Rita Chow

Q&A with Rita K. Chow, EdD, RN, FGSA, AHN-BC (ret), from Arlington, Virginia.

chowMeet Rita.

"Value integrity, originality, and be authentic in moving toward your goals. Don’t be discouraged by adversity. Eventually you may discover keys to unlock and drive creativity."

Q: How long have you been a GSA member?
A: It has been about 20 years.

Q: How has membership in GSA benefited you?
A: Its publications and annual scientific conferences help me keep up with the latest developments in gerontology and reunite with colleagues.

Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: It was an adventurous happenstance triggered by President Nixon’s campaign promise to improve the nursing homes of the nation. After creating the Office of Nursing Home Affairs (ONHA), he eventually chose Faye G. Abdellah, USPHS Chief Nurse Officer, to be Director of ONHA. As Assistant Chief Nurse Officer, USPHS, I joined her. To improve the nation’s nursing homes, our ONHA administrative team created the first unprecedented unannounced survey of a national representative statistical sample of nursing homes. After creating a training manual, we rapidly formed 15 Federal teams—each with 8 professionals—that included physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and fire safety specialists—in collaboration with the 10 HEW (now DHHS) Regional Directors and gathered massive data. I assisted with photographing and preparing the color slide-audiotape presentation and edited the first three publications to submit the survey results to the President, Congress, and all HEW regions. The survey’s results propelled us to propose new Federal regulations to completely refocus the state inspection surveys of nursing homes to be resident-oriented and to meet individual’s needs.

Soon I realized that my previous studies in nursing education administration and surgical nursing lacked gerontology. So as Chief of Quality Assurance in the Office of Long-Term Care, Health Care Financing Administration, I studied part-time—majoring in public health. In 1983 I earned George Mason University’s gerontology certificate, a second baccalaureate, i.e., Bachelor of Individualized Studies (BIS), and presented the Outstanding Project in the Public Interest Award for teaching hospitalized post-coronary patients how to prevent future heart attacks.

Q: How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research?
A: I am confident that GSA will continue to evolve and to address vital aging issues responsively and be relevant, future-oriented organization. For example, recently, GSA announced its admirable “2020 Vision for Growth & Impact” and has formed a Social Integration Coalition to develop a comprehensive policy agenda. Some time ago when I was elected as an officer in the Health Sciences Section; I felt honored to have the unique opportunity to contribute from my confluence of experiences. I also participate on the Humanities & Arts Committee.

Q: Are you a member of a GSA interest group? If so, which ones?
A: Yes, I enjoy being a part of Nursing Care of Older Adults and Religion, Spirituality, and Aging.

Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: After an encore retirement from the National Council on Aging (NCOA), I enjoy continuing there as a volunteer. My task is to identify and abstract practical research resources that relate to the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) programming. There are more than 12 topics of interest, especially those related to such Basics of Aging Mastery as exercise, prevention of falls, healthy eating and hydration, healthy relationships, community engagement, and consequences of social isolation and loneliness. The abstracted studies selected are shared with staff and may also be published in the NISC newsletter or website.

Q: What is your most memorable research/patient experience? OR What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?
A: Two USPHS indelible experiences remain with me. The first happened 1981 when I was assigned to be Assistant Director of Nursing at the National Hansen’s Disease (HD or leprosy) Center in Louisiana; I was also appointed to be its first Director of Patient Education in rural Carville, Louisiana. During those five years, I had unique opportunities to create and initiated:

  • An in-facility wheelchair Mardi Gras parade to introduce participative “Body Recall” exercises with musical accompaniment and demonstrated by a special team from Baton Rouge, LA.
  • Their first evidence-based Pilot Study Exercise & Music Therapy program for long-term care HD patients with such disabilities as severe vision impairment and lower limb amputations due to neuropathic complications. A staff physical therapist, occupational therapist, and I led the exercises. As a result, all participants increased their range of joint motion and strengthened to stand up, and received certificates at the recognition ceremony. Other HD patients noticed our efforts and requested a similar program, so we added a more extensive facility-wide therapeutic exercise-music program.
  • Their first videotaped HD patient teaching program on “Caring for Your Eyes” featuring Dr. Margaret Brand, eye surgeon on the center staff.

The second gerontology experience happened in 1989 when I was selected by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Medical Director to be the Director of Nursing of a Texas Federal Correction Institution. Somehow I was able to pass the three-week intensive orientation training that all new BOP staff must satisfactorily complete in didactics, self-defense, and three firearms (pistol, shotgun, and rifle). I was also appointed to be Director of Continuing Medical Education. Nevertheless, it took six years of joint staff collaborative endeavor to convert the Correctional Facility into a Medical Center to accomplish:

  • The first jointly designed new BOP Long-Term Care Facility constructed, complete with multi-purpose room with movable furniture and green plants, Intensive Care Unit, Security Rooms, Isolation Room with special air circulation system required for Communicable Diseases, Central Nursing Office, special bathing units to prevent falls, electronic monitoring equipment, etc.
  • The first volunteer Inmate-to-Inmate Hospice Care Program for aging federal prisoners in a Long-Term Care Medical Center, guided by the Catholic Chaplain, Medical Social Worker, and Director of Nursing.
  • The first fully JCAHO accredited long-term care BOP Medical Center

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?

