Season 5 - Episode 545
Teens today face an array of challenges that are unique when compared to those of prior generations. In this Baylor Connections, Jessica Peck, clinical professor in Baylor’s Louise Herrington School of Nursing and a pediatric nurse practitioner, unpacks ways parents can connect with their teens on mental health issues and other needs, and takes listeners inside the many ways Baylor Nursing research is making an impact through research and service.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today we are talking health for teens, tweens, and more with Dr. Jessica Peck. Dr. Peck serves as clinical professor at the Baylor University Louise Herrington School of Nursing. An internationally awarded nursing leader, she served as president of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners. As a pediatric nurse practitioner and primary care, Dr. Peck has over the last 20 years, engaged, encouraged, equipped and empowered families to raise holistically healthy kids. She's an accomplished author of dozens of clinical articles for peer reviewed journals. She's a regular contributor parenting magazines and is a frequent guest on radio and television shows promoting the health of children. Her just released book Behind Closed Doors is a practical guide for parents guiding their teens and tweens through cultural change and modern day health threats. So your a professor, a mom, an author, you're in Dallas at our Louise Herrington School of Nursing campus, but back in Waco quite a bit as well with a daughter here at Baylor. Imagine you're pretty busy these days, so thanks for taking the time to join us.
Jessica Peck:Thanks so much for having me, Derek. I look forward to our chat.
Derek Smith:Well, and that's something to mentioned. Maybe not everyone knows as we talk. I mean, we have Baylor students who, Baylor nursing students start off in Waco, but the main Louise Herrington campus, School of Nursing campus is in the heart of Dallas. So how often are you back and forth?
Jessica Peck:I'm back and forth a lot. And I actually live in Houston, but travel to the Dallas campus and volunteer quite a bit at Waco because my daughter's a sophomore here, so I'm quick to raise my hand and then tell her, oh, I'm here to work. But it works out really great. And actually our second daughter was just accepted to Baylor Nursing School, so it'll be our second Baylor Bear and we're really excited to fling our green and gold afar.
Derek Smith:Well, that's exciting. Yep. Glad to have them here as a part of the program. So mentioned your title at the top. Could you take us a little further inside that? When we talk about a clinical professor, what does that mean?
Jessica Peck:Sure. So I teach future nurses and we know more than ever that we need nurses. In the United States there's a nursing shortage. So Baylor nursing has programs all the way from undergraduate where we train registered nurses all the way to a graduate program. We have nurse practitioner specialties and family and midwifery and pediatrics, which is my specialty, adult gerontology. We're starting a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program. We have nurse anesthetist and nurse leaders. We are training nurses to go all over the world from Baylor to learn, lead and serve.
Derek Smith:No, that's exciting. And we see that too. We see them traveling on mission trips and certainly going out in their professional careers and really doing great things and in the community as well over the last few years. A lot of exciting things that our students and faculty are doing. And we talk about your role as a pediatric nurse practitioner. As we're talking last week was pediatric nurse, was a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Week, or excuse me, National Nurse Practitioner Week.
Jessica Peck:That's right.
Derek Smith:So could you take us inside that, what that role is, a nurse practitioner. How does that differ? How is it similar to being a nurse and a doctor?
Jessica Peck:Yes, absolutely. So nurse practitioners are really an emerging vital health force in the United States. There are about 335,000 nurse practitioners working in health settings across the US and in all the other places around the world as well. So nurse practitioners are holistically trained. So we look at a person from a holistic point of view. We don't just care about your physical health, although we know that's important. We also care about your social health, your emotional health, your mental health, all of those things that do impact physical health. And so we are here to meet families across the lifespan. You can find us in hospitals and clinics, in camps, in surgery, and ICUs all across everywhere, which is really exciting because we're here to meet the health needs of patients.
Derek Smith:So how does that work, if so, say for example, I or someone went in for a specific need, for an illness or an injury, but there were opportunities to maybe go deeper? How does that work for people who haven't interacted, maybe with a nurse practitioner?
Jessica Peck:Oh, sure. Absolutely. So nurse practitioners, you can find anywhere. And the great thing about currently patients are really savvy healthcare consumers and they can look and see what kind of healthcare providers going to be right for them. And there are all kinds of healthcare providers who can work together as a team. But nurse practitioners are able to prescribe and diagnose and manage health problems. And they're certified in different areas. So some are certified in primary care and they'll give you primary care, just like a physician would give you primary care. Or some of them work in an ICU or some of them work in an ER. And so anywhere that you encounter a nurse practitioner, they're going to use their special skill set and education and training to meet the health need that you have presenting in that healthcare at that time.
