Meet Nursing@USC Vice Chair and Program Director Dr. Sharon O’Neill

Dr. Sharon O’Neill, JD, DNP, FNP, brings a breadth of experience to Nursing@USC. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from The Catholic University of America and her Juris Doctor (JD) from the University of Baltimore School of Law. Dr. O’Neill holds dual post-master certification as a pediatric primary care nurse practitioner and as a family nurse practitioner from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. She also spent more than 13 years as part-time in-house legal counsel for the Kennedy Krieger Institute, which addresses the needs of children and adults with disabilities.

Read on to learn more about Dr. O’Neill and her views on the evolution of the nursing profession, the format of Nursing@USC and advice for nursing students.

How is technology changing the way we educate future nurse practitioners?

Technology facilitates new avenues for students to encounter ideas and knowledge that may not be available in a brick-and-mortar classroom. The use of web-based teaching platforms provides opportunities for students to gain rich experiences and build on knowledge through both live and prerecorded learning modules. For example, during online sessions faculty challenge students to solve intricate case studies using apps and other online resources in real time. This is similar to the practice setting where the nurse practitioner is the only provider in a community care clinic.

What are some benefits of the online format?

Most students do not have the luxury of uprooting their lives. Others want to remain in their communities while attending school because they believe they can be part of the solution in addressing health care issues in their communities. Working with aspiring nurses from across the country, online advanced practice nursing students are exposed to different perspectives and solutions to issues impacting health care. The diverse mix of students from all areas of the United States expands the possibilities for collaborating to address many of the grand challenges facing society today. Similarly, from a teaching perspective, the format allows USC to hire some of the best and brightest nurse educators who want to remain active in their own communities and give back to students through education.

Why is it so important for today’s nurse practitioners to have a strong understanding of social determinants as they relate to health outcomes?

Nurse practitioner programs provide advanced practice nurses with a skill set that allows them to identify problems and work with patients to address these problems. Patients and providers do not live in a vacuum. Often, pressing issues such as homelessness, abuse and lack of resources prevent people from becoming fully engaged in their own health care. Nurses need an understanding of how social determinants impact individual and family health across the life span. 

What are your research interests?

My research interests include analyzing the outcomes of education provided to nurse practitioners. I am also dedicated to researching systems of care and how improved access to care can help improve the lives of children and their families. In addition, I am committed to researching methods that help train families of children and adolescents with special education needs to advocate for access to educational services that best meet their child’s needs.

What pieces of advice would you offer a nurse practitioner at the beginning of their career?

In one word, network.

Build relationships while you are in school at the local and national levels by becoming a student member of nurse practitioner organizations. Attend both regional and national meetings because these meetings are great opportunities for networking and continuing education. 

Connect with other students in your advanced practice program. Many of these same people will be tomorrow’s health care leaders.

Get to know your preceptors and stay in touch with them. Many students end up getting offers of employment from their clinical sites or referrals to other health care settings that may be looking for a new graduate with their skill set.

What drew you to the Nursing@USC mission?

I liked the fact that the USC Department of Nursing would be housed in a school of social work. I can think of no better way to foster interprofessional collaboration with our social work counterparts than addressing the social determinants that impact health care so systemically.