Nursing Alum Wins National Recognition for Advocacy and Care for Children

By Andy Faught, SMU News

Two decades ago, Surani Hayre-Kwan, DNP ’19, was director of surgery services at a hospital in Sonoma County where large numbers of children arrived with aching mouths and signs of advanced tooth decay.

“Many of them had really horrible dental disease and needed extensive dental work,” recalls Hayre-Kwan, now a nurse practitioner at Russian River Health Center and an adjunct assistant professor in Samuel Merritt University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice — Family Nurse Practitioner program. “The immediate effect is lots of pain, missed school, and exposure to antibiotics, over and over, as we try to control the infections in their mouths.”

Today’s pediatric dental challenges are every bit as pronounced as they were in the early 2000s, Hayre-Kwan says. More than half of California kindergartners are afflicted with tooth decay, according to the state’s Department of Education. Typical patients are 3½ years old and present with more than 11 cavities. Under general anesthesia, the nonprofit Pediatric Dental Initiative of the North Coast (PDI), where Hayre-Kwan serves as board president, performs cleanings, X-rays, fillings, extractions, crowns, and pulpotomies (root canals on baby teeth). The nonprofit treats children in 33 California counties, and some from outside the state.

In November, Hayre-Kwan was one of four nurses in the country to win the 2021 DAISY Nurse Leader Award in Policy. She was selected for her work to preserve state funding that provides dental care to low-income residents; specifically for leading a 2020 campaign to preserve Proposition 56 funding, which provides dental care for more than 32,000 low-income patients, many children, enrolled in Denti-Cal.

“I’m very proud of the advocacy that I’ve been able to bring to my patients and my community,” Hayre-Kwan says.

The DAISY Foundation created the award in 2020, in conjunction with HealthImpact—a California forum to develop strategies for nursing and healthcare—to honor nurses whose work “advances compassionate care in policy.”

Why she chose SMU

Hayre-Kwan enrolled in SMU’s doctoral program because of the University’s past affiliation with Sutter Health. The degree has given her the ability to see her work with new perspectives.

“I’ve become very good at looking at literature for evidence because of my doctoral work,” Hayre-Kwan says.

Notably, she conducted research in 2019 that showed first-year turnover among Sutter physician assistants and nurse practitioners was nearly twice the national average, in large part due to burnout. She went on to develop a pilot mentoring program that allowed Sutter nurse practitioners and physician assistants to work with mentors and learn how to navigate organizational politics and care for patients. The program was so successful that it was expanded throughout the Sutter network.

“I’ve made it my goal to make sure that colleagues within Sutter know about the value of Samuel Merritt’s program,” she says. “And I spend a lot of time talking to potential students about what SMU has to offer. Samuel Merritt helped me understand the value of the work I do, and how it can have an impact going forward.”

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