They study workplace bullying, illness as a shared experience, and the efficiency of nurse practitioner-provided care. One has been treating inmates and detained immigrants in prisons. All four are passionate about teaching, evidence-based practice, and the Connell School’s values and sense of community. Meet the newest members of our faculty.
Laura Dzurec, Ph.D., PMHCNS-BC, ANEF, FAAN, says she fell in love with Boston College in 2016 when she consulted with Connell School leaders during the school’s successful application to be designated one of the National League for Nursing’s Centers of Excellence in Nursing Education. “I can’t believe how wonderful this place is,” she recalls telling a faculty member at the time. “I could feel the giving. I could feel the support. I could feel the energy.”
Dzurec (sounds like “Zurich”) joins the Connell faculty as a senior scholar after four years as professor and dean of the Widener University School of Nursing in Chester, Pennsylvania. Before that, she spent more than two decades in top nursing school administration jobs, including deanships at the University of Connecticut in Storrs (2000–06) and Kent State (2006–13).
A psychiatric nurse practitioner by training, Dzurec studies workplace bullying—a common scourge in nursing and higher education, she says. She is also interested in the broader topic of interactions between individuals and their environments. Currently, she is researching how bullying that takes place in the workplace, especially by nursing peers, interferes with people’s willingness to try new ideas.
Dzurec, an Ohio native who earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Connecticut, a master’s at Ohio State, and a Ph.D. at Case Western Reserve, is passionate about nursing education. She is convinced, she says, that a successful educator provides information and psychological support, part of which comprises “making very sure you don’t make people feel stupid.” She is excited about teaching the Nursing Synthesis Clinical course, and about supporting the school’s 2018 recognition by the National League for Nursing of its excellence in promoting the pedagogical expertise of faculty.
“In my heart of hearts, I am a teacher.”
Patients’ illnesses often take a physical and emotional toll on their caregiving partners or adult children. Karen Lyons, Ph.D., FGSA, views caregivers and recipients as dyads, or teams—and she wants to optimize the health and well-being of them all.
Lyons, who joins Connell after nearly 20 years at Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing in Portland, where she was an associate professor and directed the Ph.D. program, studies family and dyadic experiences of chronic illness. She is particularly interested in how dyads appraise a condition like heart disease or cancer, and how that affects its management.
She explores these dynamics in “The Theory of Dyadic Illness Management,” an article developed with Connell School Associate Dean for Research Christopher Lee, which was published in the Journal of Family Nursing in February 2018. “We’re trying to provoke discussion about what would balancing the health of both people look like?” she notes. “Our ultimate goal is to drive the way we support families.”
Lyons, a health psychologist, has published widely across the fields of nursing, gerontology, and psychology and has led or contributed to numerous interdisciplinary studies on dyads and health.
Raised in Dublin, Ireland, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at University College Dublin and initially came to the US to pursue a doctorate in human development and family studies at Penn State (1999), then joined OHSU. She’s excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Connell School faculty around illness management and to teach graduate students.
She says, “I really want to give back and mentor future generations of researchers and clinicians.”
Health policy researcher Monica O’Reilly-Jacob, Ph.D., M.S. (Nursing)/M.A. (Pastoral Ministry) ’07, FNP-BC, studies outcomes of care provided by nurse practitioners (NPs), and she hopes her work will bolster efforts to relax and expand scope-of-practice laws for NPs nationally. “I want to show that our care is valuable and safe, and patients should have access to it,” she says.
O’Reilly-Jacob grew up in Burlington, Vermont, and discovered her love for patient care in college while volunteering on a student-run ambulance. After earning a B.S. in nursing at Oregon’s University of Portland (2001), she pursued a dual master’s degree in nursing and pastoral ministry at Boston College.
Working at community health centers in Connecticut and Massachusetts while she was a student and after graduation, O’Reilly-Jacob was alarmed by the caregiver burnout she witnessed. “I started to have bigger questions about the stability of the primary care workforce and how nurse practitioners could address impending [physician] shortages or weaknesses in that system,” she recounts. Those questions convinced her to pursue a doctorate at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, where her dissertation research compared the efficiency of care provided by NPs and physicians.
O’Reilly-Jacob, who continues to work as a part-time school NP, is teaching an undergraduate course on nursing health assessment and co-teaching a Ph.D. course on health care policy this year. “I’m really excited to return to a community of nurses,” she says, “and I’m thrilled that I can marry my passion for patient care with my policy-oriented research.”
Clinical Assistant Professor
For the past few years, Victor Petreca, DNP, PMHNP-BC, CNP, has been caring for inmates with mental illness and immigrants detained in local prisons. He has also been introducing nursing students to these marginalized groups. A psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner, Petreca is now translating his real-world experience in advanced practice nursing and psychopharmacology, and his passion for evidence-based practice, into a full-time clinical teaching role at Connell.
A native of Brazil, Petreca came to the US on a scholarship from Eastern Michigan University, where he earned a bachelor’s in clinical laboratory sciences/medical technology in 2009. He spent several years performing diagnostic tests at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Curious about the connection between brain chemistry and human behavior, he decided to go into nursing, and earned a B.S.N. and an M.S.N. in psychiatric and mental health lifespan from the MGH Institute of Health Professions. That led to a doctor of nursing practice degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2017.
Starting in 2013, Petreca’s interest in forensics and character pathology took him to several Massachusetts correctional facilities, where he treated inmates convicted of violent crimes (many with personality disorders, he says) as well as distressed immigrants being held by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Last year, he “precepted” Connell graduate students at the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction while teaching nursing at Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts.
At Connell, Petreca is teaching Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nursing Across the Lifespan and Psychopharmacology while supervising students in their clinical placements. The academic appointment, he says, is beyond a dream come true. “Considering my background [as a Brazilian immigrant], this really doesn’t happen to people like me,” he says. “It’s just amazing.”