge to double the number of doctorate-level nurses by 2020.


  • Nearly 40 professional registered nurses at MD Anderson have doctoral degrees
  • 55 nurses are enrolled in a doctoral program
  • 32 are pursuing a Ph.D. (research expertise)
  • 23 are pursuing a D.N.P. — doctorate in nursing practice (applied leadership/clinical expertise):
    • 8 executive track
    • 15 clinical track

Nurses listen, bond, care

By Mindy Loya

For Tara Tatum, MD Anderson’s Always Awards recognize her unit’s focus on collaboration.

Tatum is an associate director of nursing for an inpatient unit that cares for gynecologic cancer patients. Her unit was among the first four to receive the award, which recognizes high-performing units that deliver satisfying care to patients — always.

Eligibility for the Always Award requires patient satisfaction scores to:

  • reach or exceed the 50th percentile during 12 months, as compared to a national benchmark;
  • have no individual score below the 50th percentile; and
  • exceed the 75th percentile for at least five of the nine categories.

The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey is used nationally to measure patient satisfaction on communication, pain management, response to call lights and more. The answer choices — never, sometimes, usually and always — mean the results reflect how consistently teams meet patients’ expectations compared with other health care institutions.

The Post Anesthesia Care Unit, Urology and Orthopedics, Mixed Hematology, and Rehabilitation and Neurosurgery units also received the award this year.

“Our leaders, physicians, nurses and other employees work together and take care of each other. That allows us to provide the best possible care to our patients,” Tatum explains, making the point that employee satisfaction often drives patient satisfaction. “We all take time to listen and bond with the people for whom we’re caring.”

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