Today, we’re shining a spotlight on Kemley Rhodes Russell, an Aspen University DNP alum who represents a commitment to continued learning and growth. Despite her health challenges, Kemley completed the Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Aspen in 2022. Let’s take a look at her story.
““Shine brightly like a diamond!” My mother used to say this to me. A diamond goes through a process to shine bright. A diamond is made of raw carbons subjected to intense heat to be transformed and shine bright. This could be a powerful description of my professional and personal journey. I have always believed in helping myself and others to achieve their dreams. During my childhood, I was always taking care of the small ducks, my dogs, and chicks when they were injured. My parents gave me a toy stethoscope as a Christmas present when I was 6 years old. I started my nursing journey and was able to earn my licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), bachelor’s degree (BSN), and master’s in nursing practice (MSN) degrees. Despite my enthusiasm and commitment to my job, physically and mentally, I was experiencing great challenges. My weight has always been a problem and it was getting worse every day. I was almost 400 pounds when I decided to visit my provider. After completing several tests and studies, I was diagnosed with asthma, sleep apnea, dysrhythmia, osteoarthritis in my left knee, pre-diabetes, and hypertension. No wonder I could not sleep and concentrate sometimes. My provider recommended I consult a nutritionist to help me achieve my weight goals. Despite all my efforts, I was getting more obese.
Despite my health issues, during Nursing Week in 2018, I was recognized as one of the best nurse practitioners in the med/surg unit due to my professionalism and devotion toward my patients. The dean encouraged me to pursue a doctoral nursing program. He recommended Aspen University since he completed his doctorate through Aspen as well and was optimistic about his degree and performance. He said Aspen University was the best university to help me achieve my healthcare goals. I laughed at the suggestion and thought to myself that a DNP program would be impossible since my health was upside down. Eventually, I consulted my family, received their support, and decided to apply to the university as a New Year’s resolution. Then, I fainted at work and was in the hospital for three weeks due to COVID. I honestly thought I was going to die with all the symptoms I was experiencing, especially difficulty breathing, which was already compromised with my weight gain issues. I finally came out of the hospital and was able to continue working despite the challenges in the units with patients with COVID-19. I was waiting for the perfect moment to pursue my degree, but it was never possible and looked far away while I covered unattended shifts, sometimes over 12 hours at a time.
In 2020, during my birthday celebration, my husband gave me a gift: a book that was required for the first DNP course, “The Doctor of Nursing Practice.” He also arranged for me to meet with my university advisor. Finally, I started my doctorate, despite COVID-19, my health, and my work challenges. There were days when the only time I had to read and prepare my assignments was also the only day I was off from my job. Unfortunately, I was often also called in to cover other shifts due to the increase of nurses in the ward diagnosed with COVID-19. I was tempted to quit my program a couple of times because I was so tired and my weight struggles were getting the best of me.
During a meeting with professors for the project planning, I was asked what my thesis topic would be. I explained I always believe in the importance of holistic principles to enhance the quality of care not only for the patients but also for the healthcare providers. My point was that everyone needs to be addressed not only for their symptoms but treated as a whole person assessing the emotional, spiritual, familial, and economic challenges. While researching the topic for the project data analysis I came across the contribution of genetic testing toward holistic care and that this testing could enhance quality of life. I decided to complete one for myself and was astonished when I received the results. Everything I was eating was the culprit of why I was gaining weight, my fatigue, and the other symptoms I was experiencing. I was sensitive to broccoli, chicken, lactose, soy, and gluten. All these were part of my daily intake. I always wondered why I was gaining weight if all I ate was protein shakes, vegetables, and chicken. Aren’t these healthy? They are, but as it turns out, not for me. All these foods were provoking inflammation in my body and I was killing myself without knowing. I made complete changes required of food and retrained myself on how to cook without those ingredients; the first week, I lost 10 pounds. My quality of life changed dramatically and I was able to complete the DNP program with honors.
Today, I have lost over 100 pounds, I am a doctor in holistic care helping my family, colleagues, and patients to enhance their quality of life, and everything started thanks to the research experience I was exposed to during my DNP courses. I am thankful to all my professors who encouraged and supported me toward my goals. Aspen University indeed is the best. The quality of education and the continued support received before, during, and after graduating is outstanding. We must shine like a diamond and be willing to go through the process to make a significant difference with what we learned. The perfect moment does not exist; it is the decision to move forward that is the key.”