Summer of service

This summer, Gator Nurses soaked up more than the sun, they also acted as sponges of knowledge to learn how to best serve their community.

dyal class
Dr. Dyal with her 2023 cohort.

Thanks to an initiative started by UF Nursing faculty years ago, the graduating class of each Bachelor of Science in Nursing cohort is responsible for creating a special team project for their senior seminar Clinical Reasoning and Personalized Nursing Care: Population Health, helping the college’s newest nurses discover how to increase health and well-being in the Gainesville and Jacksonville areas.

From working side-by-side with domestic violence shelters to creating new ways to teach elderly care how residents how to communicate with their loved ones, each student ‘quality improvement project’ attempts to solve a real problem facing community members and organizations outside of the classroom

 “I really enjoyed seeing everything come together,” said Eddie Tobes (ABSN 2023). “Being able to work with respected members of the community and see how these changes improved lives was extremely meaningful to us.”

According to Clinical Assistant Professor Dawn Shepard, DNP, APRN who together with Clinical Associate Professor Brenda Dyal  and Clinical Lecturer Shari Huffman, MN, APRN, CNE, CPNP-PC serve as this semester’s instructors the projects serve as an opportunity for students to put their research and problem-solving skills developed throughout their time as a Gator Nurse, to a final test.

“Before our students graduate to serve patients full-time in the clinical setting, we are always overjoyed to see how they collaborate with local partners to create unique solutions,” Shepard said. “Thanks to this project, our students are able to see firsthand how all nurses use the research process to meet the needs of their patients.”

shepard class
Dr. Shepard with her 2023 cohort.

Gift of gardening

For Kara Noyes (ABSN 2023), the chance to work with ElderCare of Alachua County at UF Health was an opportunity to show how nature can be used to heal – in more ways than one.

Together with her team, Noyes partnered with the Al’z Place to create the first-ever therapeutic gardening program at the adult daycare for seniors battling Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Located outside the center’s walls, the garden now serves as a meeting place for residents to relax and connect with visitors, as well as each other, while developing a green thumb. as well as each other. 


 In addition to providing an opportunity to nurture plants, the team also gifted an experience that can positively impact adults living with neurodegenerative diseases according to Eldercare of Alachua County at UF Health, the sensory experience from working in a garden can evoke positive memories, promote physical activity, and help reduce stress.

“We were so honored to make a difference in the lives of others through this garden,” said Noyes. “It is amazing to see just how big of an impact therapeutic gardening can have on this community’s spirit.

Place for peace

Carlin Patterson (ABSN 2023) believes that her group’s work to support community members during life’s most challenging moments made her final year as a Gator Nurse especially memorable.

After connecting with Peaceful Paths, a domestic violence center serving North Central Florida that provides services such as crisis counseling, emergency shelter and violence prevention programs, Patterson and her team began brainstorming ways to support the wide range of resources offered by the organization.

“We wanted to help in any way possible,” Patterson said. “We really believed in the mission of this organization and planned to do whatever we could to make a difference.”


To provide additional aid for women experiencing signs of depression, a critical need according to Peaceful Paths, the team decided to brainstorm ways to increase awareness of postpartum depression to encourage treatment as early as possible. Through bilingual English and Spanish infographics distributed throughout the center, Patterson’s group was able to address misconceptions surrounding the condition, as well as share connections to therapy and peer-to-peer support through the Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network.

In an effort to raise their spirits, the Gator Nursing group also created a unique artistic experience to offer individuals an opportunity to put their creativity on display. The group shared paint supplies and a reflective journaling prompt with visitors as part of an ‘art-in-medicine” experience, allowing women experiencing post-partum depression to express their emotions on a canvas of their own choosing.

Lifetime learners

Across both UF College of Nursing campuses, Gainesville and Jacksonville Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing students were eager to share their findings from their summer of discovery.

At the end of the semester, Gator Nurses presented the lessons learned from their community project experience in a mock research poster presentation. By sharing their methods and results with their cohort, each student was able to collaborate with the rest of their class to develop questions and insights for future research as they continue to develop in their careers.

“From working with the Florida Department of Health to individual care centers, each of these groups made a tangible difference in their community,” said Shepard. “Our Gator Nurses are the next generation of nurse leaders, and we are proud to see how they will flourish in the years to come.”