Fulfilling Dreams (With Acacia Herndon)

UNLV Nursing 2022 alumna Acacia Herndon accomplished a lot in her undergraduate days, but her latest venture could bring more attention to hospice care in Las Vegas. She discusses her current nonprofit work; how an accelerated nursing program led her to this point; and her time management advice to young nursing students. https://www.dreamcatchersfoundation.org/

Joe Gaccione 0:02
Greetings, you're listening to Vital Views, podcast for UNLV School of Nursing. I'm Joe Gaccione, communications director for the School of Nursing. In 2021, UNLV Nursing launched its first ever accelerated second degree Bachelor of Nursing Program, or second bach to keep it short. This is a special track for non-traditional students who had bachelors in other fields, but decided to become nurses. It takes an already intense workload and amplifies it as students on this track have a faster path to earning their bachelor's in nursing. In spring 2022, the first cohort from this program graduated from UNLV. One of those graduates built an impressive body of work during her time here and is on the verge of taking her success to the next level. She's here with us today. Please help me welcome Acacia Herndon. Acacia currently works at Centennial Hills Hospital here in Las Vegas. During her time at UNLV, she was involved with the UNLV Student Nurses Association, a nurse apprenticeship, and some high profile maternal health research that gained her recognition at a national level. And one of her biggest projects right now is putting together what may be the first Nevada chapter of the DreamCatchers Foundation. This is a nationally known nonprofit that will help hospice patients fulfill their end-of-life dreams similar to a Make-A-Wish mission. Acacia, thanks for stopping in.

Acacia Herndon 1:14
Thank you so much. I'm happy to be here.

Joe Gaccione 1:16
What attracted you to the DreamCatchers Foundation? Let's start with that.

Acacia Herndon 1:19
Sure. So, it combines two of the passions that I'm coming to realize that I have. First is the importance of intergenerational connection and the second being hospice care. So, elders often have the wisdom that younger people need as they're growing up and it provides them a role that is very fulfilling. And on the other hand, the generational segregation that is so common in our society today separates young people from experiencing what aging looks like and seeing the value in it. So, I like to be busy and volunteer, so I thought it was a perfect combination of those two passions and a good challenge.

Joe Gaccione 2:03
When it comes to starting your own chapter, what goes into that behind the scenes?

Acacia Herndon 2:08
Yeah, so at first I had to apply to the National Foundation. And they met with me, kind of learned about what I wanted to do and why I wanted to start a chapter. So, I talked with the president and she told me kind of how you get started, and you have to find a hospice partner in the area that is willing to work with you. And to start the chapter, you also need to find members and figure out a way that you want to fundraise in order to make these dreams come true. So, that also has to go with some advertising and connecting with people in the community.

Joe Gaccione 2:48
You feel like you're expanding your skill set into areas that you previously didn't know about?

Acacia Herndon 2:52
Yes, absolutely. So, it's definitely a stretch, but I thought it was a good stretch, that wasn't too much, but also would produce a lot of growth.

Joe Gaccione 3:01
So where are you at now, are you allowed to talk about where you're at in the process?

Acacia Herndon 3:05
Sure, yeah. So, I am currently trying to build a membership base. I would like to apply for some sort of grant in order to be our funding, and I'm working with Nathan Adelson Hospice as most likely our first partner, and I'm working to just become a general volunteer with them so that I can learn about how they work and then be able to explain more to potential members,

Joe Gaccione 3:33
The heart of DreamCatchers Foundation is to fulfill these end-of-life dreams. We talk about end-of-life, we talk about hospice care, it can make people uncomfortable. You mentioned aging before, it goes hand in hand, even though, you know, spoiler alert, it's all going to happen to us, we're gonna get older, and we're all gonna eventually die. It's not a morbid thing, if you don't make it morbid, but that's how people feel sometimes when you talk about morbidity and you talk about, especially in health care as a nurse, you know, talking to families and loved ones and having those difficult conversations. How do you, to kind of step away from the, the nonprofit side of it, how do you navigate those conversations with people?

