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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA professor Sheila Gephart recognized as scholar

Sheila M. Gephart is the third faculty member at the UA in the last five years to be selected nationally as a 2014 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar.

Gephart is an assistant professor at the UA College of Nursing and a prominent member of the NEC Society. NEC is another name for necrotizing enterocolitis, an intestinal disease that affects premature infants and can lead to death. It is considered to be one of the most severe illnesses that a premature baby can contract.

The award is going to give Gephart a way to fund her research projects as well as reward her for demonstrating promise in educating future nurses in America.

“I liked being in a profession where I continually had to learn, and I could use my interest in science with my interest in helping people, and being with people,” Gephart said.

As part of the award, Gephart will receive $350,000 over a three-year period and plans to use the majority of her earnings to fund her research project for NEC.

Gephart said she wants to spread awareness of NEC to parents of premature infants because not too many are familiar with the disease. It is one of the top-10 leading causes of infant deaths in the U.S.

The award will fund the research and positions her to work on implementing prevention and early recognition practices for NEC.“We cannot really prevent NEC without engaging parents,” Gephart said.

In June, Gephart found out she was one of 12 selected to become a RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar. “I think it really means I am in a place to learn from nursing leaders in the field nationally, and to be really developed into someone who can lead academic nursing in the future,” Gephart said. “I think more than anything, it is an opportunity.”

Gephart created a risk factor scale called GutCheckNEC. The scale provides a risk score that helps health care professionals decide if a baby is at risk or not for NEC. There are 65 different factors that detect NEC, and Gephart went through a process of deciding what the most important factors were. She was also part of an intervention called NEC-Zero.

“The whole point is to reduce NEC to zero,” Gephart said.

Amy Lynn Kijewski, one of Gephart’s research assistants, has been working with her for the last two years on the NEC research project.

Kijewski said Gephart understands where people are in the nursing field, their limitations and struggles and never judges them for it. Kijewski added that Gephart has the ability to work with what she is given and always has positive energy and words of encouragement.

“She has taught me the benefit of really looking at your area of passion and trying to leave it better than you found it,” Kijewski said.

Kijewski said the award will show the quality of the UA’s facility and quality of education at the university and will attract more students to the various nursing programs offered on campus. She added that the increased funding will also help programs at the college go farther and do more work.

“In my opinion, Dr. Gephart is really pushing the nursing program into a national spotlight,” Kijewski said. “She really is trying to make [the] UA known as one of the premier research organization[s].” is a resource recommended by Gephart to educate individuals about NEC. It is a parent-run, nonprofit advocacy group made up of diverse health care professionals, researchers and families from across the U.S. trying to spread awareness about the condition.

“NEC Society is the connection between the parents and the health care and scientific community,” Gephart said.


Follow Katelyn Caldwell on Twitter.

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