Nurse Educator Welcomes Colleagues to the ED and a New Way of Learning

By Laura Benys

When you start any new job, especially one in the fast-paced Hartford Hospital Emergency Department, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed.

“When I started here as a new grad, I remember feeling, ‘Wow, I just want to get through the day!’” says Regina “Gina” DiGiovanni, MSN, RN.

But, a good teacher can make all the difference.

That’s Gina’s goal: As a nurse educator in this ED, she welcomes a steady stream of new nurses and patient care associates for onboarding, and, with long-time colleagues, dispenses ongoing education and support. She’s here to help everyone ask questions, learn from their mistakes, and be their best.

Need an arm to practice manual blood pressures? Borrow hers. Question about a complicated case? Pick up the phone. Rough day? She’ll troubleshoot ways to make it better.

“I love seeing true growth our team members have in the ED,” DiGiovanni says. “We can see when it clicks and makes sense.”

To create these lightbulb moments, she also embraces high-tech methods. In her four years as a nurse educator, DiGiovanni has been instrumental in creating two classes in the Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation (CESI).

The first gives new nurses confidence with common dilemmas in critical care, like how to keep patients comfortable when their health is deteriorating. The second is for experienced nurses seeking an additional level of critical care training — for example, exploring a holistic view of caring for intubated patients.

“CESI’s been wonderful to work with,” DiGiovanni says. “Sometimes you say ‘simulation’ and people get nervous. But it’s great to be able to work through these scenarios in simulation, where it’s higher stress but not a real patient.”

DiGiovanni won a 2023 Nightingale Award in recognition of the hundreds of team members she’s already trained, and the classes she’s created to improve ED care for years to come. She reacted humbly, which is her way: “I didn’t realize, in all the day-to-day, that I made that large of an impact. To me, I was just coming in and putting my best foot forward.”

Her passion for education comes naturally — from her curiosity, knack for critical thinking, and commitment to her team.

“I love the environment and the people here. It’s a family away from family,” she says. “And I love teaching. It’s great when you’re able to do something and do it well, but to get to teach it? I think that’s amazing.”

Gina DiGiovanni’s passion for learning and educating others earned her a Nightingale Award. Here, she’s in CESI, where she spends a lot of time developing trainings for other nurses. Photo by Chris Rakoczy

Neuropsychiatrist Fights for Awareness On and Off the Mats

By Elena Bisson
Bharat Narapareddy, MD, combines work as an IOL neuropsychiatrist and his passion for mixed martial arts to advocate for awareness of brain injuries in fighters. Photo by Chris Rakoczy

Bharat “Barry” Narapareddy, MD, is not your typical neuropsychiatrist — with a background in martial arts, he brings a unique perspective to medical practice.

“I grew up in a rough area of Brooklyn. At the age of 7, I started learning martial arts as a means of self-defense against bullies,” he says.

A teenager inspired by the legendary Bruce Lee, Dr. Narapareddy transitioned to competitive mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting. At the same time, he realized the danger of head trauma to fighters.

“Once I hit my mid-20s, I was interested in understanding the effects of repetitive brain injuries, particularly in MMA fighters and boxers. I wanted to know their outcomes, so I dove into my own research combining experiences as a competitor and coach to better assist my clinical studies,” he says.

Now, Dr. Narapareddy splits his time between the two passions. He sees patients at the Institute of Living and collaborates with Stephanie AlessiLaRosa, MD, director of Hartford HealthCare’s Sports Neurology Program toward his mission of developing public awareness of injuries in fighters.

“Awareness is the reason I pursued research. I want to see people discover MMA, I want the sport to continue to grow, and I want coaches and trainers to notice concussive symptoms in their athletes earlier,” he says

Keep athletes informed

The goal is to ensure coaches and athletes have the necessary information.

“The mentality that fighters need to tough it out is damaging. We need to protect our fighters. Coaches can stop fights earlier when there’s no chance of winning, effectively protecting the athletes from unnecessary damage,” Dr. Narapareddy says.

He envisions a future when:

  • Pre-fight physicals include cognitive assessments, scores that are monitored for decline over a fighter’s career.
  • Coaches will share data showing any declines overtime with fighters so informed decisions can be made regarding their future.
  • Appropriate periods of rest and recovery are standard after an injury.

