By Cindy Abole
Charleston area native Debbie Chatman
Bryant, DNP, epitomizes servant leadership in nursing. Bryant's career
defines her character, integrity and spirit of giving.
Bryant is in the inaugural class of the College of Nursing's doctorate
in nursing practice program. Her fellow graduates include Katherine
Chike-Harris, DNP, of Charleston; Terri Fowler, DNP, of Florence and
Shannon Johnson, DNP, of Anderson.
New College of Nursing Doctorate of
Nursing Practice graduates, Drs. Shannon Johnson, from left, Katherine
Chike-Harris, Debbie C. Bryant and Terri Fowler, celebrate with advisor
Dr. Barbara Edlund.
Already Bryant is seeing the impact of this degree.
Before she began the program, Bryant was working at MUSC Hollings
Cancer Center (HCC) to establish a comprehensive breast cancer
screening program and assist medically underserved, low-income black
women as they learned to navigate through the health care system. The
program improved patient care and opened the door to an area of nursing
and research world she grew to love – health services and
But Bryant's journey to getting her DNP was not an easy path. It was
filled with bumps, twists and turns. A nurse for more than 20 years,
Bryant chose nursing as a second career after briefly working as a
clerk and examiner at South Carolina Department of Transportation. "I
had always considered nursing, but never believed that I could do it,"
said Bryant, who grew up in rural Moncks Corner. She credits her
parents, Lewis (deceased) and Louise Chatman and other family as her
Bryant, who is a wife and mother of two, earned an associate's degree
in nursing and enrolled in MUSC's BSN-MSN bridge program. Working with
faculty on projects, she teamed up with disparities researcher Ida
Johnson-Spruill, Ph.D., R.N., to learn about community service-oriented
research through Project SuGAR, (Sea Island Genetic African American
Family Registry), an MUSC community-based research study that focuses
on the health of Sea Island Gullah community and diabetes. The
experience helped her understand the importance of establishing
community-based nursing and developing long-term relationships built on
trust and respect of individuals in rural, underserved communities. She
also worked with other grass root programs like Project Export, a
collaborative research project that focused on improving obesity,
hypertension and diabetes among minority communities through
collaboration with 600-plus AME churches, Historically Black Colleges
and Universities and community organizations around the state.
"Nursing should target on changing people's attitudes and teaching on
multiple levels. Traditionally, nursing focuses on the patient
interaction within a clinical setting like a hospital or clinic, but
there are many levels of nursing. In population-based nursing, we're
always asking what's the evidence and how we do it?" Bryant said.
In 2005, she was recruited by HCC Prevention and Control to establish
the Avon-funded Breast Health Patient Navigation Program and manage the
Mobile Health Unit, used for early-detection services, patient
screening and prevention efforts. In 2010, she was promoted to
assistant director of Cancer Prevention Control and Outreach. In this
leadership role, she continues to oversee the outreach program, but
also is responsible for all Cancer Prevention and Control research,
administrative and disparities staff. She also is charged with bridging
outreach efforts directly to research efforts and formally launching
community engagement activities. Drawing from her clinical experiences
and working with community programs such as Project SuGAR, Bryant was
up to the task for linking HCC to minority underserved communities.
She's chair of the Charleston Chapter of the Alliance for Digital
Equality, member of the Tri-County and National Black Nurses
Association, serves on the South Carolina Cancer Alliance Board of
Directors and a member of several HCC advisory boards and committees.
Wanting more, she considered MUSC's nursing doctorate (Ph.D.) program
and enrolled in a few classes as an undeclared student, but the
scientific rigor developing new research was not the right fit for her.
Later, she learned the college was set to begin a new DNP program,
which focuses on a more practical approach to research that evaluates
evidence-based knowledge, clinical treatments and interventions and
finding ways to apply, evaluate and develop it. For Bryant, the DNP
program gave her a chance to work in applied science while educating
others about the values of population-based science, outcomes research
and patient education.
At almost the same time, HCC won National Cancer Institute designation
(2009), opening the door for more opportunities to connect research to
community outreach opportunities. HCC received major funding to improve
and expand its Patient Navigation Program and services to patients. "It
was a good fit at the right time in my life, both personally and
professionally. The stars were aligned," Bryant said.
To complete the DNP program, students complete and present a final
evidence-based, practice improvement project. Bryant chose a project
that focused on her work with patient navigators collaborating with HCC
administrator Anita Harrison. They established a grant to support a
10-month pilot study on how lay navigators can increase minority
enrollment in both lung and thoracic trials.
Bryant applied multiple testing and evaluation methods to establish
train-the-trainer programs at MUSC and at NCI community cancer centers
in Spartanburg and Savannah. She evaluated the training curriculum,
which included didactic classroom training, shadowing experiences,
standardized patient training and other methods to measure overall
effectiveness. Interim study results have shown a slight increase in
minority recruitment. Bryant hopes to apply these results to a larger
study or scientific trial and one day be able to apply this navigation
recruitment model to other areas of clinical trials. She's currently
working on publishing her findings in a professional science journal.
"Debbie has a wonderful gift and passion for identifying and addressing
disparity issues especially in South Carolina," said Harrison. "She's
an advocate for African-American and other minority populations and has
already earned a national reputation for her breast cancer lay
navigation work. Her DNP training emphasizes the critical analysis
skills, knowledge and experience that's needed for implementing and
carrying on research and evaluating programs at HCC."
Johnson-Spruill, who is also Bryant's friend and mentor, also echoed
her support. "I'm thrilled for Debbie and her achievements at Hollings
Cancer Center and in nursing. Debbie has a global vision for conducting
research and connecting people with community resources. She's found a
niche at Hollings. Her passion for people and her work allows her to be
a catalyst that's a voice when it comes to helping people meet their
health care needs and conducting valuable community service- oriented
In April, Gail Stuart, Ph.D., R.N., College of Nursing dean,
accompanied Bryant to the April 13 MUSC Student Leadership Awards and
Service Banquet. Bryant was among eight students inducted into the
program for her leadership, compassion, professionalism and ethical
attitude. "Debbie Bryant is a shining example of what a nurse with this
degree can contribute to health care. She has a wealth of clinical
experiences and, with added knowledge and this new credential, I
believe she will be able to truly transform aspects of cancer care as a
health care colleague and collaborator."