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A mustard seed of hope

“I present my story,” says Dr. Karen Worthy, “which is quite unique — I was a single, teen mother from a low-income, underrepresented population in rural Chester County, South Carolina."

“From a national teen pregnancy statistics standpoint," Worthy reflects,"I was not supposed to excel. My motivation has come from both my mother’s philosophy — family is like a canoe that makes no progress unless everyone paddles — and my philosophy — success belongs to those who dare to achieve it.”

The journey

Worthy defied the odds by earning an AS in Technical Nursing, a BS in Nursing, an MS in Nursing, a Masters of Public Health, a Leadership Studies Certificate, and a Ph.D. in Higher Educational Administration. Each of these educational achievements were earned at the University of South Carolina. 

This year, the SC Nurses Foundation recognized Worthy with the SC Palmetto Gold Award, and she is a candidate in the USC College of Nursing's 2015-2016 Amy V. Cockcroft Leadership Development program.

As a first-generation doctoral graduate from Chester, SC, Worthy says she is blessed to have her family, friends, the College of Nursing, the College of Education and the entire USC community to support, motivate and mentor her educational journey.

“I call them the Awesome Three — family, friends and USC,” says Worthy. “My life has been encircled with inspirational, motivational and spiritual support from these Awesome Three.”

“My role,” Worthy explains, “is interwoven as an instructor, academic coach, student mentor and appreciative adviser to help students flourish in nursing and ultimately pass the NCLEX exams to become safe, competent nurses. I address time management, study skills, test-taking strategies, campus resources and course review sessions with students."

Worthy has taught numerous undergraduate, upper division nursing and university courses including Clinical Reasoning, Health Assessment, Senior Capstone Practicum, Acute Care of Nursing I, Foundations of Nursing Practice and University Fundamentals of Inquiry.  

Research for improved education and leadership

Worthy serves on a team investigating how nurses can achieve higher levels of education and training through an improved education system that promotes seamless academic progression. Her most recent research focus was effective leadership styles and how they affect employee satisfaction.

“If better assessments can be made of this relationship,” says Worthy, “it may be possible to formulate a nursing education leadership practice model and align best practice leadership strategies to enhance greater organizational effectiveness.”

While there is a great body of research concerning principal leadership practices and teacher satisfaction, very little research has focused on higher education — especially leadership practices and the effectiveness of deans and how their attributes influence faculty job satisfaction. Even less has focused on nursing education programs.

“My study findings,” Worthy explains, “may contribute to the ongoing professional development of nursing leaders and faculty by disseminating information concerning leadership styles aimed to reduce nursing faculty attrition in these institutions."

On a global scope, Worthy  hopes that her findings may contribute to the development of leadership practice standards for nursing education administrators both nationally and internationally. 

Worthy says that during her educational journey, she has encountered a variety of styles of leadership that have been instrumental in her quest to research transformational leadership in nursing.

“I hope that this research will create awareness of effective nurse leadership models designed to develop effective leadership styles through skill development, role modeling, support and counseling, mentoring, and networking," says Worthy.

This belief supports Worthy's other research interest including diversity in nursing and rural BSN recruitment and retention.

Changing the statistics

Worthy says she is personally driven by Chester County’s low-income, first generation, minority student statistics because she is a product of that statistic. “I present my story at numerous local and regional events to encourage and educate others on how to remove obstacles and pursue an educational path,” she notes.

Worthy says, “My future aspiration is to be in a position to help other minority, low-income, underrepresented students to go forth and do great things."

One of her goals is to support the optimal growth and development of socioeconomically disadvantaged minority students by identifying and providing services and support to enhance their intellectual, social and cultural development in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

"I plan to execute these goals through continuous outreach and networking opportunities" says Worthy. "For instance, in the 2013-2014 academic years, I connected with over 600 local and regional high school students, parents, and community leaders regarding the importance of education with an emphasis on nursing education. I hope my role as a nurse educator on regional and rural, distance education campuses will have a positive influence on our current and potential students." 

Worthy is a past executive board member of Chester County Teens United for the Future (formerly the Chester County Teen Pregnancy Council) and is actively involved with the South Carolina One Voice One Plan Future of Nursing Action Coalition, established to implement the recommendations of the landmark Institute of Medicine (IOM) Future of Nursing Report. She is also a member of  professional organizations including the South Carolina League of Nurses, National League of Nurses and the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.

As a nurse, Worthy believes that every day we all have the distinct pleasure of touching someone’s life or in many cases, someone’s life will touch ours.

"Unequivocally, as transformational leaders," Worthy explains, "nurses have an exceptional form of influence that moves others to accomplish more than what is usually expected of them.”

That is exactly what Worthy is doing every time she asks someone, “I’m a NURSE — what’s your superpower?” Know that she is uncovering their strength and gift.

“I hope that in some small way, my story will plant a mustard seed of inspiration in others,” she concludes.