ANA Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation® Spotlight - Cassandra Cassidy, DNP, MSN, RN, EBP-C, PLNC 4781

ANA Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation® Spotlight - Cassandra Cassidy, DNP, MSN, RN, EBP-C, PLNC


Shaping nursing students to create a healthier nursing profession

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

This legendary nursing motto is one that #healthynurse Cassandra Cassidy, DNP, MSN, RN, EBP-C, PLNC, knows well. Its meaning became clear when she worked at the bedside. That’s when she fully understood the importance of self-care. Now, “filling one’s cup” is something she emphasizes with the nursing students she teaches at Volunteer State Community College (Vol State) in Tennessee.

Cassandra knows that wellness and self-care don’t always come naturally to nurses. Their inclination is often to help others before helping themselves. But she’s seen how access to wellness resources and support during school can affect nurses throughout their career. These nurses are more likely to seek out and incorporate those practices after transitioning to the professional world.

“We must look at what we need in the workforce and then create it in our nursing programs,” Cassandra says. “We need healthy nurses to have a healthy nursing profession, and the earlier we intervene, the bigger the impact.”

Inspired to Address Gaps in Nursing Wellness
When Cassandra moved from the bedside to the classroom 7 years ago, she didn’t know what influence she’d have as an assistant professor. But a project for her doctorate program ignited something deep inside her.

“I looked at nursing stress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The data I studied reflected some of the vulnerabilities I saw in my students,” Cassandra says. “It triggered my interest and inspired me to find ways to help them.”

Engaging Nursing Students
Cassandra knew she could use data to drive changes, create programs, and provide resources tailored to nursing students. Collecting that data would involve student participation. Cassandra quickly learned that nursing students want to be involved.

“These students want to grow their skills in leadership and advocacy,” Cassandra says. “Ultimately, we hope nursing students want to participate in state and national associations once licensed. We’re grooming what we want to see tomorrow.”

Within the Vol State nursing division, Cassandra has been able to create and grow impactful programs, groups, and events, including:

Student nursing association
Cassandra helped nursing students create the Vol State Student Nursing Association (VSSNA) in 2023. As their faculty advisor, Cassandra works closely with the elected board of directors and helps them adopt Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation® initiatives to guide their efforts.

“What better approach than to align with the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation initiatives, Cassandra says. “Those initiatives will help these nursing students professionally and show them the value of community interaction.”

              The association now runs annual events in the community and on campus, including:
  • 5k races occurring twice yearly at each campus to support local charities
  • Blood drives held in conjunction with the American Red Cross
  • Food drives to supply the campus food closet, which helps Vol State students who aren’t having their nutritional needs met, as well as the community at large

              Mentoring program
Cassandra firmly believes that nurses cannot have enough mentoring. That’s why she also piloted a mentoring program at Vol State in 2022. Now in its third year, the mentoring program exists on all 3 campuses — each campus now has its own student and faculty coordinators.

Vol State’s 2-year nursing program is fast-paced, and mentors help first-year students adjust to nursing school, organize themselves, prepare for tests, and manage scheduling. Now that the program is established, several mentees go on to become mentors, and 65% to 80% of nursing students participate in the program.

“I was not blessed to have a mentor,” Cassandra says, “but I know how valuable it is as I have the data to support it. I hope these mentoring relationships will continue beyond students’ graduation from Vol State.”

Well-being and career fair
The “Fostering Nurse Well-being and Career Fair” provides nursing students with critical information, resources, and opportunities. Fair participation is open to nursing and pre-nursing students, Vol State alums, clinical vendors, and academic programs that offer opportunities for continuing education.

Cassandra’s students set up their informational tables at the fair. Each table focused on a relevant topic for nurses today, including: 
  • Legal protection for nurses
  • Research at the bedside
  • Resilience in nursing
  • Transition from nursing school to practice
  • Utilizing your nursing voice

“For a nursing student to be successful in the profession, they must first be successful themselves,” Cassandra says. This fair offers resources and opportunities to help them accomplish that.

              Mental health panel
Vol State Nursing and Psychology partnered to host a mental health Q&A panel with psychologists, licensed counselors, and mental health nurse practitioners. Cassandra had her students research mental health topics and their implications in preparation for the event. They set up informational tables where they presented their topics and answered questions from attendees.

“Our student panel topics addressed mental health, what it is, and how we care for ourselves,” Cassandra says. “The students handled themselves professionally and presented their project content well.”

Recognizing the Importance of an Early Impact
Cassandra has accomplished a lot at Vol State but is nowhere near done. She continues to study her students to see what they need and looks for ways to fulfill those needs. Cassandra advocated for the appointment of a wellness coordinator within the nursing division. She was recently appointed to this role in addition to her other duties. Cassandra feels strongly that adding this focus within the program will benefit every nursing student at Vol State.

Her ongoing efforts don’t just support the nursing students she sees each day. She’s inspiring the next generation of nurses by showing them that self-care is valuable, and change is possible.

“We role model the behaviors we want our students to see and learn,” Cassandra says. “We set the bar high and show them how to get there.”

Cassandra Cassidy, DNP, MSN, RN, EBP-C, PLNC, is an assistant professor of nursing at Volunteer State Community College (Vol State). She is also the faculty advisor for the Vol State Student Nursing Association (VSSNA).

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Blog #healthynurse Spotlight 07/01/2024 3:01pm CDT

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The #healthynurse Spotlight is a shout out to nurses who are making changes in their lives to improve their health and wellness. You can too! Read their stories for inspiration here.