Nursing professor Judy Jenks receives the Education Award from the Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners

Judy Jenks, DNP, FNP-BC ’16

Radford University Carilion (RUC) associate professor of nursing Judy Jenks, DNP, FNP-BC ’16, recently received the Education Award from the Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners (VCNP). According to the VCNP, the award is given to a nurse practitioner (NP) who demonstrates outstanding contributions to NPs in education and patient care through teaching and scholarship, student preceptorship, patient teaching and community involvement.

“This award was quite meaningful to me,” Jenks said. “The VCNP is the state organization of my profession and is quite active in championing the role of NPs in Virginia, from the local level to the state level. All of the members are accomplished individuals, so to be singled out for this award is quite an honor.”

Taking Patient Care to the Next Level
To say that Jenks is busy is an understatement.

As an NP, Jenks has been providing care to patients across the Southwest Virginia region for over three decades. She returned to school and earned her doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) degree from Radford University in 2016. During that time, she also founded a thriving business that would also allow her to continue caring for patients.

“My area of study in the DNP program was nurse executive leadership and administration,” Jenks recalled. “I worked with my advisor to write a business plan as one of my projects, and it ended up becoming my company, The Jenks Initiative L.L.C.”

Jenks works through her company as an NP independent contractor, negotiating her own contracts with area providers. For example, she has an agreement to provide NP services in a Pulaski clinic one day every other week.

“I have been in healthcare in this area for so long that many of the independent physicians, who are also business owners, will call when they need my services,” Jenks said. “One local doctor called me and said he had 500 pre-employment physicals to do for Volvo. He asked if I could help, and we were able to knock those out over a few Saturdays.”

Teaching the Next Generation of NPs
In addition to her work as an NP, Jenks also teaches as part of the faculty in the Master of Science in Nursing-Family Nurse Practitioner program at RUC in Roanoke. Though her education was not focused on teaching, Jenks said that her experience as a healthcare provider gave her the ability to teach up-and-coming NP students.

“Many of us who teach healthcare were never formally taught how to teach,” she said. “We are all taught patient teaching throughout our careers. We learn how to educate our patients to be healthier and take care of themselves, which translates to teaching healthcare students.”

Jenks began teaching by acting as a preceptor for nursing students who did clinical rotations through her units in the hospitals where she worked. She said throughout her clinical career, she enjoyed student interaction and would always volunteer to take nursing students with her during her workday.

“When I started working as an NP, I felt a duty to precept NP students as a way to nurture them and give back to our profession,” Jenks said. “I still do this through The Jenks Initiative because it’s important to pass along what we have learned as established NPs to the next generation.”

After earning her doctorate, Jenks was able to evolve her precepting into a career as a faculty member at RUC, where she has been teaching for several years. Jenks said that her favorite part of teaching NPs is to push them out of their comfort zones and open their minds to new ideas.

“We nurses grow up in hospitals, meaning that we learn how to be nurses at the bedside,” Jenks said. “I like to broaden that view beyond the hospital walls and into the community. I ask them to humanize what they are learning and consider how it impacts people at a more visceral level.”

An Advocate for Rural Health
Jenks also volunteers at healthcare clinics in the region and across the country, providing care to underserved populations.  

Judy Jenks (second from right in blue) with a team of Radford University faculty at a RAM clinic in 2019.

“I am an advocate for rural health and, in particular, access to healthcare for our most vulnerable populations,” Jenks said. “I have spent my entire career providing healthcare in the Appalachian region of the state. But, many people can’t get access to basic health services that would vastly improve their lives.”

Jenks works closely with RAMUSA, which organizes Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinics. Those pop-up clinics travel to a town or region for a weekend and provide care in medically underserved areas before moving on to the next area. Jenks said that the clinics are some of her favorite activities, because she learns so much about cultures through the people she gets to work with.

In addition to the RAM clinics Jenks has done in the area, she also participated in a clinic in Puerto Rico approximately 100 days after Hurricane Maria. She said there was still no electricity on most of the island at the time, yet residents still woke up each morning and managed to provide breakfast for their children, send them to school, go to work and come home in the evenings to search for water, food and building materials to repair their homes.

“When you meet people who are in distress, you really learn the basic human need for healthcare,” Jenks said.

Jenks also provided healthcare at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which is the second most impoverished Native American reservation in the country. She remembers that as the only female practitioner on site, she was asked to provide women’s health services, which were done in a dentist’s office with a dentist’s chair as the exam table.

“The stories these women confided to me were incredible, and I felt honored that they trusted me enough to talk,” Jenks recalled. “We were invited to participate in a sweat lodge at the home of a family that was grateful for the services being offered. It was one of the most incredible and spiritual experiences I have ever had. I will never forget that generosity.”

Jenks normally takes some of her NP students with her to work the clinics, seeing patients in spaces like horse stalls in barns or makeshift exam rooms in elementary schools or airport hangers.

“Most of our NP students have little experience in underserved areas, and I try to introduce this to them in the classroom and in trips that give them the opportunity to work with this population of patients,” Jenks said.

Jenks said that the VCNP award is a validation of the effort she puts into ensuring NP students have experiences like these. “It is vital that they understand that every patient is unique and brings their own set of needs,” Jenks said. “I think we’re doing that by giving them such an immersive education at RUC and beyond.” 

May 12, 2021
Mark Lambert