Admiring the competitive spirit

An award-winning fighter himself, Dr. Narapareddy doesn’t want to squash a fighter’s dreams, just ensure his safety. His own accomplishments — earning a silver medal at the esteemed International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Chicago Open and being named champion in the Advanced Division of the North American Grappling Championships — are testament to his unwavering dedication to the sport and study.

Today, he still competes — he’s currently training for submission grappling fights next year — and is actively training one of the top bantamweights in the country, Shawn “Filipino Flash” Suser. With a fully equipped MMA gym he built in his garage, he regularly trains and invites others to experience MMA for themselves.

“I want to get coworkers involved. They are invited to the gym, to get on the mats, meet the fighters and experience MMA,” he says. “It is great physical exercise but also great for your mind. I want to share that.”

Investigating Impulsiveness in Fighters

Dr. Narapareddy was also part of a study published recently in the American Journal on Addictions entitled “Cocaine History and Impulsiveness in Professional Boxers and Mixed Martial Arts Fighters.” Read more about his here.

For New Board Chair, HHC is the Perfect Fit

By Hilary Waldman

Presiding over her first meeting as chair of the Hartford HealthCare Board of Directors, Joanne Berger-Sweeney couldn’t help but see parallels between her job as president of Trinity College and this new role.

In June, Berger-Sweeney succeeded Greg Deavens, who completed a two-year term as board chair. While the board conducted its business, she catalogued the synergy and exuberantly scribbled notes on her pad:

Culture of innovation. Check.

Excellence and equity. As the first female and first Black president of Hartford’s Trinity College, she noted: My whole life has been about those.

Access and affordability: The college doubled the amount of financial aid to improve access to underrepresented students.

Coordinated care: I think in terms of personalized education.

Check, check, check.

Synergy goes beyond aspiration

Berger-Sweeney and Jeff Flaks, HHC’s president and CEO, are challenged by many of the same external forces — a drive to demonstrate value; spiraling labor and supply expenses; the need to continually attract students/patients and the qualified professionals to teach/care for them.

They also share a passion for tackling these challenges to ensure everyone has access to education and healthcare. Berger-Sweeney calls them “rights fundamental to a democratic society.”

Flaks calls the new board chair a kindred spirit.

“I have the highest respect for her as a human being,” he says. When there are big decisions to be made, Berger-Sweeney is among the first advisers he calls. He called her a transformative leader who “always makes me better.”

Experimenting is in her DNA

Flaks says he admires Berger-Sweeney because instead of asking why, she asks why not.

That, she says, comes from her background as a researcher. You try something, see if it works. If it doesn’t, you try something else. It’s another synergy that appealed to her about Hartford HealthCare.

“That’s the part of the culture that drew me in,’’ she says of her decision to accept the board chair position on top of an already demanding job and busy travel schedule. “That spirit of innovation and creativity in a traditional organization.”

Trinity’s president in 2014 and immediately began searching for community partners. The college, located in Hartford’s underserved Frog Hollow neighborhood, is surrounded by Hartford Hospital, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and some of the nation’s insurance giants.

Forging connections, she believes, provide opportunities for everyone — her students, Frog Hollow neighbors and business leaders.

When she attended community events at places like the YWCA, she says she’d keep running into Flaks. They’d exchange small talk. It became apparent they shared a commitment to helping Hartford thrive.

She joined the Hartford Hospital Board of Directors. A few years later, she moved on to the Hartford HealthCare board.

Trinity partnership led to Campus Care

In 2019, HHC and Trinity College signed an agreement for the sytem to provide all student health services at the college, including sports medicine and now behavioral health.

“I said, ‘Why are we trying to provide healthcare when we’re one mile from the second–biggest hospital in Connecticut?’” She has a similar answer when people suggest that Trinity needs an oncampus art museum to raise its profile. Why, when the world-class Wadsworth Atheneum is a stone’s throw away?

The Trinity College partnership was the catalyst for what would become HHC Campus Care, which now provides comprehensive student health services, sports medicine and behavioral health at high schools and colleges across the state.

Success = maintaining momentum

During her two-year term as chair of HHC’s Board of Directors, Berger-Sweeney says she would like to maintain and accelerate the focus on health equity and is looking for continued strides in innovation that make healthcare more accessible, affordable and equitable.

As an educator, you know she’ll be watching our report card.