Derek Smith:And you are specifically a pediatric nurse practitioner.
Jessica Peck:I am.
Derek Smith:What do you enjoy about working with young people and getting to interact with them at that distinct point in their lives?
Jessica Peck:Oh, I've always worked in pediatric primary care and obviously I love pediatrics because I have four kids of my own. So I've taken that devotion to pediatrics both personally and professionally. And I've worked in clinics mostly and some at a community regional hospital. I really love about pediatrics, working in primary care is seeing families grow up. So I'm on a third generation now of patients that I'm taking care of. So building relationships with family over time so that we have a trust built up between us. I can help consult with them as a pediatric expert, but know that they're the expert in their child. And the best care that we're going to give is by partnering together, that expertise to give the best health outcomes for their kids. So I love seeing babies come in when they're first born and just so fresh and full of life. And then they grow up and have their own babies and come back to clinic and make me feel like, am I 107 years old already? But it's really special to build relationships with different generations of families like that. And kids are just so inspiring and so resilient and just so honest. I really love taking care of kids.
Derek Smith:No, that's exciting. And there's going to be more opportunities for students because at the Louise Herrington School of Nursing, there's now an online D&P, a pediatric NP nurse practitioner track program. Could you tell us a little about this. What led to it and where's it headed?
Jessica Peck:Sure, absolutely. So we are actually the first program in the state of Texas for pediatric nurse practitioners to be able to go from a baccalaureate degree to a doctor of nursing practice degree. And those students are going to be trained in both primary care and acute care environments, which means out in the community just taking care of your general primary care checkups and health needs, but also in ICU emergent or urgent care settings. And this is something that is desperately needed because we see all of the unique health needs of children. And Louise Herrington School of Nursing is preparing nurses to be able to respond to those healthcare needs. So we have actually, our program is relatively new, but it's one of the biggest programs in the country. There's a lot of appeal. Baylor has a great name. Baylor nurses have a great reputation. And the great thing about an online program, it's a hybrid program. The students do come to campus for us to teach them skills like suturing and other physical skills that they need, but we want to really deliver education in their community. Sometimes when they have to come to school, they may move and then people move to Waco. They may not want to leave once they see what Chip and Joanna have done with the place, but we really want to spread healthcare across the country. So by allowing these working nurses, they're already working as registered nurses to achieve graduate education, to be able to expand their skill set to meet the health needs of people in their community. That is a real innovation that Baylor's being able to do. So I have students in Guam, I have students in New York City, I have students all over the country, and all over the world. So it's really exciting to see Baylor's influence learning, leading and serving through the nursing program.
Derek Smith:Well, I think it's, sure, it's self evident that an online opportunity to pursue these degrees is a beneficial thing. But as you talk about things like nursing shortages and just needs in communities, is that especially valuable now? I think people after the pandemic expect more of that perhaps, but is it even more valuable to have those sorts of offerings in this specific time?
Jessica Peck:Oh, it absolutely is. And to be able to expand the opportunity for a Baylor education all around the world is a great thing to do. Nursing is innovative and we always will find a way to rise up and meet the challenges of tomorrow. And what we see is discrepancies in healthcare and disparities in healthcare across the country where rural communities don't have as much access to healthcare as maybe we do here, even in Waco, but looking in Dallas that are the big medical center that we train our nurses at. So to be able to leverage that skill set and take it into rural counties that maybe don't have a primary healthcare provider, even there's some counties in Texas that don't have a single healthcare provider, or they don't have access to reproductive care or having babies or intensive care or urgent care, we're able to increase the number of care providers that are providing excellent care in those spaces.
Derek Smith:You think about Baylor, and you've mentioned Baylor nursing, it has a name and certainly Baylor's distinct with its faith background. What does that integration mean to you as you work with your students?
Jessica Peck:It makes Baylor one of the most unique places in nursing education. Nursing is a calling and we are able to really embrace that to see that it's not just a profession, but it's an integration of our faith. And so we are Christians who have nursing as a platform to serve the world, and that is a really exciting thing to do. So we integrate faith into everything that we do, it may be in the classroom, in the discussions that we have, in the ways that we care for our patients, in the ways that we learn, in the ways that we lead and in the ways that we serve. It is not just something that we do, but it is who we are.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Dr. Jessica Peck, clinical professor at Baylor University, Louise Herrington School of Nursing and author of her just released book Behind Closed Doors. And we're going to talk about that in just a moment. Before we do, I want to ask just to get a sense of some of the ways that you're able to apply your work and your research interests, including human trafficking. I don't know, do you get the question of, wait a minute, nurse, human trafficking, where do those ties come together?