  • Be intentional and commendable in how you shape your life daily—with healthy thinking despite hardships
  • Value integrity, originality, and be authentic in moving toward your goals. Don’t be discouraged by adversity. Eventually you may discover keys to unlock and drive creativity.
    “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Add purpose, passion, and desire to make a social impact with your career goals.
  • In every new situation be prudent, observe, listen to understand, and notice details.

Growing up bilingually in San Francisco, I have tried to learn from exemplary leaders—whether they were Girl Scout leaders, trainers or administrators; US Army Command and General Staff; or academic faculty. Making a decision meant following a consistent pattern of pausing, studying the situation with strategic thinking, and then monitoring to sharpen decision-making, coordination, and control.

For example, following completing pre-doctoral and Professional Diploma requirements in the area of Nursing Education Administration studies and coping with only minimum savings, in 1961 I found my first proposed doctoral project rejected. I needed a full-time job. To my surprise, the Chief Editor of the American Journal of Nursing, American Nurses Association’s official magazine with 200,000 circulation, offered me the Assistant Editor position. So after a year and progressing to Associate Editor, I refocused on developing a new doctoral project and took additional courses in mathematics and cybernetics to grapple with the relevance of von Bertalanffy’s and Ashby’s concepts related to systems thinking. Proposed by Howland, systems theory potentially applied to organization management, cybernetics, and decision-making. I thought it could apply to the complex care and the new care technology of post-surgical cardiac monitoring.

After visiting professor Daniel Howland, PhD in Ohio, and joining his Systems Research group, I had the goal to identify the scientific principles of postoperative nursing actions by documenting the care with the new video recording technology continuously for four hours per patient who had undergone open-heart surgery in the University Hospital’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU). Progress with the pilot study phase was propelled by two funds and more. The 3-M Company of Minnesota donated a roll of video tape and sent a professional camera man who collaboratively recorded my pilot study of a nine-year old girl’s open-heart post-surgical SICU care. Meanwhile, the University’s medical school constructed its first television studio; my project provided the video cables to the SICU, two remote controlled cameras, pan and tilt mechanisms, etc. for recording capabilities. The pilot audio recording and videotaping of the bedside nursing actions successfully demonstrated the project’s feasibility and caught the attention of Ellwynne Vreeland, MA, RN, USPHS Nurse Director, who became my informal significant mentor.

Q: Share more about your important mentor and how she made a difference.
A: Ellwynne Vreeland was Director of Intramural Research, Division of Nursing, NIH. She enthusiastically envisioned that potentially my video recordings had educational value for improving cardio-surgical nursing care. Bolstered by modest funding, the research, nevertheless, took three years to acquire a final sample of 21 patients. The three essential steps of the research protocol were:

  1. Obtaining research/recording permission from the University’s Research Committee, cardiac surgeons, Nursing Service Director, patients selected for study, and approximately 210 hospital personnel—whenever they appeared in the video recordings;
  2. Observing the patient’s open-heart procedure in the operating room then hurrying to direct the project’s camera man and recording engineer in the television studio near the SICU.
  3. Interviewing and audio recording each patient’s SICU nurse immediately after recording her care for four hours to obtain her observations, rationales for decision making, and scientific knowledge.

Ms. Vreeland was supportive and believed the study would impact the quality of nursing care. She urged me publish the project’s results and join the USPHS. So after completing the doctoral dissertation requirements, I joined the USPHS Commissioned Corps and was jointly appointed to work with Vreeland’s Intramural Research and Faye Abdellah, EdD, RN, Nurse Director, Extramural Research section, Division of Nursing, NIH.

After presenting my project’s research findings and films at such conferences as those of the American Nurses Association and Association of Operating Room Nurses, I received:

  • First place for nursing essay on cardio-surgical nursing research from AMSUS, The Society of Federal Health Professionals and it was subsequently published: “Significant Research and Future Needs for Improving Patient Care,” Military Medicine, 139:302-306, N. 4, April 1974.
  • Award of Merit from the American Medical Writers Association for my textbook, Cardiosurgical Nursing Care: Understandings, Concepts, and Principles for Practice, published by Springer. The book has chapters that explicate the eight areas of essential scientific knowledge for postoperative cardiac nursing care.

Q: Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments.
A: I enjoy sharing, writing for publications, and volunteering—to never stop learning.

  • I have been presenting through such invitations as from Taipei, Taiwan to address the nation’s key nurse leaders and USPHS Commissioned Corps officers at their annual Commissioned Officers Foundation Training Symposium.
  • My recent publications are:
    1. Lorenz-Miller, Lourdes, Rita K. Chow, and Kathleen Bell. Going Global: AHNA Expands Awareness of Holistic Nursing internationally. AHNA Beginnings, A Publication of the American Holistic Nurse Association, 37(1):5, 32-34.
    2. Chow, Rita K. Holistic Nurses Champion Aging-in-Place, AHNA Beginnings, February 2019, 39(1):16-19.
  • In addition to volunteering at NCOA, I am a member of the national Coalition to Transform Advanced Care’s Interfaith and Diversity Workgroup to advance the need for compassionate, culturally congruent end-of-life care.
  • Serving as a Smithsonian Associate Event Representative, I assist such continuing education classes as on history, art, architecture, music, and science that stir thinking and creativity, and.
  • As an annual conference volunteer such as at the Aging in America/American Society on Aging and Gerontology Society of America’s Scientific Sessions, I can assist speakers, monitor sessions or provide information to registrants.

Want to ask Rita a question? Contact her on GSA Connect!

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