Faculty Spotlight

Meet Your Professor: LaDonna Christian, Director of the Dotson Bridge and Mentoring Program

Where did you go to college, and what did you study?

For undergrad, I went to the University of Michigan and studied nursing. I went to UMass Dartmouth for my master's in Community Health Nursing and Simmons for my PhD in Health Professions Education.

And can you tell me a little bit about your current role at Simmons?

I'm an associate professor of practice-nursing, and I am the director of the Dotson Bridge and Mentoring Program which provides mentors, workshops, study groups, and services for all nursing students. We offer workshops on things like time management, organizational skills, study skills, medical terminology, and other things like that. The most rewarding part is the success I see when students work through challenges and graduate. That's all this is for.

Do you have a favorite thing about Simmons or Simmons students?

I like the faculty I work with because we work as a team. With students, I love that there are many diverse students in the nursing program and I learn from my students every time we interact. People come to Simmons to get a good education, so they absorb what you have to offer. They're serious about their education. 

What inspired you to not only work in nursing, but in nursing academia?

I always wanted to be a nurse, so that wasn't a hard one. I wanted to be at the bedside working with the patients. In high school, I was a candy striper and I loved it and I knew that it was my calling to be a nurse.

The "what" part of nursing was a challenge because you can do anything — the branches of getting a nursing degree are very, very wide. Then someone asked me if I wanted to teach because I was precepting new nurses, and I said yes. I taught nursing assistants and adult students, and I was happy about it and I did well, so I just kept going. I got a job in a public health clinic, then a vocational high school, but I really wanted to teach at a college level.

So, I moved to the D.C.-Maryland area and worked at a university for a year, came back to Boston, applied to higher education nursing programs, and started working at Simmons. I took the Simmons position because of what it was: mentoring and working with students of color and helping them get through the nursing program.

Have you been conducting any research lately?

My dissertation study was on cognitive test-taking anxiety. I found that most students came into the nursing program with high anxiety, and when we taught anxiety-reduction measures, their anxiety became less, their grades got better, and their GPA got better. Two years ago, I did the study again and found the same thing.

Now, students get anxiety reduction and test-taking skills in their senior year prep course. We're also teaching the incoming sophomores in their beginning nursing classes so that they can carry the information through the years and perfect it.

I took the Simmons position because of what it was: mentoring and working with students of color and helping them get through the nursing program.

What are some measures that you can take to reduce anxiety within the exam setting?

I worked with someone formerly in the Counseling Center who taught me some relaxation techniques where no one really knows you're doing it. So, you can take a deep breath and imagine that a bubble is coming up the back of you as you take a breath in. When you blow it out, it's forming a protection around you.

The other thing we do is positive affirmations. Students write these things down about themselves, and they're supposed to say them twice a day until their brain believes that this is the truth. They also say them before an exam.

The other technique that I've found to be most useful is color breath, where you pick your favorite color that makes you feel happy and powerful and visualize that color as you do your breathing.

If we visited your home office, what would we see?

My home office is in the lower level of my home right now, and it's very clean and neat. I've got my 2U materials set up and not much else. I haven't really designated a set place yet because I like to sit outside. My space doesn't have all my books and belongings. My office at Simmons was always a total mess.

What is the last book that you read?

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude Steele. It's about stereotypes and how people treat you differently based on what they think and what they've been taught to think instead of getting to know you.

Is there a TV show that you particularly enjoy?

I've been watching a show about Queen Elizabeth and all the British royalty because I love medieval queen and king types of stories. I also binge-watched The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I couldn't get enough of it.

Do you have any advice for students this semester?

Just take one day at a time. Try not to get stressed over things and know that faculty understand the struggles that you are going through because they're going through them as well. There are so many things you have to take care of online, so just communicate with your faculty very well on a regular basis.

The other thing I would say is to sit down and make a plan, because even if it doesn't work perfectly, you should have one. You can communicate the plan to your family members so they understand not to bother you when you are studying. Let them know the boundaries in which you're working with right now — because you're home doesn't mean you're free. Communication is key.

Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for new nurses or students who are considering pursuing nursing?

Nursing is ever-changing, and it will continue to change. Make sure that you are protecting yourself, that you protect your family — now more than ever. You must, because your life depends on it. No matter where you work, you have to use universal precautions. Working during the pandemic shouldn't be a problem if you are doing your job correctly. Make sure you're taking care of yourself, even if it requires buying some things yourself.

This is going to pass. It will. We are going to get through this — it's just taking a lot longer than it should have because people weren't taking the pandemic seriously.

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