Jessica Peck:I had that question myself when I first started working in this. About close to a decade ago as a pediatric professor, as a nurse practitioner, a mom of four, I really felt like I had my finger on the pulse of what was going on with kids and a leader in our community who runs an anti-trafficking organization that's actually affiliated with Antioch Church that started here in Waco. She asked me to write continuing education for nurses about human trafficking. And my answer to her was, oh, absolutely not. No, I don't know anything about human trafficking. That's not a nursing thing. I don't even understand. But what she told me was the people that she was working with who had been abused and exploited in trafficking had all seen nurses or other healthcare providers without getting any intervention or treatment at all. And so at the time I said, okay, I don't know about trafficking, but I do know about educating nurses. So give me the content. I'll give you the process and maybe you'll stop calling and I'll feel better about having done my good deed. But when I started learning about it and seeing how pervasive it is in our community in Waco, in the state of Texas and all across the country, I told her, I asked, how can I help you? But the right question is, how can I not help you? And so that really led to a dramatic left turn in my career. And I found myself in the halls of Congress advising US senators, influencing legislation here in Texas. I was a key witness in the passage of House Bill 2059, which requires all direct care providers in Texas to take continuing education about trafficking. Working in Indonesia, and Malaysia, and England, and India and all over the world and still here influencing policy, but really engaging and equipping nurses to be able to respond to people who present in healthcare systems who have been abused and exploited through trafficking. And it's been really gratifying and rewarding to do that through a faith-based lens.
Derek Smith:As you described that, obviously you've been able to apply it very specifically through policy change. I don't know if that's the answer to this question or what. You mentioned it's rewarding and gratifying. What aspects of it, are there individual moments or just things that have stood out to you as being especially meaningful that you're glad you got involved on that track?
Jessica Peck:It's all of the above. Of course, you can look at the legislation that we've passed and say, this is fantastic. Knowing that passing House Bill 2059 is going to literally impact tens of thousands of healthcare providers, which will impact hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of patients. So those things always feel good, but really it's the individual stories, the heart, the nurses who will contact me and say, I received your training and I was able to identify someone and this is their story. Or even there was another nurse who had your training and interacted with someone who didn't make an outcry, but later on down the line they did.
Derek Smith:Well, that's exciting. And it's neat to see how it can apply very specifically as we visit with Dr. Jessica Peck. And let's pivot a little bit now and talk about your book Behind Closed Doors. I think a lot of families can have aspects of this that'll really speak to them. So could you give us first, what's sort of the elevator pitch for Behind Closed Doors? What's it about?
Jessica Peck:Sure. Well, I will say that for me as a professor, I'm very concerned about the statistics coming out, talking about mental health crises and other things that, challenges that teens are facing. As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I meet families behind closed doors in points of crisis they never saw coming. And as a mom, I see my own kids struggling at home and I know what it's like to feel like you want to be the best parent you possibly can, but to feel like you're failing miserably. And so what I want to do is equip parents with practical skills. This is a Jumanji style parenting adventure. It is not just a book that you read to inform you. It is a roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, your feelings will get hurt, but the adventure and the rewards are just absolutely epic and immeasurable. And so I'm inviting parents on a journey to pursue the heart of their teen and build healthy relationships.
Derek Smith:How did experiences in your own family inspire and shape the book?
Jessica Peck:Sure. Well experience in my own family, I experience brokenness and estrangement from my parents, which has been, I think anybody listening can relate to the loss of family relationships. And just know that you have the best intentions and you want conflict to be resolved, but just feeling like that gap cannot be mended is really heartbreaking. And so I looked at it from a personal lens of how do I parent teens when I didn't have a good relationship with my teens? And that was always a fear, that I would lose my own relationship with my kids. So the opening scene of my book is lest anyone look at my credentials and think I have it all together. It starts with my 13 year old writing in the backseat of my car and throwing a book at my head while we were driving because thinking we had just arrived to that point of crisis. And I knew that I was going to need a new mindset and a new skillset. So that's where I feel like God's called me with a unique skillset with a brain of a professor, hands on nursing experience, but most importantly, the heart of a mom to walk alongside parents who experience a lot of stigma and shame with these challenging moments in parenting. And I really want to encourage and empower parents to walk in freedom with grace and truth and have hope for the future.
Derek Smith:For families maybe wondering, sometimes kids all go through moments where they aren't at their best or where they're down, but for parents maybe wondering about depression or more serious things that require some attention, what does depression and maybe other challenges look like for tweens and for teens and children?
