Dr. Michelle Zappas, On Patient-Centered Care, Evidence-Based Practice, and the Success of the MSN-FNP Program

- Author: Rugved Deshpande - Categories:

Photo courtesy of Dr. Michelle Zappas

What intrigues Michelle Zappas, DNP, FNP-BC about the role of the family nurse practitioner (FNP)? They tend to be generalists who explore a wide array of healthcare topics. Dr. Zappas’ own experience spans medical specialties and settings, from women’s health and urgent care, to diabetes, chronic disease management and dermatology.

Before transitioning into academia and joining USC’s esteemed faculty, Dr. Zappas worked in family practice settings, primary care clinics, community health centers and specialty clinics. No matter which setting or specialty she found herself in, what has remained consistent throughout Dr. Zappas’ career is her commitment to advancing evidence-based practice. Now, as a faculty member and program director of the Online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program, she brings with her a combination of real-world experience and a passion for research and scholarship that continues to inspire students and faculty alike to forge their own path forward.

What do you find most fulfilling about the role of a Family Nurse Practitioner?

The most fulfilling aspect of being a family nurse practitioner is developing long-term relationships with patients and their families and providing comprehensive care throughout their entire lifespan. The ability to diagnose, treat, and educate patients while advocating for their wellbeing is highly rewarding.

What has been the most rewarding accomplishment in your career so far?

It may sound corny, but one of the most fulfilling moments in my career has been seeing the graduates of the USC MSN-FNP program walk across the stage. Our program is notable for its graduates’ significant contributions to our communities, particularly supporting vulnerable populations nationwide. Our students’ remarkable combination of academic achievement and clinical expertise is truly unique.

What do you consider your guiding principles as you lead the Online MSN-FNP program at USC?

My guiding principles include a commitment to academic excellence, innovation in online learning methodologies, fostering a supportive learning environment, promoting evidence-based practice, and preparing students to meet the constantly changing needs of healthcare.

Read the MSN-FNP program’s on-campus intensives.

What makes you proud to be the program director for the Online MSN-FNP at USC?

The program’s reputation for producing highly competent and compassionate Family Nurse Practitioners1 who significantly contribute to healthcare. Additionally, the program’s ability to adapt and thrive in the online learning environment, providing accessibility to a diverse range of students.

1 Average ANCC Board Pass Rate of 92% in 2023

Average AANP Board Pass Rate of 88% in 2023

What distinguishes the Online MSN-FNP program at USC from other programs of its kind?

USC’s Online MSN-FNP program stands out due to its rigorous curriculum, renowned faculty, robust clinical experiences, strong network of alums and preceptors, and innovative use of technology to facilitate learning and collaboration.

How does evidence-based practice shape the curriculum and clinical experiences of MSN-FNP students?

The curriculum is designed based on the latest research and best practices, ensuring students learn the most current and practical approaches to patient care. Students are taught to use evidence-based clinical guidelines to inform their decision-making processes, improve patient outcomes, and foster critical thinking and analytical skills. Students are taught to evaluate and apply research findings to clinical situations. Emphasizing the importance of using evidence to achieve the best patient outcomes is a fundamental healthcare education and training goal. By integrating evidence-based practice into the curriculum and clinical experiences, MSN-FNP programs ensure that graduates are well-prepared to provide patients with high-quality, effective, and efficient care.

How does learning to address physical, social, and environmental factors prepare students to succeed?

Learning how to address physical, social, and environmental factors is crucial for students to comprehend the factors that affect health and wellness. This holistic approach enables students to provide patient-centered care while taking into account the interdependence of various aspects of individuals’ lives. For example, factors like housing stability, food security, and employment status can impact a patient’s diabetes care plan. Unstable housing may hinder medication storage and consistent diet maintenance. The FNP could offer information about local shelters with medication refrigeration, or prescribing medications that do not require food. Additionally, unstable housing might limit appointment attendance, so the FNP may coordinate care through mobile health clinics or telehealth services. Employment status affects health insurance coverage, so the FNP can help patients navigate insurance options, apply for Medicaid, or access low-cost clinics.

How do you approach fostering community and collaboration among online students?

Fostering a sense of community and collaboration among online students can be challenging. We are physically located in different places for most of the program. We do think that ensuring consistent connection with weekly synchronous sessions via Zoom [helps this]. We use group discussions, projects, and peer review to encourage interaction. We also cherish our time during our on-campus intensives to cultivate community while building skills and spending time together.

What can students expect from the On-Campus Intensives?

As mentioned above, our on-campus intensives are some of students and faculty’s favorite days, myself included. The primary purpose of the on-campus intensives is to practice hands-on skills such as head-to-toe physical examination, suturing, biopsies, EKG readings, chest X-rays, and joint injections. Students also engage in simulated clinical environments where they practice and refine their skills. Students can expect to receive personalized feedback and guidance from instructors, enhancing their learning and professional growth. Most importantly, it allows us to connect as a Trojan Family, build community, and establish professional networks.

What is the biggest lesson that you hope students take away from your classes?

I want students to appreciate the importance of lifelong learning and adaptability in the ever-changing healthcare field. Additionally, cultivating strong communication skills, critical thinking abilities, and cultural competence are often emphasized as essential for effective nursing practice.

What are you looking for in potential MSN-FNP students?

We look for qualities such as commitment to excellence, strong interpersonal skills, and a passion for patient advocacy, particularly in the social determinants of health. The ability to work collaboratively in interdisciplinary teams, and a dedication to professional growth and development.

What advice would you offer nurses who are considering pursuing their MSN-FNP online at USC?

Nurses who are considering pursuing their MSN-FNP degree online, whether at USC or any other institution, should conduct thorough research to ensure that the program they choose aligns with their career goals, learning preferences, and lifestyle. Important factors to consider include accreditation, faculty expertise, clinical placement opportunities, support services, and overall program reputation. Moreover, prospective students should be prepared to balance the demands of graduate education with their professional and personal responsibilities.

Learn more about the Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program.

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