Doctor of Nursing Practice
“I’ve learned so much about the importance of listening, developing trust and therapeutic rapport with patients.”
Katie Louwagie says she is ready and eager to start her new career as a nurse practitioner caring for older adults this fall.
“The DNP program prepared me incredibly well,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about the importance of listening, developing trust and therapeutic rapport with patients.” Louwagie graduates this spring and then will begin delivering onsite primary care in assisted living and long-term care facilities in the Twin Cities.
Her earliest insights into care for older adults came when her grandfather developed Alzheimer’s disease when she was a child. “I watched what our family went through surrounding his decline, and I saw what the nurses and other providers were able to do for him and for our family, helping us work through our emotions, stress, advanced care planning and difficult decisions,” she said.
As a freshman in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, Louwagie landed a job as a research assistant on a study at the School of Nursing to assess the impact of a support program for family caregivers. She continued in this role for five years, working with family caregivers and the Minnesota Alzheimer’s Association, experiences that helped her solidify her career aspirations.
Louwagie learned from her mentors and clinical experiences that effective communication is the cornerstone of improving the quality of life for older patients. “You can guess what your patients want. But sometimes people surprise you. You don’t really know until you ask, and then listen really well,” she said. “I enjoy discussions with patients about care goals because that’s what can guide our planning.”
As part of her DNP scholarly project, Louwagie introduced a communications tool in two long-term care facilities that gave resident assistants the ability to report changes they observe in client conditions to nursing staff electronically “Seemingly minor observations, such as changes in appetite or gait, are so important to check out,” said Louwagie. “Flagging changes early can help prevent adverse events or the need to move to a different level of care.” The Eldermark Software feature was introduced and used effectively at two facilities run by Ecumen and Louwagie says plans are underway to roll it out systemwide.
In her new job, Louwagie is looking forward to establishing meaningful relationships with her patients. “When you meet with someone in their home, it’s such an intimate environment. I love the stories and I always learn something,” she said. “In the DNP program, I’ve learned that so much can be done to improve the quality of life for patients by engaging in real and sometimes difficult discussions.”
Louwagie was in the first class to receive Bentson Scholarships, which supported her with $20,000 each year of the three-year DNP program. This year she also received support from the Kelly Joseph Cordell Scholarship.
She credits Professor Joe Gaugler and Associate Professor Kristine Talley for inspiring her to pursue a career in adult gerontology. “This is exactly where I want to be,” she said.