How Endowed Professorships Enhance Harris College

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By Jennifer Pitcock

Texas Christian University is fortunate to have Dr. Dennis Cheek as the Abell-Hanger Professor in Gerontological Nursing. His commitment to teaching and expertise in his field make him the type of teacher-scholar that raises TCU’s academic profile, helping TCU attract top students.

Cheek’s two main areas of study are heart disease, particularly in women as they age, and pharmacogenomics, which is the study of the role that genetics plays in drug response. He is one of four authors of a book on this topic, Pharmacogenomics: A Nurse’s Handbook for Success. Since its publication in 2015, it has been picked up by various nursing programs, including the nurse practitioner program at George Washington University and the undergraduate nursing program at Villanova.

In 2016, Cheek was an author on seven refereed publications, a textbook chapter, with two journal articles as well as another textbook chapter slated for publication. He was the keynote speaker at the Barnes Jewish Hospital Research Conference in St. Louis, Mo., and an invited speaker at the Texas Clinical Nurse Symposium in Round Rock, Texas and the American Nephrology Nurses Association in Louisville, Ky. One of his presentations, “Pharmacogenomics and Your Clinical Practice,” is available online as a webinar through the International Society of Nurses in Genetics.

Cheek also served on the program planning committee for ISONG, was an invited reviewer of research abstracts and symposia for Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing and served as an external reviewer for the Duke University School of Nursing — all in addition to his professional service at TCU. He serves on the Institutional Review Board for the University, the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences and UNTHSC Research Committee and numerous departmental committees.

Despite his heavy research and professional load, Cheek teaches more than many tenured professors on campus. During an average semester, he teaches multiple online courses for graduate students and at least one graduate-level course and two undergraduate courses on campus. In fact, Cheek teaches pharmacotherapeutics and pathophysiology — both junior-level courses — for all nursing students. He does not mind having such a large teaching load because he believes the knowledge and rigor that he brings to his courses is necessary to prepare students for what they will face in the practice of nursing.

“Students will grumble about getting me, but they will come back at the end of the course and thank me,” he said. “Nursing is one of the harder majors. When your friends in English or fine arts or history are going out and having fun, you are studying. The night before a clinical, you have to work up a patient. You have to know their medical history because you are going to be giving them their meds. Nursing students have to know what they’re doing and be prepared because, if they don’t, they can do damage to somebody.”

He often tells them a story to make his point. His granddaughter, McKinley Joy, was born at Harris Methodist Hospital in downtown Fort Worth.

“The two nurses that were in the room when she was born were my students. The midwife, who had first been a nurse, was my student. And the nurse anesthetist who gave the epidural was my student,” he said. “I show my students a picture of my granddaughter, and I say, ‘Someday you are going to take care of someone’s family or someone’s grandkids — maybe mine — so you had better know what you are doing.”

Cheek says medicine is becoming more and more tailored to the individual. Depending on genetics, a drug may work beautifully on a person—or it may not work at all. While good for patients, this individualized treatment, along with an ever-increasing arsenal of medicines, means that nursing is more complicated than it used to be, demanding more of students — and professors.

Cheek is thankful for the Abell-Hanger Professor in Gerontological Nursing, which provides opportunities to research with colleagues and students which in turn makes him a more knowledgeable, effective teacher. In an era when medical treatment is advancing rapidly, being on the cutting edge of research is essential to providing TCU students with the education they need to be excellent, confident nurses who make a difference in the world.