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Dr. Atwood honored for excellence in academic nursing profession

Jan Atwood, Ph.D., has spent her life in the pursuit of improving the lives of people through nursing care, education and research. This month, she was honored for the impact she has made at UNMC, through a Florence Niedfelt Professorship at the UNMC College of Nursing.

The endowed, three-year appointment honors and rewards an outstanding faculty member for excellence in research, teaching, leadership, mentoring of colleagues and students, innovative leadership in a clinical service project, and involvement and work in organizations outside the college.

Dr. Atwood will receive $10,000 each year, for three years, to be used as a salary stipend and/or to fund professional activities or purchases.

The Florence Niedfelt Professorship was named for the late Florence Niedfelt of Grand Island, who bequeathed funds through the University of Nebraska Foundation for furthering the education of nursing students through the professorship and scholarships. The first professorship was awarded to Bevely Hays, Ph.D., in 1999.

Niedfelt spent her life helping her husband, John Niedfelt, manage farms and the Platte Valley Construction Co., until his death in 1979. Although not a nurse, she held a lifetime interest in the field of nursing, and was active in her church and various community groups.

“I was really surprised to hear I was the recipient of this honor,” Dr. Atwood said. “I really appreciate a Nebraska resident, not even a nurse, making this possible.”

The impact Dr. Atwood has made on current and former UNMC colleagues and students is evident in page after page of award nominations, as well as on her curriculum vitae.

“I’m really pleased the college has the opportunity to reward and recognize Dr. Atwood, who has demonstrated continuing contributions to several areas in the College of Nursing,” said Ada Lindsey, Ph.D., dean of the UNMC College of Nursing.

“Dr. Atwood provides significant mentorship for many faculty and students in both teaching and research activities,” said Bernice Yates, Ph.D., associate dean for research, UNMC College of Nursing. “Many of the faculty she has mentored in research have obtained significant extramural funding due in part to her contributions as a mentor.

“She is also an excellent educator, teaching from not only a solid knowledge base but also from her many personal experiences, and thus is an excellent role model for faculty and students alike.”

Dr. Atwood is a professor of nursing with specialties in oncology and community health nursing and professor of preventive and societal medicine in the College of Medicine. She accepted a position at UNMC in 1996, as founding associate director of the Cancer Prevention, Control and Population Sciences Unit at the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center.

Her vision and development of the unit paved the way to foster interdisciplinary research groups at UNMC and across the state. Involved in research through the unit are faculty and staff at UNMC’s three nursing divisions in Lincoln, Kearney and Scottsbluff, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. After five years, she focused on cancer and other interdisciplinary research facilitation.

She currently is research director of the Nebraska Office of Tobacco Control and Research at UNMC, which is a multi-campus, multidisciplinary endeavor.

“I very much enjoy gathering and facilitating interdisciplinary research teams that make a difference for patients and their families,” Dr. Atwood said.

Her wealth of experience in research extends across state, national and international lines and a variety of cultures. Born in New York City, the Arizona native and daughter of a researcher said she grew up knowing she wanted to be a nurse. She’s been involved in nursing research since she was an undergraduate nursing student.

She’s received major grants from federal and state agencies, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Nebraska Health and Human Services System.

“I love nursing, research and teaching,” she said. “Putting those three together is a gift I’ve had with various university appointments. I enjoy working with my colleagues, who are good scientists and nice people.”

The focus of her research is health promotion and disease prevention, primarily related to cancer. Some of her projects involve helping people modify diet, smoking and exercise behaviors to prevent cancer and heart disease. She and her colleagues also are embarking on a new area of research that is trying to determine whether there are genetic links to smoking behaviors. This information may be helpful in designing anti-smoking strategies for “chippers” — those who smoke a few cigarettes a week — to heavy smokers.

She also is involved in education and research as far away as the University of Kuopio, Finland, and the University of Oulu, Finland. In 1998, she was the first nurse to receive a Doctor in Honor in Nursing from the University of Oulu.
Her goals for the three years of the UNMC professorship include increasing the involvement of undergraduate students in research.

“We need a better link between interested faculty and undergraduate students to become involved in research,” Dr. Atwood said. “I’d like to facilitate that process.”