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MARILYN HAGERTY: Doctoral candidates at UND reach final hurdle on long, arduous road

When you travel, you make careful preparations for the road ahead. You have a good idea of what will be happening. When you follow a loved one into the intensive care unit, there are no guidelines. You don't even know what questions to ask. You d...

When you travel, you make careful preparations for the road ahead. You have a good idea of what will be happening.

When you follow a loved one into the intensive care unit, there are no guidelines. You don't even know what questions to ask. You don't know what the patient can hear. Families work hard to find a relative or friend with whom they are comfortable asking about what is happening. The situation is difficult financially. There is stress and physical discomfort.

Ways of providing additional comfort in these situations is the subject of the dissertation written by Elizabeth Hughes, Bismarck, for a doctoral degree from UND.

Hughes defended her 161-page thesis in one of the hallowed halls of learning on campus this past week. Her oral arguments were heard and questioned by a panel of five educators. And when it was all over -- in about an hour and a half -- Hughes was excused from the conference room in the Education Building. When she was called back in by Kathleen Gershman, chairman of the committee, she was told that she will be among those receiving doctor's degrees at commencement Dec.18.

The last day to submit a final copy of a dissertation to the graduate school was Dec. 3. The hearings are open to the public.

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Hughes is expecting to walk across the platform and receive a doctoral stole lined in pink and green chevrons for UND and with trim of dark blue signifying education degree. Graduation will be the culmination of scholars seeking doctor's or master's degrees in a wide range of study.

Joseph Benoit, dean of UND's graduate school, said the studies of the doctoral students and more than 2,000 other graduate students working for master's degrees span the breadth of the university. This month, there are 24 preparing to receive Ph.D degrees and four receiving Ed.D degrees. Another 117 graduate students plan to receive master's degrees. The dissertations range from subjects such as neurodegenerative disease, asteroids and sustainable energy to gender and nanomaterials.

One thesis that reached the dean's desk this past week is titled, "Revealing the Southern Lady: Exploring femininity and race in 'Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.'" This, he said, was an English master's work defended by Lisa Dawson.

The road to a master's or doctor's degree is long and arduous. Elizabeth Hughes, who has two children in college, decided working for her doctoral degree would be her response to an empty nest. She teaches at the St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck and has a husband, Jim Hughes, who is a physician and an educator. Her dissertation title was, "Crucial Conversations: Perceptions of Staff and Patient's Families of Their Communication in the Intensive Care Unit." Her interest stems from work as a respiration therapist and as an educator in that field.

For the past two years, Hughes has been among 25 people taking graduate courses from UND in classes held at Bismarck State College in Bismarck. She also has attended summer classes at UND in the College of Education.

In her work, she has seen families feeling anxious and helpless in ICU units. She has had the same lost feeling when her own family has tried to understand what is happening. In her studies, Hughes found families need the feeling of assurance and safety. She said nonphysician staff members feel stuck in the middle. Difficult families sometimes create a communication break down. And communication in the ICU can be inconsistent between physicians and staff resulting in mixed messages.

Her thesis considers the feeling of helplessness in the ICU, the reasons for it and the means of improving communication. Medical doctor focus on skills, Hughes said. Nurses focus on patients. She contends, "There is a need for collaboration in order to work together productively."

Hughes defended her dissertation before a panel of professors with doctoral degrees including Gershman, Shelby Barrentine, Thomasine Heitkamp, Richard Landry and Marcus Weaver-Hightower.

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Reach Hagerty at mhaqgerty@gra.midco.net or (701) 772-1055.

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