A doctor shows a pediatric patient how to use an insulin pump with the help of a stuffed lion.
Dr. Katelyn Armstrong, a nurse practitioner in pediatric endocrinology, teaches Ahmir Brooks how to use an insulin pump.
Main Content

Nursing alum receives national award for diabetic peds work

Published on Monday, February 3, 2020

By: Kate Royals

Dr. Katelyn Armstrong has a particular passion for the patients she works with as a nurse practitioner at the University of Mississippi Medical Center – because she’s been in their shoes.

When the UMMC Center for Telehealth approached Armstrong and her colleagues in the pediatric endocrinology clinic, she saw an opportunity. Armstrong, who has been working with diabetic patients in the clinic since 2014, translated the partnership into her project while in school for her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

That project, “The Impact of Remote Patient Monitoring on Pediatric Patients with Diabetes,” made her the only D.N.P. student in the nation to receive the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Excellence in Advancing Nursing Practice Award this year.

Armstrong has plenty of personal experience with diabetes. At 16, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. As a child, she watched her father cope with the disease. 

The firsthand knowledge makes her an exceptional, and unique, provider, and is the reason she enrolled at the University of Mississippi School of Nursing for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing when she was 20 years old. Over the next 11 years she continued her education while working and received all three of her degrees from UMMC.

“I just felt like having been there, I could help other people … I think especially for a younger patient, coming from someone who’s been through what you’re going through (is different) than someone just saying  ‘You should do this, you should do that,’” she said. “I try to level with them.”

Group of three women with Katelyn Armstrong in center hold award.
Ann Cary, left, AACN board chair, and Deborah Trautman, right, AACN president and CEO, share a smile with Armstrong after presenting her with the award.

But Armstrong is also aware that working with her patients is about more than just making sure they know what to do.

“With diabetes, you have to have a passion for it … it’s easy to just say, ‘if you don’t do these things then too bad, I can’t help you,’” she explained. “But it’s a lot more than the patient knowing what to do. It’s figuring out what the barriers are in their life.”

For example, a teenager who may not want his friends to know he has the disease.

Or a young child whose family struggles to afford healthy foods.

“There are lots of different things you have to consider when you’re managing diabetes – and you’re working with the whole family unit,” Armstrong said.

In her project, Armstrong looked at two years’ worth of data from the partnership with her clinic and the Center for Telehealth in which 89 diabetic patients received a glucose monitor that connects to an iPad. The iPad communicates blood sugar readings to the Center for Telehealth and also contains educational modules for patients. 

The results showed the tool worked.

Overall, there was a decrease in hospital and emergency room visits and a decrease in patients’ hemoglobin A1C levels, which measures a person’s average level of blood sugar over the past two to three months.

While patients were using the iPads for remote-patient monitoring and sending in their information, nurses and staff at the Center for Telehealth had a protocol for when to call Armstrong and other providers and when to recommend an emergency room visit or to call 911.

The system also allowed Armstrong and her team to intervene in a preventative way.

“Even if we just noticed a trend in (a patient’s) blood sugar being higher or lower, we could look at it and make insulin adjustments in between visits” every three months, she said.

Portrait of Michelle Palokas

Dr. Michelle Palokas, assistant professor and director of the DNP program, is one of the faculty members who nominated Armstrong.

“She improved care for the diabetic patients she sees in clinic,” said Palokas.

And although the project is complete and she graduated with her doctorate, Palokas doesn’t expect Armstrong to ever quit trying to improve how she cares for patients.

“I think she’s going to be very influential and always look for things that need to be changed or improved – and she will lead those changes. I really believe that,” Palokas said.

Armstrong said she is indebted to the School of Nursing for the education it offered her.

“I feel like I kind of grew up here,” Armstrong, who received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at the School of Nursing, said. “The faculty at the SON is so wonderful. That’s so important when you’re in school, to have people who support, guide and help you.”

Armstrong received the award at the AACN’s Doctoral Education Conference on Friday in Naples, Fla.

Dr. Ann Cary, chair of AACN’s Board of Directors, called Armstrong’s work “groundbreaking” and “innovative.”

“AACN is pleased to recognize Dr. Katelyn Armstrong from the University of Mississippi with the 2019 Outstanding DNP Project Award for her groundbreaking work in the area of remote monitoring of pediatric patients with diabetes,” said Cary.  “Her innovative work serves as a model for other DNP students who are working to translate the latest scientific evidence related to safe patient care into contemporary nursing practice.”