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Disaster Management Leader

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Nursing Professor Wins Alumni Achievement Award

Deborah Persell is a national leader in crisis management and has played an instrumental role in establishing disaster response as a new specialty in the profession of nursing.

Her leadership in keeping the profession on the cutting edge of relevance led the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies to present Persell, M.S.N. ’78, with an Alumni Achievement Award.

“I am driven by the reality that the severity and frequency of disasters and extreme emergencies around the world has increased by 300 percent in the last decade,” Persell said. “This means more and more lives are dependent on swift, efficient and excellent preparedness, response and recovery efforts. Academic and practical training and education in disaster preparedness is critical to ensuring a multi-disciplinary, coordinated and evidence-based response.”

After Sept. 11, 2001, Persell pursued and became the first graduate from the Homeland Security Nursing program at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she earned her doctorate.

Currently, Persell is a professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Arkansas State University. She serves as director of the Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management program as well as coordinator of the university’s Regional Training Center for Disaster Life Support. Her articles, national speaking engagements and scholarship have shaped how the nursing profession approaches crises and disasters.

“Right now my most important work is providing direction to the multidisciplinary minor in homeland security, the graduate certificate in healthcare emergency management and the three new degrees in disaster preparedness and emergency management at Arkansas State University,” Persell said. “All of these programs are designed to bridge the gap between academia and practice.”

The UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies named Persell, who is a credentialed nurse practitioner, Academic Nurse of the Year in 2010. She received her M.S.N. in Pediatrics from UMKC.

“My time at UMKC was filled with a variety of excellent clinical experiences,” Persell said. “For my final clinical practicum, I, along with two classmates, went to the Navajo reservation in Shiprock, N.M. For the first time in my life, I lived in and experienced another culture. A Navajo medicine woman showed us where she gathered the medicinal plants and described their uses — we often saw herbs and plants at the bedside of hospitalized patients there.  That experience still influences my approach to disaster preparedness and emergency management as cultural differences and ways of living must be considered if lives are to be saved.”

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association presents alumni awards to one honoree from each school —including Persell from the School of Nursing — as well as five campus-wide awards at its annual awards luncheon. This year’s event, which will highlight the 80th anniversary of the campus and include the presentation of the 2013 Chancellor’s Medal, will be held on Thursday, April 18, on the UMKC campus. For information and tickets for the event, click here.

“At UMKC, I earned the necessary credentials to be a Pediatric Nurse Practioner,” Persell said. “UMKC also provided me with the requisite academic credentials to move into academia and pursue a doctorate. The need for healthcare in disasters and emergencies is a constant, and children are among the most vulnerable in times of disaster. At the time of my graduation from UMKC, I would not have imagined that today I would consolidate my pediatric experience with a new specialty about which I am so passionate. Today, I can’t imagine being where I am without the influence of UMKC.”


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