Model for Educating Future Nurse Leaders Expands to Address Environmental Toxins

Jonas Center for Nursing and Veterans Healthcare announces new focus on awareness of and elimination of toxins

NEW YORK, April 22, 2016 – As the nation confronts evidence of excessive amounts of toxins posing hazards to our health, the Jonas Center for Nursing and Veterans Healthcare today announced that it is expanding its renowned Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholars Program to support students pursuing doctoral degrees with a focus on researching environmental pollutants.

“From exposure to agricultural chemicals to the widely publicized crisis of lead-contaminated water in several major cities, our health – and particularly our children’s health – is at great risk,” said Donald Jonas, co-founder of the Jonas Center, the nation’s leading philanthropic funder of graduate nursing education. “We have a moral imperative to address this problem. Nurses are in the best position to spot early symptoms of overexposure and to advocate for policy solutions to minimize environmental hazards.”

Toxins are a public health crisis:

  • Since 2012, nearly 2,000 water systems across all 50 states have found lead levels exceeding Environmental Protection Agency standards in tap water samples from systems that collectively supply water to 6 million people.[1]
  • Research published by the National Institutes of Health and other journals show that pesticides and toxins may lead to lower IQs, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder.[2]
  • More than 80,000 chemicals found in everyday items – furniture, cosmetics, household cleaners, toys and even food – have not been adequately tested for their effects on human health.[3]

The Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholar Program will support eight Jonas Scholars at top universities whose research or clinical expertise is focused on the elimination of toxins in the environment or education and awareness about toxins. These doctoral-level scholars will receive a $10,000 scholarship over two years (2016-2018), to be matched by their university.

“This program fills a major gap. Though the potential impact of environmental toxins has been of concern to the nursing field for decades, this topic has not become part of core curriculum for students,” said Barbara Sattler, RN, DrPH, FAAN, Professor of Public Health at The University of San Francisco, home to four Scholars who will focus on toxins. Citing a 1995 Institute of Medicine report, “Nursing, Health and the Environment,” calling for changes in practice, education and research to address the growing threat of environmental health hazards, Sattler noted that the report’s recommendations have still not been fully implemented.

“The Jonas Center’s commitment to prepare future nurses in environmental health is a step forward in improving a range of mounting health challenges,” Sattler added. “These nurse scholars will be among the nation’s experts in understanding the wide array of impacts from the vast amount of toxins that we come in contact with daily, and they will design and lead interventions to protect our health.”

The students selected to receive support as part of this initiative are among a cohort of 1,000 Jonas Scholars supported by the Center’s flagship initiatives, the Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholar Program and the Jonas Veterans Healthcare Program. These Scholars study at 140 universities in all 50 states, focusing on such critical health priorities as: veterans’ healthcare; cancer; cardiac disease; diabetes; hospice and palliative care; mental health; aging; autism; pediatrics; low vision/blindness; and respiratory disease, among others.

“As part of our mission to grow the number of nurses with doctoral degrees, we are dedicated to ensuring that these nurses are sufficiently qualified to tackle the most pressing emerging health needs,” said Darlene Curley, MS, RN, CEO of the Jonas Family Fund and Executive Director of the Jonas Center. “As a country, we are only beginning to realize the societal and health impacts of toxins, from missed school and workdays to developmental disabilities. The Jonas Center is proud to support a new cadre of nurses poised to help alleviate this growing problem.”

Who are the Jonas “Toxins Scholars?”

University of Alabama at Birmingham

  • Zoran Pavicevic, MSN, worked as a scientist studying molecular pharmacology in cardiovascular diseases and cancer. His PhD research will focus on the effects of air pollution/airborne toxins on inflammation and cardiovascular disease in public safety workers.

University of California, San Francisco

  • Alicia Swartz, MSN, is dedicated to serving disadvantaged pediatric populations with her PhD research focused on the link between pediatric asthma and environmental exposures in child care facilities.

University of San Francisco

  • Sandra Kreizenbeck, RN, MSN, is a family nurse practitioner dedicated to understanding how toxins may contribute to or exacerbate Autism Spectrum disorders. Her DNP project will include the development of an environmental health assessment for clinical settings where Autistic children are seen. She will also study how parental guidance on minimizing exposure may reduce symptoms and negative health effects.
  • Vinai Pongbandith Decena, RN, BSN, is interested in how health disparities, language and cultural barriers, and lack of health care access affect communities. Her DNP project will explore potential links between environmental toxins and cancer, particularly related to agricultural chemicals.
  • Kelley Booth, RN, MSN, is passionate about sustainability and environmental protection as it relates to human health. Her DNP project will be incorporated into an existing Health Resources and Services Administration’s rural health initiative, whereby she will adapt materials to address common chemical exposures, provide health education and determine efficacy of the intervention in raising patient awareness and reducing exposures.
  • Alvin R. Walters, RN, BSN, works as a pediatric emergency care nurse. His DNP project will focus on two of the most common pediatric emergencies: exposure/ingestion of agriculture pesticides and ingestion of toxic household products, and will include developing environmental assessment pathways for clinical use and prevention education. He will also teach ER nurses about common toxic chemicals.

University of Washington

  • Kimiko Sasaki, MN, RN, will focus her PhD research on environmental hazards among immigrant home care workers. She also works as a home health nurse, which builds upon her prior clinical experiences, including five years of bedside care on an orthopedic unit in Japan and 13 years of practice on a medical-surgical unit in Washington State.

Washington State University

  • Sheila Hurst, MSN, RN, is dedicated to promoting children’s environmental health and environmentally friendly school policies aimed at minimizing exposure to neurotoxic lice products. Her PhD research will focus on barriers and attitudes of evidenced-based policy change for head lice in the school setting.


[1] USA Today, “Beyond Flint: Excessive lead levels found in almost 2,000 water systems across all 50 states,” 3/11/16.
[2] The Atlantic, “The Toxins That Threaten Our Brains,” 3/18/14.
[3] Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).