How Difficult, But Necessary Medical Questions Led to an Award-Winning Project

While working as a nurse in primary care clinics, Wil Beachum DNP ’22 noticed many patients did not answer the intake question about advanced directives. He began to wonder why. Although most of his downtown clinic patients were younger, the era of COVID made this a necessity even in this demographic.

Advanced directives are legal documents that spell out decisions about healthcare in the event one cannot make them, e.g., a living will, assigning a medical proxy or even a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order.

“We were seeing younger people end up in hospitals on ventilators, and families get into the situation: what did they want done if they got to this point?” he said.

Beachum thought this would be a perfect capstone project to explore for his doctorate in nursing practice (DNP), so he started a program at his Kansas City-area clinic to help patients establish advanced directives for their care. He would walk them through the process, assist in providing draft documents and getting them connected to notaries to legalize them – a necessity in the states of Missouri and Kansas.

The imperative was ensuring his patients have that conversation with their loved ones, to think about the need for them, even if they dismiss the idea at first. Part of his motivation came from hearing stories from his mom, who works as a palliative care physician.

“I think it hit home harder after listening to her experiences going through this. Recalling how awful it was for his mom to have to withdraw care to younger people during the pandemic, it shed light on the importance of this, especially for young people.”

Equally important, he worked with his clinic colleagues to teach them about advanced directives and how to have that conversation with their patients. He managed a 90% compliance rate for clinic staff, and his hard work has helped the project to spread to other clinics in the Kansas City area.

At first, the idea was underestimated by assessors, deeming it too simple. However, Beachum convinced them of the merits – and difficulty – of the project.

“Having an advanced directive is probably one of the hardest things to get because (approximately) 25% of people in the United States have one filled out,” he said.

That persistence paid off, as this capstone project, “Advance Care Planning in a Primary Care Setting: Development and Implementation of a Quality Improvement Project,” won the President’s Award at the 2022 Student Scholarship Expo.

When it came time to receive the award from President Stephen Standifird, Beachum faced a unique challenge. As an online student, he had never been on campus before, and had to present his research at the Expo via an interactive learning robot from the Department of Nursing.

So, Beachum accepted his award via robot, a fitting remedy to cover his virtual presence.

Since graduating in May with his DNP, Beachum passed his certification exam as a family nurse practitioner (FNP). He continues to work in the Kansas City area, focused on primary care, but looking to the future.

He hopes his DNP degree, fortified by this award and successful research, will open doors to pursue future work in the nursing education sector.

“I didn't realize how much I liked research until I got into the program.”

- Mel Huang

Wil Beachum with his capstone project poster.