Jessica Peck:Sure. Well, parents can just have heart palpitations just listening to the news and seeing all of the threats that can encompass teens today. People often ask me about the mental health threat and they say, is this as bad as people are saying it is? Is this fear mongering? Do we really need to be concerned? And as a nurse, it's very important for me to give trustworthy answers. And what I would say about the mental health crisis is that it's probably worse than you actually think. We've had COVID, which was a significant social and emotional injury for kids. They have been locked up in digital environments and they're disconnected from meaningful in-person relationships. We have life coming at the speed of a smartphone. We were not designed to absorb all of the world's bad news in a single moment. And teens are living under pressure that looks like, I just saw a news story last week about a girl, a young girl who was sitting on a subway. She has a condition called neurofibromatosis that makes tumors grow all over your body. Well, someone just saw her sitting there and took a secret video of her and put a caption on it that basically said, does she have monkey pox? Well, this went viral. And the girl's sister ended up seeing it and then saw her humiliation in front of millions. This is the kind of environment that our teens are trying to navigate and threats that frankly, we as parents didn't encounter growing up. We didn't have to worry about cyber bullying or sexting or gender identity crisis or social justice or all of these things that are encompassing teens today. So that's overwhelming. But the hope is that Generation Z is willing to talk about mental health in a way that previous generations have not. Each generation has had a dysfunctional way of coping, but Gen Z is willing to talk about it. And I think that's a great opportunity for us as parents with old school social skills to partner with our kids with a fresh world perspective to really walk together. And you can easily get distracted by these health threats. But I believe the key is building a foundation of healthy relationships. And if you do that, you can navigate any challenge that comes your way together.
Derek Smith:You're a researcher. So you've got these research backed interventions.
Derek Smith:Or methods to work with your teen along with just your own experiences. How do those things come together in the book?
Jessica Peck:Well, that was really the fun part of writing the book, is combining my professional and personal experience and my faith-based lens. So I walk parents through three sets of doors. Behind the clinic door, I tell them, what does it look like for a kid with mental health to present in my practice? A kid who's sexting, how do they end up in front of me? I tell real life stories that way, and I give the advice that when I close the door in the clinic and the parents wondering what's going on on the other side of that door? What are you telling my kid? I'm going to rip back the veil on that and tell you everything that I'm telling them. The second door is behind the home door. So where I walk and say, how do you translate this conversation that we had in the clinic to home? What are practical ways that you can set up conversation settings in both physical environments and relational settings to open up that conversation? And then we have behind the heart door. When we face what our teens are facing today, it will hurt your heart and I'm going to take good care of parents' hearts. And so we talk about making sure that our own trauma, that our own hurts that we have, don't become our teens hurts. So I have devotionals, I have scriptures, I have prayers, I have playlists that are themed to go with each chapter. Themes like peace for mental health or victory over substance use. And so all of those resources there along with additional resources and it was actually my work in human trafficking that led me to this book because human trafficking doesn't happen in being kidnapped by a scary person in a white van in the grocery store. It happens in upstream risk factors like mental health and cyber bullying and sextortion and things like that. And so I want to walk parents way back upstream and be able to prevent that problem and prevent that hurt and take a proactive approach to stop hurt before it starts. Kids are amazingly resilient and if we have early intervention, we can literally impact the way that their brain is developing and working.
Derek Smith:Well as we wind down here, as you share that, I think we got time for one more question. I guess the big question for me would be, if there's one thing you want parents to take away from this conversation now that they can apply or just hold onto themselves, what would that be?
Jessica Peck:I want parents to find hope. In today's world, it's very easy to feel hopeless, to feel discouraged, to feel overwhelmed, to feel like is hope for this generation? What are we doing raising kids in a world like this? What is their future going to look like? And I want parents to know that God intends to give us hope and a future and a hope that doesn't disappoint. And because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed. His compassions never fail. He has compassions for the struggle that we're going through. We should have compassion for ourselves. And his mercies are new every single morning. So I want parents who feel like I've messed up. There's no hope. There is hope. And if you will meet me here in this journey, I would love to walk alongside you as a guide on the side to help you find hope and healthy relationships, which by the way, are not perfect. Perfect relationships are impossible and healthy relationships aren't perfect, but we can find hope in healthy relationships.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, the book is called Behind Closed Doors, and you can check that out. And we really appreciate you taking the time to share about that today and to take us inside the work you do and you and your colleagues the Louise Herrington School of Nursing. Thanks so much for doing that.
Jessica Peck:Thanks so much for having me, Derek. I appreciate it.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Dr. Jessica Peck, clinical professor at Baylor University's, Louise Herrington School of Nursing, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.