Professor uses nursing experience to guide her teaching

Dr. Lori Prol has held the dual roles of professor and nurse practitioner
Keith Fernbach

Dr. Lori Prol comes from a family of nurses.

“My mother is a nurse, and my uncle and grandmother were both nurses,” she says.

And when it came time for her to decide on a career? “I did not want to be a nurse,” she says, laughing. As an undergraduate, she started out as a psychology major.

“My roommate was a nursing student and in my first semester I realized I liked her homework more than mine,” she says. “That was really it. I started auditing her classes and I was completely fascinated by how the body worked and the role nursing plays in maintaining the health of a patient.”

She went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Pace University, and then enrolled in graduate school at Rutgers Newark with the goal of becoming a women’s health nurse practitioner.

“I was a resident advisor in college and saw how women would hide their health problem, and as a result, caused harm to their bodies,” she says. “I wanted to be the bridge to health services and be able to reach out to women, so they could feel free to talk about health issues and protect themselves.”

She ultimately decided that she could do the most good by broadening her area of focus. “I realized as a family nurse practitioner I could care for patients across the life span without giving up the women’s health aspect of care,” she says. “I felt like I was increasing my patients’ access to care by becoming less of a specialist and more of a generalist.”

After earning her Master of Science in Nursing, she received a post-master’s certificate as a family nurse practitioner from the College of New Rochelle.

Another unplanned career transition happened around this same time when Prol added the role of instructor to her resume. “I received a call from Farleigh Dickenson saying they had a need for someone to teach clinical courses in the hospital where I was already practicing,” she recalls. “I did not pursue my master’s with the intention of teaching but it fell in my lap and I loved it. I spent the better part of my career blending teaching and practicing together.”

Approximately 10 years ago she decided to further her commitment to teaching, explaining, “I knew I would need a Ph.D. in order to really enhance my scholarship and be successful in a career in academia.” 

She earned a doctorate in nursing education from Capella University, where her dissertation explored the mentoring process for Doctor of Nursing Practice students who were completing their final project in clinical.

Prol says that even while she has held the dual roles of professor and nurse practitioner, her practical experience has always guided her teaching.

“I consider myself a nurse practitioner first and an educator second,” she says. “ What would I teach if I weren’t in practice? What stories would I tell? What experiences do I share? Teaching nursing students is so much more than just teaching clinical skills, it’s also about the socialization to the role. If I’m not in practice, I don’t have these experiences to share with students.”

After serving as nursing faculty at Temple University and Stockton University, Prol came to Rider in 2019 as an assistant professor in the Department of Graduate Education, Leadership, and Counseling. She is teaching courses in the RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) program, while helping to launch the school’s new Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.

This MSN program will initially have two nurse practitioner concentrations: Family, and Adult-Gerontology Primary Care. Her responsibilities have included developing the curriculum and infrastructure of the program, as well as working with Rider’s administration to shepherd the program proposal through the approval process.

Prol is excited about the journey that lies ahead of her.

“This is an opportunity to take my teaching and practice experience and use it as a foundation to build a program," she says. "Rider has a commitment to seeing their strategic plan come to fruition, and I feel like this MSN program will be successful because of all the support I’m receiving.”

Five Questions with Dr. Lori Prol

How is nursing similar to teaching?

 As a nurse, it’s ingrained in you that your patients are autonomous. You provide them with the education and guidance, and you advocate for their needs, but ultimately, it’s your patients who have the autonomy to make health care decisions. As an educator, the same philosophy applies to students. It’s their journey, not yours. You do whatever you can to educate them, support and advise them, and socialize them to the nursing role.  It’s all about their success — of not only graduating but then going out into the community and serving in a nursing role.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

Prior to coming to Rider, I was at Stockton University and I led the effort to develop and implement a Doctor of Nursing practice degree program there. I shepherded through all the external and internal review boards, all the way up to the New Jersey President’s Council, and the program is now open and has students enrolled. To watch that process over the years and see that come to fruition, I think was my most important and impactful contribution, not only to the university and the students in the program but impactful to me because of how much I learned and was mentored in the process.

What is something about you that would surprise people?

I’m a huge Star Wars geek. The first movie came out when I was seven years old and I loved it. I’ve loved all the trilogies and they’ve been a part of my entire life. My kids come with me to the movies and they tease me a little bit about what a geek I am, but they really appreciate the films and what they mean to me.

What advice do you have for people interested in entering the health care profession?

My advice is to collaborate with other healthcare professions whenever you need to.  I’ve been practicing for more than 25 years, and I’m still learning new things every day. You can’t exist in a bubble. You’ll get very lonely, and I think that’s how I started out in nursing because that was the culture in healthcare. The silos were up, and you didn’t reveal your weaknesses.  You struggled on your own.  Now there’s an environment of collaboration, where how much you seek clarification and communicate helps you provide better care for your patients. Practice humility and you’ll learn more, you’ll get more support, and you’ll ultimately deliver safe, effective patient care.

How has the field changed since you started?

I think the accessibility of online education is the biggest change. I personally would not have been able to get my Ph.D. without it. The closest Ph.D. programs to my home were over an hour away, and I had young kids at the time. Having that accessibility to online education gave me the opportunity to go back to school when I was ready. Now we can reach people who don’t have access to a campus, or who are working full time and caring for families yet really want to advance their careers. This is especially important for professionals such as nurse practitioners because you’re not only helping students advance their careers and their scope of practice, but you’re also adding additional health care providers in communities.