2017 Alumni of Year
Develops Health Programs for Women in Rural South Korea

Written by Judy Tierney

When NCU launched the University’s annual Alumni of the Year Award this summer, Dr. Jennie De Gagne was a natural choice. Honoring one or more outstanding NCU graduates who have gone on to impart positive lasting change in their community through the use of their NCU degree, the award overview is a fitting description of exactly what De Gagne has done to impact the lives of hundreds of women suffering from urinary incontinence (UI) in her native South Korea.

Dr. Jennie De Gagne Dr. Jennie De Gagne

De Gagne, an Associate Professor of Nursing at Duke University School of Nursing, started her career as a nurse in Korea before moving to the United States in the mid-1990s. Fascinated by nursing and technology, she went on to earn multiple master’s and doctoral degrees including a PhD in Education with a specialization in education technology management from NCU in 2009. Later, while pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from the Duke University School of Nursing, De Gagne had the opportunity to combine the skills she learned at NCU with her experiences in the healthcare field to improve solutions for UI self-management.

According to the World Health Organization’s World Report on Ageing and Health, UI, the involuntary loss of urine associated with urgency or with effort, physical exertion, sneezing or coughing, is one of the most common impairments in older people, especially women. Unfortunately, it is often neglected and can have a profound impact on quality of life for the elderly. It has also been associated with depression in individuals who suffer from UI and increased strain and burden on their caregivers.

De Gagne became interested in how to manage this bladder problem while working with the geriatric population when she arrived in the U.S. “When I had the chance to further explore possible solutions in my DNP program,” she reflects, “I thought that given my connections to health professionals and faculty members in South Korea, perhaps I could do something innovative, something more meaningful with collaboration in the community setting there.”

“Getting buy-in from the community and developing a mutual respect and collaboration were instrumental in building the foundation.”

Dr. Jennie De Gagne, NCU’s 2017 Alumni of the Year Award Winner

Dr. Jennie De Gagne Seniors participating in the UI self-management program

With her technological expertise, knowledge of the rural healthcare landscape and fluency in the language and culture, De Gagne knew she had a great opportunity to make a difference. She understood that women have a tendency to view UI as part of the normal aging process and that social stigma and embarrassment drive many to manage the problem themselves. Hoping to provide better education and tools, De Gagne developed an online training program for community health nurses designed to improve their confidence and competency in UI self-management for their clients. The program also includes a self-management program for community elders.

To get the ball rolling, De Gagne established partnerships with key players in the community including the community health nurse practitioner Young-Oak Kim and academic educators and researchers Drs. Sunah Park and Aeyoung So. The team consulted with village leaders – including the village head, president of senior citizens, and president of the village women’s society – to solicit their support.

“Getting buy-in from the community and developing a mutual respect and collaboration were instrumental in building the foundation,” explains De Gagne. “Using innovation and evidence-based practice, I was then able to develop and implement a technology-facilitated, capacity-building model for the program, while concurrently creating a standardized instructional manual for public health nurses.”

De Gagne credits NCU with helping her become a well-versed, technically-savvy educator with the ability to assess, implement, and evaluate technological strategies in different types of learning environments and for different types of learners. Her dissertation, which won the NCU 2009 Dissertation of the Year Award, examined a wide range of distance-education formats and learnings from educators with different backgrounds, styles and levels of online teaching experience. De Gagne says her NCU degree helped her to become a worldwide expert and a respected scholar in the higher education community.

“I strongly believe in technology as a tool for positive change,” she says. “I quickly realized that without technology and innovation, the globalization of nursing education would not be possible.”

“As leaders, we should strive to respond to changes in technology, trends, and emerging global issues that can help bring hope to the underserved and motivate them to better their lives.”

Dr. Jennie De Gagne

Results from the program have shown an increased feasibility and effectiveness in improving nurses’ knowledge and attitudes toward continence management among rural Korean women. With the support of community sponsors and partners, De Gagne and her team have expanded the program to multiple community health centers serving nearly 500 community-dwelling women across the country. The work has been recognized as a high-impact solution for an underserved population and holds promise for other countries where services are limited or not available.

“As leaders, we should strive to respond to changes in technology, trends, and emerging global issues that can help bring hope to the underserved and motivate them to better their lives,” says De Gagne.

With her online program now mandatory in many parts of South Korea, De Gagne can feel confident that she’s making a significant change in the lives of many people. “The program is growing, and I see its high impact, so I'm very pleased with the results,” she says.