Among the 149 recent winter graduates of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center is a Professor Emeritus from the College of Pharmacy, who has earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree at age 72.
“I suppose I am one of those lifelong learners,” said Candace Brown, PharmD, DNP, who received a DNP degree in the psychiatric mental health concentration from the UTHSC College of Nursing during Winter Commencement Monday. Her appetite for learning has led her to earn three undergraduate degrees and four graduate degrees in her lifetime.
Dr. Brown retired from the College of Pharmacy in 2018, after more than 30 years on the faculty with a career focus on women’s mental health. While at UTHSC, she taught and did research that included a $2.5 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for which she was the principal investigator. “I am one of those people who, once you achieve a goal, you want to try something different,” she said.
She points to the influence of her father, Robert Eason, who was a journalist and owner of small-town newspapers, as the source of her love for learning. After his journalism career, he taught at a community college and finally retired late in life. Even after retirement, “he would get up at 3 a.m. and deliver the newspapers. He wanted to work. He just was a really motivated person. He was very curious and loved to learn.”
Dr. Brown definitely inherited that trait, although family moves during her childhood meant that she attended 10 to 12 schools before graduating from high school, she said. She earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in psychology from Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, in the 1970s, but then decided to pursue what she describes as a “more practical” path and earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from the University of Washington in Seattle.
While working in that field, she moved to Alaska and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from the University of Alaska in 1981. She then returned to Seattle and earned her Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 1985. After a hospital residency and a psychopharmacotherapy fellowship, Dr. Brown came to the UTHSC College of Pharmacy in 1987 to teach.
While teaching full-time in the College of Pharmacy, Dr. Brown decided to get more training as a nurse and went through the master’s degree program then offered at the College of Nursing, becoming board-certified as an adult clinical nurse specialist in mental health and as a family nurse practitioner.
After reaching her goal of completing an NIH grant, Dr. Brown taught for a few more years, but then started her DNP degree before retiring. “I felt like I needed to work more directly with patients than indirectly with research, so I decided to go back and get my DNP,” she said. The psychiatric mental health emphasis “gave me broader opportunities and a chance to learn about mental health throughout the lifespan,” she said.
During her time in the DNP program, “Candace Brown was very eager and engaged in her learning,” said Assistant Professor Jacqueline Sharp, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC, concentration coordinator for the psychiatric mental health concentration in the DNP program.
Assistant Professor Ricketta Clark, DNP, APRN-Bc, agrees. “She sought every opportunity to merge her current knowledge of being a pharmacist to that of an advanced practice nurse.”
Dr. Brown said she appreciates the holistic emphasis of nursing. “I like the idea of looking at the whole picture. The reason I appreciate that is my background in psychology and pharmacy,” she said. “You don’t just treat people with medications, but you realize there is certainly a place for them. There is the neurologic component, the physiological component, and there is the humanistic component. You can’t get away from either of them. In nursing, you don’t have to.”
She plans to spend the next few months studying for board certification. Once certified, Dr. Brown plans to work on a part-time basis in an OB-GYN clinic treating psychiatric referrals and with a psychiatrist in a primary care setting.
At 72, she is not ready to stop working. Again, she points to the influence of her father, who sent her an article on the value of work that is framed in her home.
Titled, “An Ethic to Lift a Man’s Spirit,” the article defines the value of work and says in part: “I believe that every human being was born to do some kind of good work, and in it finds the best reason for living . . . . and the most intelligent answer to the question, ‘Why was I born?’ ”