Black women who get breast cancer are more likely to die from the disease than white women and are less likely to survive for five years after diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies suggest that this disparity is due to black women being diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage, and receiving treatment later after diagnosis.

As part of her Doctor of Nursing Practice dissertation, Western University of Health Sciences graduate Seleaina Ann Thomas, RN, MSN, FNP, will use hair stylists and cosmetologists to help promote breast cancer awareness and early detection to their patrons.

WesternU, in Pomona, Calif. is the first university in Southern California and second in the state to offer a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. Thomas was among 14 to graduate in May from the charter class. She and the other graduates will begin defending their dissertations as early as the fall semester.

The idea for her dissertation came from researching projects online and finding previous surveys completed on the East Coast, where studies predicted hair stylists could be lay health advisers. In concert with the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health and faculty at State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, Thomas will use a survey used in prior research to compare black women’s intentions.

Thomas will conduct the study in August utilizing customers at Ikon Salon & Spa in Murrieta, Calif., and will use the information to complete her dissertation and Student Summer Research Grant.

“”If they can detect it earlier, they have a high survivability. They also have a high probability of saving their breast,”” Thomas said.

While brainstorming with her husband, Clarence, a cosmetologist at Ikon, Thomas realized that she herself spends a lot of time at the hair salon and noticed the economy had not deterred black women from maintaining their beauty regimens. In addition, she found it easy to have natural conversations with her hair stylist about anything.

Thomas plans to train two stylists, including proprietor William Musgrow. Thirty respondents will be randomly selected from what Thomas says are 150 clients who come for services every month.

“”I can control their knowledge deficit; they are entitled to have these screenings, but should be proactive in asking for these screenings,”” Thomas said. “”A lot of African-American women have a misconception that it’s a white women’s disease. Also, black women don’t realize that when they do get breast cancer, it is the more aggressive type.””

The DNP program at WesternU focuses on the medical care of vulnerable populations and is designed for working nurses who have completed their master’s degrees in nursing.

“”Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) gave us a commendation due to our experience and strength and the rigor of our doctoral program,”” said Ellen Daroszewski, PhD, APRN, professor and director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Designed for the busy nursing professional, the program is mostly Web-based, consisting of two weekend seminars at the Pomona campus and clinical projects.

“”They are very smart, very dedicated to nursing,”” said Dr. Daroszewski of the recent graduates. “”They came into the program with a wealth of knowledge, and we refined these skills. They are all going to do incredible work in this discipline.””

Thomas knew that soon after receiving her master’s degree from WesternU, she would return and get her doctorate. Her motivation has been to exemplify remarkable leadership in knowledge, skills, and scholarship in the field of nursing.

“”We as advanced practice clinicians work in practice with physicians, optometrists, pharmacists, physical therapists, and podiatrists who are doctorate-prepared clinicians, and thus, it is awkward not having comparable education,”” she said. “”I read an article by the American Association of College of Nurses (AACN), which cited that by 2015 all advanced practice nurses must have practice doctorate education, and I realized that it was time for me to go back to school.””

Thomas said the programs at WesternU have fit into her lifestyle, enabling her to be a mother and wife. While enrolled in the DNP program, she worked as a family nurse practitioner for A Plus Urgent Care and the California Department of Corrections Prison Health Care Services, making the Dean’s List two out her last three semesters. She is currently working as an emergency room nurse at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage.

Retired in 2001 from the US Navy after 20 years of service as an advanced hospital corpsman, Thomas was able to take the RN exam in California after earning a bachelor’s degree in health sciences and a master’s degree in science administration from Central Michigan University.

In September, Thomas will start working as an emergency room nurse practitioner at Lancaster (Calif.) Community Hospital, and said she will seek a faculty position in a school of nursing.

For more information about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s breast cancer studies, visit http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/healthdisparities/what_cdc_is_doing/aamm.htm.