Josie Weiss, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP has a CV that is both expansive and impressive. It chronicles more than 25 years of funded research and published papers focusing on vulnerable populations, with a particular interest in teen pregnancy prevention.
With a background in community and public health before embarking on a career in academia, Weiss currently serves as director of the University of Central Florida's Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, and Advanced Practice DNP programs in UCF's College of Nursing, along with teaching as a tenured associate professor.
Weiss graduated from Florida State University with a BSN degree, and earned her MSN and PhD degrees from the University of Florida. She is a licensed ARNP and a Fellow of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, as well as a member of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Florida Nurse Practitioner Network, National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculty and Sigma Theta Tau International.
In 2014, Weiss became involved in Shepherd's Hope as a clinical volunteer. Later this year, she will also take on the role of a liaison between UCF and the West Orange Healthcare District, which recently funded a community-focused service learning program for undergraduate and graduate nursing students at the Shepherd's Hope clinic in Ocoee and its new center in Winter Garden, which is scheduled to open in early 2019.
Here, she talks about her passion of caring for vulnerable youth and inspiring the next generation of nursing professionals.
Tell us about your interest in serving vulnerable populations.
I started working in indigent care 25 years ago when I was in graduate school. I developed such an appreciation for this population who, for the most part, are so very, very grateful for anything we can do for them. Once I was in that environment, I never left.
In 2000, our family moved to Okeechobee, Fla. I worked in a community health center as a family nurse practitioner while teaching at Florida Atlantic University in their College of Nursing. I also worked with incarcerated adolescents during that time.
The teen pregnancy rate in Okeechobee is very high. In 2012, the birth rate to mothers age 15-19 was double the rate in Florida as a whole. These rates are highest in under-served adolescents who often do not appreciate the importance of finishing high school and obtaining some type of post-secondary education or training before starting a family. Most of the incarcerated young people did not have strong parent figures in their lives. They needed someone to care about them, and explain that if they could postpone having children until their 20s, what a better decision it would be for both the parents and the baby.
In 2014, I returned to Orlando to work at UCF. With the shift in population from rural to more urban, my research gravitated toward how to promote meaningful interactions between parents and their adolescents; what I like to call "healthy sex chats." It is so important for parents to have open conversations with their children about healthy sexual decision-making.
Talk about the volunteer work you do with Shepherd's Hope, and the involvement of UCF's nursing students.
I volunteer one night a week at the Ocoee clinic in West Orange County, seeing both children and adults.
Our undergraduate nursing students also volunteer regularly as a component of the West Orange grant. They teach patients how to develop healthy habits such as the importance of maintaining normal blood pressure, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. We've also had three graduate students do their doctoral projects through Shepherd's Hope and we are looking forward to more beginning soon.
It is important to help our students understand the needs of the underserved and want to work with that population. We really need good, strong nurse practitioners in those environments. Shepherd's Hope is helping us achieve that.
"The impact of our four year collaborative relationship between Shepherd's Hope and the UCF College of Nursing has been significant for our organization and the uninsured patients that we serve," said Marni Stahlman, president and CEO of Shepherd's Hope, Inc. "This latest collaboration will have students, faculty and our clinical provider team working side by side to directly improve the health of our patients in West Orange County."
Is there a memorable patient encounter that is especially meaningful to you?
Yes. It was my first night at Shepherd's Hope, and I was on the fence about whether this was something I wanted to do. That night, a patient took my hands in hers, held them and said to me, "You are in the right place, and you are doing God's work. Thank you so much." I never saw the woman again, but from that moment on, I was committed.
The encounter still makes me teary-eyed. Her words resonated with me about how grateful these patients are and how important the work is that we do. These people simply don't have any place else to go for their healthcare.
It's interesting, too, that sometimes our patients are not who you would expect. For instance, I've treated physicians from other countries whose circumstances brought them to Shepherd's Hope. I remember one was an anesthesiologist from South America and another was a physician who knew she had an ear problem and needed help. Through Shepherd's Hope, we were able to get the scans she needed to diagnosis a growth in her ear and connect her to a specialist for treatment.
What would you tell other medical professionals who may be interested in volunteering at Shepherd's Hope?
While Shepherd's Hope is always looking for more volunteer physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, there is also a very real need for RNs and LPNs to work up the patients and support the practitioners.
It doesn't matter how much time you have to give - one day a week or every other month - Shepherd's Hope will work with you. I can tell you that almost everyone who volunteers feels blessed to be there and realizes they get so much more than they give.
To learn more about how to become a Shepherd's Hope volunteer, contact Volunteer Program Manager Abby Seelinger at (407) 876-6699, ext. 233, or email@example.com, or visit www.shepherdshope.org/volunteers.