Josie Bidwell's career is littered with success.
In the last three years alone, she's earned her doctorate degree, been named Director of Clinical Services for UMMC's UNACARE Family Health Clinic, become a regular guest host on the public-broadcast radio show Southern Remedy, established a teaching kitchen in Jackson's Midtown, and more.
She added another accomplishment to the list April 7 during the University of Mississippi School of Nursing Alumni Day held at the Student Union. Bidwell was recognized as the 2016 Nursing Alumnus of the Year, an honor bestowed by her fellow alumni, many of whom cited her drive for education and outreach and her many achievements when they nominated her.
Josie and husband Lee Bidwell, assistant professor of biochemistry, celebrating her Alumnus of the Year honor.
The Carrollton native has three degrees from UM: a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2004, a Master of Science in Nursing in 2006, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice in 2013.
After Bidwell was presented with her award, Kim Hoover, dean of the School of Nursing, was emphatic: “Josie is a powerhouse. She's never satisfied to sit back and relax. She always sees another way she can reach out, another way she can make a connection.”
Despite her long list of successes, Bidwell says she has had plenty of failures. “I've written lots of grants that have gotten rejected,” she laughs. “The important thing is to find something you're passionate about, and don't give up on it - keep pushing.”
Passion is something Bidwell has plenty of, and she's putting it to good use to improve the health of Mississippians.
It all started as she worked toward becoming a nurse practitioner, when, in a clinical rotation at UMMC, she encountered an NP who focused on helping diabetic and pre-diabetic patients understand and apply nutritional guidelines. The practicality of the approach appealed to Bidwell.
“We can throw medicines at diabetic people all day long,” she said. “But until we address what they're eating, the underlying problem isn't addressed.”
Since 2009, Bidwell has been a full-time member of the nursing school faculty. Prior to that appointment, while working as a nurse in private practice, she encountered many adults and children who were struggling with obesity and food issues.
As a part of her doctoral studies, Bidwell sought to find an outlet for her interest in metabolic issues. At that point, fate stepped in, in the form of longtime UMMC professor of medicine and pediatrics Dr. Rick deShazo. Once he learned of Bidwell's interest, he had some ideas for her.
“If Dr. deShazo knows you're interested in something,” said Bidwell, “he'll find you a big ol' project.”
deShazo hosts the Wednesday edition of MPB's Southern Remedy
That project involved working with Southern Remedy, Mississippi Public Broadcasting's flagship health and wellness program, led by deShazo and a team of UMMC experts. Southern Remedy had already produced a documentary, “Mississippi's Big Problem,” that focused on obesity in the Magnolia State. In response to that documentary, the Southern Remedy team was working on a healthy living guide for adults and children when deShazo suggested that Bidwell, a Zumba instructor, might be just the right person to supply a missing piece: the physical activity portion.
So Bidwell got to work, mindful of her audience. “I wanted to 'Mississippi-fy' the kind of physical activity suggestions that you see in other resources,” she said.
“I thought about issues of gym access and the intimidation factor of gyms, and made the exercises and activities I suggested things that anyone could do.” The model for her exercise routine pictures was a fellow nurse.
These days, Bidwell travels around the state and region teaching the curriculum she helped to develop. A Community Health Advocate Master Trainer, she provides nutrition, physical activity and healthy living training to both health profession students and to the general public.
Bidwell, right, during a Community Health Advocate training session at the Student Union
Additional connections and thus, projects, have followed. Through her work leading nutritional education for medical and nursing students at UMMC, she met Dr. Alan Penman, a UMMC professor of medicine who heads up the public health concentration for first-year medical students.
Together, Penman and Bidwell secured a grant from the Bower Foundation to establish a teaching kitchen. Their two-year pilot program, called the “Cook Right, Live Well” teaching kitchen, is now open in Midtown, delivering hands-on lessons in healthy food selection and preparation for people with high blood pressure and diabetes. The free classes are offered on a weekly basis.
“The teaching kitchen has been so rewarding,” said Bidwell. “I teach them how to shop, prep, and generally just make little changes that will impact their health in the long run.”
Bidwell, standing right, provides healthy food and nutrition information at the Midtown teaching kitchen
Although the teaching kitchen has been very successful in reaching an audience who needs healthy living education, Bidwell hasn't stopped there. In January, she took over the School of Nursing's UNACARE Health Clinic. As Director of Clinical Services, Bidwell's vision is that, in addition to nurse practitioners providing a range of medical services, there would also be a monthly community event to provide further education to residents. The team provided health screenings at a block party in March, with more events in the works
When it comes to her career, “so far” is a key phrase with Josie Bidwell. From the beginning of her career, she said, all she ever wanted was to make a difference. “I never dreamed I'd have the platform to meet and work with so many people. There's such a great cadre of people here at UMMC,” she said.
Bidwell has indeed made a difference. But for this alumnus, there is a lot more in store. “I always tell my students you can do anything you want to,” she said. “You just have to be like Dory from Finding Nemo - just keep swimming. Every day is an opportunity to learn and make a connection with someone else.”
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