Q&A: Clinical Assistant Professor Cara Morrill-Stoklosa DNP, RN

headshot of smiling woman (Dr. Cara Morrill-Stoklosa)

Prior to becoming a full-time clinical assistant professor at the Duquesne University School of Nursing, Cara Morrill-Stoklosa DNP, RN, was a clinical instructor. She’s also an active floor nurse, which allows her to keep up with the dynamic world of nursing and prepare her students in real time for what they may experience while on clinical units. “My professional experience has allowed me to relate course materials to real life ailments, procedures and policies,” Dr. Morrill-Stoklosa explains.

Dr. Morrill-Stoklosa shares more about her teaching style, as well as her passion for both nursing and education, in the following Q&A.

As an alum, what is it like training the next generation of Duquesne nurses?

I have seen these students both inside and outside the classroom, completing skills both in the Learning and Simulation Center and on their respective clinical units in addition to their involvement and engagement within the classroom.

As a recent alum, completing my DNP in May 2020, many of my students walked my “path of graduation” alongside me, so I could empathize with them in relation to things like school workload, work ethic, and necessity versus want when it came to finding time to have a social life.

Knowing that I have played even a small part in these students’ successes is an honor. Seeing the students’ aha moments is so rewarding to me. When students understand the “why” and “how” of nursing, their eyes light up and I know I’ve made a difference.

How do you incorporate your professional experience into the courses you teach?

I’ve worked as an active medical-surgical nurse for nearly a decade. Many of the experiences I’ve had as a floor nurse can be utilized in my courses by means of storytelling. I was hesitant at first to share some of my real-life patient stories, but students seem to respond to those and have stated several times that my “read it, hear it, do it” method of educating has allowed them to apply some aspects of my personal experiences to their own clinical experiences.

Additionally, I share stories of mistakes I’ve made to help them understand that nurses and professors are not perfect—but that we learn from our mistakes and don’t make the same mistakes twice.

What is your favorite class to teach? Why?

At Duquesne, I have only ever taught Fundamentals of Nursing Practice and Gerontology, and I honestly love teaching both of these courses.

I enjoy Fundamentals because it presents the “building blocks” of nursing care to students and is taken during the sophomore level, a pivotal point in a nursing student’s educational career. My favorite part is seeing the students’ critical thinking and their aha moments when certain aspects start to “click.” I feel as this course is what truly engages the students in becoming nurses because they experience their first clinical rotations at this time and start to build upon their independence as future nurses.

I love teaching Gerontology because I am a medical-surgical nurse whose primary patient population is over the age of 65. I often use my nursing stories to draw parallels in class, and this group of patients has provided a bulk of such stories. As a professor, I ask my students if they have a specialty they would like to pursue following graduation. Many say psych, neonatal (NICU), or pediatrics. I have a soft spot for geriatric patients, so I tend to share my nursing stories to encourage my students to explore the wonderful possibilities of working with such a group of patients.

What do you hope all your students gain from your classes?

I hope my students gain a strong understanding that nursing is more than checking boxes and going through the motions. I hope through my storytelling and means of educating that students realize that nurses are often more than just a “caretaker” during their eight- or 12-hour shifts. To many patients, nurses quickly become therapists, hands to hold, ears to listen, shoulders to cry/lean on, and even family.

I also hope that students gain confidence, excitement and passion toward the field of nursing by hearing how much professors truly enjoy taking care of others and the impact such care can have on one’s life—both those individuals laying in the beds and those standing over them.

Who or what inspired you to enter the nursing profession?

I was primarily raised by a single father whose parents played a large role in shaping me into the woman I am today. My grandmother was diagnosed with cancer when I was eight years old and passed shortly before I turned 16. For nearly half my life (at that time), I was exposed to medications, cancer treatments and nurses/physicians who provided my grandmother’s care.

I was always interested in understanding why things worked, and it was no different when it came to health care. I would sit at my grandmother’s dining room table and help her organize her pill boxes while she would explain what each medication did for her. I would attend chemotherapy sessions with her and take notes on how certain drugs worked and what side effects to expect. I was a very involved child, and I loved understanding what was happening.

About a week before my grandmother passed away, she asked me to put her illness and what I learned from it to good use; it was at that time I decided I wanted to become a nurse.

Why did you choose to become a nurse educator?

I needed and wanted to become a nurse in memory of my grandmother—the woman who encouraged me in every area of my life. However, once I became a nurse and precepted nursing students, I realized how much I loved educating. Knowing that I could be both a nurse and an educator was everything to me.

I love being someone who helps people, and not just from a medical standpoint. I love helping new or up-and-coming nurses/health care providers see their potential and assist them in becoming more confident, educated and professional. I’m a helper at heart and being both a nurse and professor has granted me the ability to help on multiple different levels.

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