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Pam Stewart Fahs receives international rural nursing award

A photograph of Binghamton University Decker School of Nursing's Pam Stewart Fahs
A photograph of Binghamton University Decker School of Nursing's Pam Stewart Fahs

Binghamton University professor Pamela Stewart Fahs won the 2016 Anna Mae Ericksen Award, presented by the Rural Nurse Organization (RNO) for outstanding leadership in rural nursing and provision of healthcare to rural populations.

Raised in a coal mining camp in southeastern Kentucky, where her father was a mining engineer, Stewart Fahs understands firsthand the healthcare challenges facing people living in rural areas. Years later, in her first job as a nurse — in a United Mine Workers of America hospital in Millsboro, Ky. — she began experiencing the difficulties facing rural healthcare providers.

“I was the only RN on nights with 56 patients, and the nearest doctor was probably 20 minutes away,” she said. “Rural nursing is very independent nursing practice and the epitome of cross-training because you have to do a little bit of everything, what I call the ‘consummate generalist.’”

Stewart Fahs eventually moved to larger hospitals and medical centers in more urban settings, working in a variety of roles of increasing responsibility. She was also a nurse with the Kentucky Army National Guard and then the United States Army Reserves Nurse Corps before receiving an honorable discharge (at the rank of captain) in 1988.

She joined Binghamton University’s Decker School of Nursing in 1985. Among the many roles she has held are director of the O’Connor Office of Rural Health Studies from 2001 to 2007, and interim dean of the school from July 2015 to July 2016. Currently, she is associate dean, interim director of PhD programs and the Dr. G. Clifford
and Florence B. Decker Endowed Chair in Rural Nursing, a role she has held since 2007.

Stewart Fahs’ area of research focuses on cardiovascular disease in rural populations. She has built a research trajectory over the years that combines her expertise in cardiovascular disease, passion for rural healthcare and skill leading community-based participatory research.

“Research in rural areas has some challenges,” she said. “In many rural communities, if you’re not from there or living and working there, you’re seen as an outsider. I think I’ve solved that problem in Delaware County [New York] by being there consistently for the last 20 years working on rural projects.”

Among her more recent research activities are conducting a series of educational programs regarding heart health in rural women; creating, administering and analyzing the results of a walking program aimed at improving activity levels of people in a rural, upstate New York community; and testing an intervention program that educates
rural women about heart attack symptoms and how to respond to them appropriately.

“Rural nursing is not just providing nursing care in rural communities,” Stewart Fahs said. “It’s more a philosophy of being able to work in a rural community and understanding how culture impacts healthcare and how healthcare impacts the community.”

As the Decker Chair in Rural Nursing, Stewart Fahs educates students and fellow faculty about rural healthcare, helping them locate resources in and connect
with rural counties. She also teaches courses in rural healthcare and serves on dissertation committees when the topic relates to rural nursing.

A member of the Rural Nurse Organization since 1999, Stewart Fahs has served two terms as the group’s president and secretary, and one term as its vice
president. She is also editor in chief of the Online Journal of Rural Nursing and Health Care, RNO’s biannual publication and one of the top-rated rural health journals.

Sheila Ray Montgomery, president of RNO, nominated Stewart Fahs for the award. In her nomination she wrote, “Dr. Pam Stewart Fahs has done an incredible job supporting and recognizing the specialty of rural nursing. As a practitioner, educator and researcher she has exhibited leadership in healthcare in rural populations. Finally, [she] has supported rural nursing beyond the local sphere and has accomplished lasting influences within rural nursing and healthcare delivery.”

Stewart Fahs received the Anna Mae Ericksen Award at the RNO International Rural Nursing Conference, held in July in Rapid City, S.D.

Also recognized at the event were Decker assistant professor Anne Fronczek and associate professor Carolyn Pierce, whose poster, “The Use of Action Research Methodologies for Intervention Development in rural and Vulnerable Populations,” was among the top five presented during the conference.

Last Updated: 10/13/16