After Addiction, a Desire to Develop Better Treatment

Nicole Garritano, DNP, and Jeff Bell, RN

Graduate student Jeff Bell, RN, stands with his mentor, Nicole Garritano, DNP, interim director of the College's Doctor of Nursing Practice Practice program.

By: Bill Bangert

If, as the proverb goes, experience is the best teacher, then nursing student Jeff Bell has an abundance of knowledge to share. Pursuing his bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) to doctor of nursing practice (DNP) in pediatric acute care at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Nursing, his passion for helping others struggling with addiction and educating the community about substance abuse disorder led to his selection as a Paul Ambrose Scholar. Bell will attend the Paul Ambrose Scholars Student Leadership Symposium April 5-7, 2017, in Savannah, Georgia.

Bell isn’t shy about discussing his battle with substance abuse disorder, which developed while he was working as a nurse in Philadelphia. "It wasn’t something like flicking a light switch where all of the sudden one day you wake up and you’re caught up in that,” Bell says. "It’s something that progresses gradually over time, and it can be so subtle that you don’t see the signs of it developing and people that are close to you don’t see the signs of it developing until you’re well into the throes of it.”

He says he was deeply into the throes of addiction in 2007 and 2008 and went into what he describes as a rapid decline. He lost two nursing jobs and his nursing license because of his addiction to at first opioids, and then alcohol.   

"At that point it becomes ‘a drug is a drug is a drug’, anything that alters your mind,” says Bell. "It wasn’t necessarily about the drug itself, it was about the way it made you feel, the way it made you escape from reality.”

Reality for Bell at that point, however, was about as grim as it gets. Despite repeated urgings from several people close to him, he initially refused to get help.  

"Everybody was pushing me and trying to get me help and I was very resistant to it, because admitting to other people that I had a problem, in my mind, was admitting that I was a failure in some way,” he says. "I knew I needed to recover or I was going to die. For quite some time, I thought that death was going to be the only way out. Finally when I admitted that I had no idea how to help myself, and that I couldn’t do it myself, that was the defining moment right there. That’s when I said I’ll do what other people tell me to do.”  

Taking the advice of those other people, Bell entered an inpatient treatment program near his home in Philadelphia, followed by three months of outpatient treatment at a halfway house. The process of rebuilding his life led him to stay with his sister in Cincinnati. He managed to get his nursing license back with restrictions at first, which led to a nursing job working from home.

In 2013, Bell got married to Elizabeth Powell, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the UC College of Medicine, who he says has been extremely supportive in his recovery and desire to continue his nursing career. He earned his graduate certificate in nursing education at the UC College of Nursing and was accepted into the College’s acute care pediatric nurse practitioner program. 

Jeff’s DNP project focuses on substance abuse reduction among nurses. He’s been in recovery for seven years now and he wants other people to get something out of the experience he went through.

"Since health care providers are on the front lines of treating addiction and substance abuse disorder, I feel like we do a great disservice to those that are afflicted with substance abuse disorder if we try to treat them without fully understanding it,” he says. "It’s unfortunate addiction carries a stigma, so what I want to do is develop an education program that shares and incorporates my own experiences, so people can see that even though you go through the worst of times, there is the possibility of recovery and it is an actual disease process and people are trying to do things intentionally.”

"I believe his personal experience uniquely positions Jeff to have a large impact on the individuals he meets and serves,” says Nicole Garritano, DNP, interim director of the DNP program in the UC College of Nursing and Bell’s mentor. "The Paul Ambrose Scholars Program will enable Jeff to continue his current outreach while being mentored and guided through the public health arena. With his drive, commitment, compassion for others and his fearless courage, the public will benefit greatly from his work as a scholar and beyond.”  

Bell hopes his time at the Paul Ambrose Scholars Student Leadership Symposium aids his work as a scholar.

"I’m hoping to get a different perspective on developing programs for community-based education programs,” he says. "I’ve developed my own program which I’ve refined over the years that I give on a regular basis but I only have it from my perspective. I want to learn what other people do and how they develop their programs and the approaches they take so I can incorporate that in the future.”

The Paul Ambrose Scholars Program is implemented by the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research with support from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.