Feature Stories 2024: Nursing PhD Alumni Series: Dr. Rayna Letourneau, PhD '17, RN

PhD Series
Feature Stories 2024: Nursing PhD Alumni Series: Dr. Rayna Letourneau, PhD '17, RN
Nursing PhD Alumni Series: Dr. Rayna Letourneau, PhD '17, RN

Trailblazer in nursing workforce development

Dr. Rayna Letourneau, a 2017 graduate of UMass Dartmouth's College of Nursing & Health Sciences PhD program, is an experienced nurse educator and a trailblazer in nursing workforce development.

She previously taught at UMass Dartmouth and is now an associate professor at the University of South Florida School of Nursing while also serving as executive director for the Florida Center for Nursing. Letourneau highlights how her PhD education has allowed for the expansion and success of her current work, shared the projects she has initiated that have had a national and global impact, and offers helpful advice for those considering pursuing a PhD in nursing.

Realizing the scope of one's impact

UMass Dartmouth's PhD program in nursing prepares graduates to become successful nurse educators and scientists. Letourneau notes that the potential opportunities for graduates of this program are far-reaching. During her time as a PhD student, Letourneau recognized the impact that nursing education has on workforce development and the nursing workforce. She stated that her nursing PhD "poised me to be able to do all of the work that I do now for the Florida Center for Nursing, the scholarship related to nursing workforce development, and continue in the role of teaching."

In speaking about her program of research, Letourneau stated, "Being prepared as a teacher and a nurse educator has allowed me to recognize what the needs are for workforce development. What is the need for recruitment, what does a pipeline look like, and what type of resources need to be implemented and utilized to be able to have an appropriate, robust pipeline of nurses into our workforce?

"And it doesn't stop there. Once we’ve established that pipeline and we put people through our nursing education programs, whether that's prelicensure or post-licensure, what are the resources they need to transition to their new role? After we prepare them and transition them into the workforce, our work is not done. We need to continue to support them, we need to continue to develop them, we need to encourage healthy work environments, and determine what systematic changes need to happen to be able to retain our nursing workforce and those experts, and then help those experts give back to the new nurses coming in."

Creative initiatives for nurses and PhD students 

Letourneau’s work has focused on The Future of Nursing 2020-2030 report. "If the goal is to increase capacity and competence of the nursing workforce, the projects that I work on align with that goal," she said.

One project she created is the Frontline Nursing program, a continuing education program with the goal of increasing the capacity and competence of frontline nurses caring for COVID-19 patients during the pandemic. This program reached an international audience and offered continuing education units (CEUs). In recalling the importance of this work, Letourneau said there was a focus on "the unique needs for nurses to be able to continue to flourish in their role at the bedside, how to advocate for themselves, and how to be empowered."

Additionally, in 2021, Letourneau founded WIRES (Wellness, Innovation, Resources, Education, and Support) for the Healthcare Workforce. "The purpose of WIRES is focused on the recruitment, retention, and the wellbeing of the workforce, starting with nurses but able to transcend our work to all of the healthcare professions," she stated. 

She highlighted one of the program’s major successes, their Preceptorship-to-Hire program. "We partner with hospitals in our region to purposely place our senior-level, final semester preceptorship students with a preceptor in a hospital system in which the student wants to work post-graduation. Looking at this program, it's a purposeful match because we know that teaching and learning is a bidirectional process: the learner, the student, has needs and the preceptor has needs too, so we’re looking at how we can make that a good match," she said. Letourneau shared that the end goal is to decrease one-year turnover rates at these organizations.

Reflecting on these initiatives, Letourneau emphasized how her PhD education helped her be part of the solutions for problems related to workforce development. She noted that nurse scientists have a duty to enact these solutions. "We can’t stop at just making some recommendations or developing strategic plans; implementing those strategies and testing them to see what’s effective and then being able to scale them nationally and globally will help make an impact."

Recommendations for pursuing a PhD

Letourneau offers valuable advice for current and future PhD students: "Find a mentor who can help you determine your goals and the best path to meet those goals."

Regarding her choice to pursue her PhD, Letourneau states, "I recommend it 100%. I am so glad that I was able to participate in the PhD program at UMass Dartmouth because it really did meet my career goals. The programmatic outcomes, the faculty—everything aligned with what I want to do."

Editors Note: The Nursing PhD Alumni Series will feature interviews with graduates from UMass Dartmouth's PhD program and exemplifies a vast array of opportunities one can pursue with a nursing PhD education.

This story was written by Danielle DeGonge, a PhD student in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences.