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MUSC College of Nursing - DNP and PhD Online

Partners in Health Care Launched
New venture connects direct primary care access and health education

On June 6, the College of Nursing, in collaboration with East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO), opened Partners in HealthCare, a nurse practitioner practice that focuses on the management of uninsured patients with diabetes, hypertension, and associated conditions of hyperlipidemia, obesity, and tobacco usage. ECCO, a non-profit, community service organization, serves more than 4,500 Berkeley and Charleston county families who are living in poverty. This new initiative is a collaboration between MUSC’s College of Nursing and Department of Family Medicine, as well as Roper St. Francis Healthcare. 

Last year ECCO asked the CON to develop a program to address the health concerns of their uninsured clients. ECCO staff had identified that their uninsured clients had no source of primary health care. Not only were clients not receiving basic preventive services, but for those clients with chronic disease, there was a lack of access to a health system that provided a continuity of care which is critical to improve health outcomes in this hard to reach population. 

Partners in HealthCare is staffed by three CON faculty nurse practitioners, Cathy Durham, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, Terri Fowler, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, and Whitney Smith, MSN, APRN, ANP-C. Not only do they provide patient care but they also precept DNP students. Additionally, the practice site retains two CON faculty members who provide needed administrative support. Shannon Smith, DNP, RN, ACNS-BC, CGRN, provides care coordination and Deborah Williamson, DHA, MSN, RN, provides support for clinic management and integration of accelerated BSN students. 

The enthusiasm expressed by BSN students for the opportunity to work with nurse practitioners is captured in the words of Lauren Walden, third semester BSN student. “Last night I had an amazing clinical experience at ECCO. It was the first time I have ever had an NP preceptor and it was AMAZING,” Walden said. “I followed two patients with Dr. Durham, who is a rock star. Not only was I lucky to have an amazing educational experience, I loved the whole environment. This experience reassured me that I am on the right path...I want to be a DNP.”

Other key players that have assisted and facilitated the start-up clinic include the MUSC Department of Family Medicine and the CARES Clinic that provided facility and systems support. 

Partners in HealthCare will be adding new members of the interprofessional team in August. Physical therapy, pharmacy, dietetic, and medical students will work with the NPs, as well as the nursing students to provide care to this underserved population. 

Partners in HealthCare is off to a good start and running smoothly thanks to the organizational talents of Maria Toler, CON’s compliance manager. Many thanks to three energetic MUSC volunteers, Dianne Schuler, RN, Tess Lawhon, and Margaret Shull (Shull is the daughter of Lynn Shull, CON’s assistant dean for finance and administration), who keep the office orderly and welcome patients. If you are interested in volunteering at PHC, contact Maria Toler at