Acacia Herndon 4:12
Yeah, I think it's definitely a skill that you have to learn. It doesn't come natural to anybody. As a nurse, it's not necessarily within my scope to be able to have those conversations with people, but in the future, I would like to expand more into palliative care. And I have been learning more about it, and there's a lot of resources, thankfully, out there, and they provide templates that you can use to structure these conversations, so you're not leaving out anything that is important that you don't want to miss, and also gives you the words to speak about the topic in a way that is respectful and sensitive to the topic. I actually have an example here from one of those templates if you'd like to hear it. So, one way I might choose to start is, “I'd like to talk to you about what is ahead with your illness and do some thinking in advance about what is important to you so that I can make sure we provide you with the care you want. Is that okay?” So, that acknowledges that it's a possibly difficult topic and asks for permission in case the person doesn't want to talk about it.

Joe Gaccione 5:20
These missions that, these dreams, I should say, that DreamCatchers Foundation provides, we mentioned before, similar to Make-A-Wish, is that an accurate comparison to say like, okay, these, the, the patient wants to go skydiving, for example? Are there, are there any limits to what you can do?

Acacia Herndon 5:39
Right, so there's, there's practical limits, in that sometimes the downside of the way hospice is structured right now, is that a lot of patients don't start hospice services until they're very late into their illness process, which limits the equipment that they might need when they are outside of a facility and can limit the amount of energy or physical abilities that they're able to experience, so it is definitely an accurate comparison because like, you know, with Make-A-Wish, the children also have physical illnesses that limit them in what they could do. But that's part of the, kind of the fun and you know, creativity is that we get to work with the patients themselves and to figure out, you know, maybe if they, you know, want to go skydiving, maybe we can, you know, set up a simulation for them instead, that can give them that kind of feeling.

Joe Gaccione 6:35
Absolutely. One final note on end-of-life, we've heard of birth doulas, but there are end-of-life doulas as well. And that is a position that is not taken lightly, and even though it is a sad part of life, sad moment in someone's life, to me it felt like end-of-life doulas are there to celebrate the life, to record it, so to speak. Does that, does that sound like an accurate description of it?

Acacia Herndon 6:59
Yeah, absolutely. No, it's, I think it's an amazing profession, and one that often isn't known about or recognized very much. And yeah, they are really there to focus on the patient and the family, their needs, recognizing the emotions that they're going through, and helping them to kind of just process what's happening, and offer different resources and support, someone to talk to, someone that has experience with the process.

Joe Gaccione 7:30
Your time at UNLV was quite busy to say the least, full of successes we mentioned before. Talking about the second bach program, what was your original bachelor's and what made you make the switch into nursing?

Acacia Herndon 7:42
Yeah, so I originally went to UCLA for a degree in physiology and I also minored in applied developmental psychology. So, I was actually interested in working with kids at first and going into medical school. And I ended up marrying my husband who is in medical school right now, I saw how the process worked, my mom is a nurse, my godfather is a nurse and I did some volunteering in the hospital, and I was just able to see the differences in what modern physician work and nursing work looks like. And I just realized that nursing more aligns with what I'm interested in doing on a day-to-day basis.

Joe Gaccione 8:22
In previous episodes, we've talked about nurse apprenticeships, how do you feel the apprenticeship benefited your education? Do you feel like it enhanced it? Was it, was there overlap? Was it redundant?

Acacia Herndon 8:32
No, I thought it was great. I think that the more hands-on experience someone can get in clinical fields is better. Because it is so different learning about something in the classroom versus the field. So, it definitely enhanced my skills and made me much more comfortable going into my career afterwards.

Joe Gaccione 8:55
And talking about your career, job security, because you're still working at the place that you apprenticed at, correct?

Acacia Herndon 9:01
Yep. Yeah, no, I'm very happy there. I actually live in Henderson, so I drive across town to Centennial. Mainly because I love the leadership there. I feel like they care about their employees and they really listen to them and want to make things better. So, I knew the people on the floor, and I just felt comfortable saying I didn't see any reason to try and find something better.

Joe Gaccione 9:27
Yeah, makes sense. We also mentioned before your work as a researcher, maternal health, specifically midwifery. Can you talk about what you had researched? You worked with one of our faculty, Dr. Jennifer Vanderlaan, can you talk a little bit about that?

Acacia Herndon 9:39
Yeah, so that was an amazing experience. I got so much out of it that I wasn't expecting because Dr. Vanderlaan was very welcoming and open to helping me through the process. And I ended up wanting to work with her because she is working on health policy. So, our project looked at the differences in health policies across different states because it affects midwives in different ways. Midwives are advanced practice nurses, so they can sometimes practice independently, sometimes they can't, sometimes there's other restrictions on them, such as they have to have a contract with a physician, they can't admit their patients independently into a hospital, which all affects access to their services. So, that's what we were looking at, seeing you know, how those differences affected people's access in those states.

