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A Nursing Career with Global Impact
Dr. Jeanne Kemppainen, Class of 1958
From the spring 2008 issue of the Bridge
The summers spent with her Finnish grandmother, Mary Pelkonen, on a farm near Houghton inspired Jeanne Wierimaa Kemppainen's appreciation for her Finnish heritage and also a love for Michigan's Copper Country. During those summers she often accompanied her grandmother on visits to the old Finnish Book Concern on the campus of Suomi College. Not only did those visits instilled a love of learning, they also created in Jeanne a desire to attend Suomi College.
Little did she know when she enrolled at Suomi College in 1958 that her nursing career would have such a major impact on global issues in health care, and on the lives of a generation of patients and nursing students.
After finishing the pre-nursing courses at Suomi College, Dr. Kemppainen completed her bachelor's degree in nursing at Wayne State University, Detroit. She earned her master's degree at East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, where she received the Outstanding Graduate Student Award. Dr. Kemppainen completed her Ph.D. in nursing at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where her research was recognized with the Distinguished Dissertation Award.
Following completion of her Ph.D., Dr. Kemppainen received a prestigious national appointment as a VA Post- Doctoral Nurse Fellow through the Veterans Health Care System. Following a long, distinguished career as an advanced practice and administrative nurse in the VA Health Care System, she joined the nursing faculty as a professor at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington (UNCW). At UNCW she was voted Faculty of the Year by UNCW nursing students, and recently received the prestigious university-wide UNCW Faculty Scholarship Award for her academic achievements and her internationally recognized contributions to nursing and health care.
Throughout her career Dr. Kemppainen has been dedicated to improving health care for patients with chronic illnesses. It was a chance nursing care encounter with a young dying AIDS patient, however, that motivated her to pursue doctoral education in nursing.
During the early days of her nursing career, Dr. Kemppainen worked as a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist and comanager of a busy inpatient ward in a large hospital in the southeastern United States. She also served as mental health liaison to all the nurses and patients in that hospital. Dr. Kemppainen remembers that, "it was during this time that the AIDS epidemic was just beginning in this country. One day, I was called by the nurses to come and 'do something' about an angry family visiting one of the patients. The situation that I found that day was so remarkable and complex that it actually changed and broadened the focus of my nursing career."
Dr. Kemppainen explains, "A young man, in the late stages of HIV/AIDS, had returned to our area from San Francisco to be with his family. Not only did I find an angry family, I found a frightened, dying patient, and fearful, hesitant nurses." The event marked a turning point.
For the same hospital, Dr. Kemppainen became instrumental in developing a chronic illness educational program for nurses, and began to work closely with chronically ill patients. In addition, she developed a program of research aimed at improving the quality of nursing care for chronically ill patients.
Following completion of her doctoral degree Dr. Kemppainen was invited to join the UCSF Nursing Network for HIV/AIDS Research, an international network of nurse scholars representing major universities and health care institutions in Taiwan, Africa, Norway, Puerto Rico, Columbia, South America, and the United States. The goal of the network is to engage nurse scientists and clinicians in cross-cultural and cross-national research aimed at improving the quality of nursing care for persons living with HIV disease. As a member of this network, Dr. Kemppainen participates in a series of ongoing international research studies aimed at helping patients improve adherence to HIV therapies and determining symptom self-management activities.
Also as part of her Network activities, Dr. Kemppainen participates in the development of a global agenda for HIV/AIDS research in nursing and serves on planning committees for seminal international nursing research conferences. Her research related to the Network studies, and other work, has been widely disseminated through toptiered nursing and multidisciplinary health related publications and national and international presentations. Dr. Kemppainen recently completed an invited book chapter about research for international nurses for a World Health Organization publication.
Dr. Kemppainen notes, "One of the special highlights of my career was the privilege of presenting some of my HIV/AIDS research at the University in Helsinki, Finland, and collaborating with a nursing professor from the University of Turku."
While her current research continues to focus on self-care in chronic illness, the direction of Dr. Kemppainen's work has expanded to include the association between spirituality and health care outcomes. Currently, she serves as a co-investigator for an international study which examines associations between spirituality and hypertension in persons living in rural regions of the United States and northern Japan.
An important finding of this study is the close association between increased levels of spirituality and lower blood pressure. As part of this study, she works with UNCW faculty colleagues and Japanese nurse researchers from Iwate Prefectural University in northern Japan. As part of this work Dr. Kemppainen has had the opportunity to study spiritual practices in Japan, as well as those in U.S. rural southern culture. With her Japanese colleagues, during the summer of 2007 she presented the findings of this study at the International Congress of Nursing in Yokohama, Japan.
Dr. Kemppainen is an active member of the Finlandia University International Alumni Board and the Finnish Council in America. She is married to Pastor Dale Kemppainen, assistant pastor at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. She is the mother of three sons, Jon Kemppainen of Austin, Texas (wife Susan), Karl Kemppainen of New Bern, North Carolina (wife Lynda), and Paul Kemppainen of Sterling, Virginia (wife Tiffany); and grandmother to Evan, Leah, Hannah, Reagan, and Piper.