From the first time she explored the vast grounds of the global pharmaceutical company, University of Indianapolis nursing student Danielle Sparling realized her career path is much wider than she originally envisioned.
She enrolled at UIndy with solid plans of earning her degree and going on to become a family nurse practitioner. That may still be the case, but today she understands it’s not her only option thanks to an intense learning experience piloted this summer at Eli Lilly and Company (Lilly). Nurses at Lilly play important roles as researchers, regulatory scientists, case managers, global health consultants and more—all critical to becoming one of the largest pharmaceutical corporations in the world.
“From day one, I gained insight into how many avenues there are within the field of nursing. This was exciting, because I was able to learn about these non-traditional roles,” said Sparling, a sophomore.
Sparling was one of four nursing students to participate in the pilot program this summer along with Serena Cornelius, Paige Hendershot and Samantha Hunter (all juniors). The Lilly/University of Indianapolis Nurse Education Program rotates the students through various aspects of Lilly’s operations—from drug discovery and development to bioethics and patient safety. The program is designed to educate students about the drug development process, the role of nurses in the industry and professional competencies for success in a healthcare business environment.
The students participated for four weeks in a structured mentorship involving real-world projects, industry-led professional development workshops and opportunities to network with Lilly nurses, experts and leaders. By exposing undergraduate students to the drug-development process, nursing students gained valuable knowledge of how patient-centered treatment options are developed and assessed.
“Nurses today have to be competent decisions makers,” said Jennifer Workman, co-leader of the Lilly program. “They need to have high-learning agility, be able to multi-task and communicate clearly and accurately information about treatment options.”
“Our students understand this was a very unique opportunity to learn about an industry they know very little about in these early stages of their education,” said Denise Ferrell, an assistant professor and program director in the School of Nursing. “This makes the nursing program at UIndy a more holistic experience by bridging the gap between nursing in an academic setting and what is available in our community.”
“Nurses are playing expanded roles as the health care system evolves to meet new needs. Nurses not only have enhanced responsibility and accountability in traditional settings, such as hospitals and clinics, but increasingly have roles that enable them to move across a variety of health care settings,” said Norma Hall, dean of the School of Nursing.
The education program also helps Lilly to educate future health care professionals about how pharmaceuticals are manufactured, tested and regulated, Workman said.
“The students have a unique vantage point and opportunity to work alongside some of the most talented health care professionals in the industry and understand their important roles in our organization,” Workman said. The students also reviewed the drug-approval process, investigated regulations, conducted literature reviews, assessed environmental trends and marketing strategies, researched treatment plans and created patient education materials.
The School of Nursing at UIndy is one of the leading pipelines for nurses across Indiana. The program is ranked among the top nursing programs in the Midwest by U.S. News and World Report. The program prides itself on meeting the rising need for nurses as the health care industry grows, regionally and nationally. By a global company like Lilly opening its doors and sharing its expertise, the School of Nursing can provide unique professional competencies and specialized knowledge to its students, Ferrell said.
“I have gained an appreciation for the drug development process and have found the nurses at Lilly all bring something special to the table because they actually know how a decision will affect the patient because of the connection they have,” Hunter said.
Hendershot added: “I never knew there were so many opportunities for nurses in the pharma industry. One of my biggest takeaways was how important pharma is to health care. Without it, new advancements in treatments would be rarely considered.”
“As a nurse in the future, I will be able to fall back on this key point and strive to be the best advocate possible for my patient,” Cornelius said.
For Sparling, Lilly reinforced her love for the profession and excitement about the next opportunity. On her last day in the Lilly internship, she learned she officially had been accepted in the UIndy nursing program.
“One of the Lilly doctors told us, ‘You’re best at what you love, and if you do just that, success will follow.’ I’ve never been happier for my chosen career path and can’t wait to see what the future holds,” Sparling said.