Joe Gaccione 10:37
And you took that research to a national level, I believe AcademyHealth was the organization this summer?

Acacia Herndon 10:43
Yes, that was an amazing experience. I think that it's something that is really instrumental in kind of any student's career, is being able to be around a bunch of other, you know, academics and people who are interested in what you are passionate about learning from them and being able to kind of see yourself in a role.

Joe Gaccione 11:07
Undergrads typically don't have that much time to do research, let alone the opportunities and for understandable reasons, you're getting your feet wet when it comes to nursing. There's so many things you don't know. But do you feel like you were able to shift your activities around in order to get this done?

Acacia Herndon 11:26
Yeah, absolutely. I think that, you know, I'm extremely fortunate in a lot of ways and had a lot of privileges that allowed me to be able to do so many different activities while I was in school. I think one of my strengths is time management, but like I said, I wouldn't be able to have any of these opportunities without the privileges I've grown up with.

Joe Gaccione 11:48
And I want to ask you on the subject of time management, students, especially undergrads, trying to figure out what their schedules are going to be like, trying to plan out their classes, their clinicals, maybe even pencil in how to have fun, what would be your advice to them? Like the best strategy since you, you obviously excel in it, time management, how would you, how do you stay organized?

Acacia Herndon 12:10
I personally put every single thing into a Google Calendar. So you know, I can access it on my phone anywhere and that keeps me on track. I also will set alarms, because even though the phone will tell you when an event is coming up, it's often not enough of an alert to actually catch my attention if I'm about to miss something. One of the great things about the program is that you don't have as much stress around choosing classes because it's a set program, so you don't have that part of it that is stressful. But something I learned throughout the process is, you know, not to rush, you know, things will turn out the way they turn out as long as you do your best and you ask questions and you seek understanding rather than memorization. I learned that it was important to create time for friends because without having that time, you are, you know, unbalanced with your mental health and you're not optimally healthy in order to study and provide care to patients.

Joe Gaccione 13:21
Well, you just get buried in work. And if you're not, we've, I'm sure I've said this a bunch of times on this show, if you're not good with yourself, if you're not taking care of yourself, you can't take care of others. I mean, it's a cliché phrase, but it's absolutely true.

Acacia Herndon 13:34
Yeah, absolutely. And it's not just about the activities and kind of self care type things that people generally talk about, but it also is kind of just small things. And for me, I realized throughout this past year that I can't fix everything. So, that's a big thing in nursing, is that you have a lot of responsibility, and you will never have enough time to do the things you want to do for your patient exactly how you want to do it. So, I realized that if I just focus on, you know, realizing at the end of the day that, you know, “I was happy that I helped someone brush their teeth, you know, and that is a good enough success for me for today.”

Joe Gaccione 14:17
As we're wrapping up, I do want to go back to DreamCatchers Foundation. Where can people learn more about the foundation? And are there things that people can do to help you in your cause?

Acacia Herndon 14:27
Yes, absolutely. So, if you'd love to become a member, I would love to hear from you. The nursing school recently sent out my flyer with my contact information on it. And possibly, Joe, you can put my information in the footnotes of the podcast, so please reach out to me. Besides from becoming a member, you can also donate experiences. For example, if you have extra tickets to a Raiders game or, you know, Golden Knights game or, you know, anything like that that, you know, is probably pretty common in this city, that would be something amazing that we can offer to the patients

Joe Gaccione 15:08
And the website just to confirm dreamcatchersfoundation.org, is that correct?

Acacia Herndon 15:11

Joe Gaccione 15:12
Okay, perfect. And yes, we will have all that information on the episode page when this drops. Acacia, that's all the time we have. Thank you very much for coming in.

Acacia Herndon 15:20
Thank you so much. It was great.

Joe Gaccione 15:21
Thanks for listening out there. Hope you all have a great day.

Creators and Guests

Acacia Herndon
Acacia Herndon
Las Vegas Registered Nurse, Centennial Hills Hospital
Fulfilling Dreams (With Acacia Herndon)
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