Three Nursing Students Lauded as 'Rising Stars'


School of Nursing and Health Studies trio presented posters on Alzheimer's disease, ICU family member satisfaction, and the need for breastfeeding support at virtual nursing conference


Yue “Coco” Dong, Cristobal Padilla Fortunatti, and Giselle Garcia-Rivero represented the University of Miami’s Beta Tau Chapter of Sigma, the international honor society of nursing, during Sigma’s 32nd International Nursing Research Congress, July 21 to 23. They were invited to contribute to the annual conference’s “Rising Stars of Research and Scholarship Invited Student Posters” with presenters from over two dozen universities around North America, Asia, and the Middle East.

Convened virtually due to continued COVID-19 restrictions, the Sigma Congress drew hundreds of nurse researchers, students, clinicians, and other leaders of the profession from around the world.

Dong, an international student who earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from the School of Nursing and Health Studies (SONHS) this past May, presented the poster Health Promotion and Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease. Dong has previous experience as a research assistant on projects related to dementia and epigenetics. She plans to pursue a doctoral degree.

Sigma Rising Star Padilla Fortunatti recently defended his dissertation as a PhD in Nursing Science student at SONHS. He coauthored his Sigma conference poster—Exploring the Association of Psychological Distress, Social Support, and Family Satisfaction Among ICU Family Members—with his mentor, SONHS Dean and Professor Cindy L. Munro. To gather evidence of the experience of family members during a patient’s intensive care unit (ICU) stay, the research team collected questionnaires from 63 family members of non-COVID-19 ICU patients. Main findings suggest that family members of ICU patients with higher levels of stress and low social support have lower satisfaction with the ICU care for both the patient and the family members. An early screening of psychosocial variables among ICU family members, as well as throughout the ICU stay, may contribute to identifying and supporting those family members at risk of a poor ICU experience.

Dr. Padilla Fortunatti’s focus on these important issues stems from his time as an ICU nurse in his native Santiago, Chile, where he is currently an assistant clinical professor at Pontificia Universidad Catolica’s school of nursing. He has been interested in the construct of “family satisfaction” as a measure of the ICU experience of family members and psychosocial outcomes for family members of critically ill patients. His research interests include family-centered care, Post-intensive Care Syndrome in family members of ICU survivors, nursing workload, and hospital-acquired infections in the ICU.

Giselle Garcia-Rivero’s Rising Star poster addressed an issue close to her heart, Improving Access to Breastfeeding Support Among Minority Women. “Increasing breastfeeding support for postpartum mothers is an area I am passionate about, both as a health care professional and as a mother,” said Garcia-Rivero, who recently gave birth to her third child. “Breastfeeding provides health benefits that can be appreciated immediately, such as reduced incidence of digestive issues, respiratory infections, and complications from these infections in infants, just to name a few.”

There is also evidence, she noted, that quality lactation support is one way to significantly improve a mother’s confidence and long-term breastfeeding success. But while the Affordable Care Act ensures coverage for lactation consultants, the law stipulates that only licensed health care professionals may be reimbursed as in-network providers. That creates a coverage loophole in Florida, which has no state licensing mechanism for lactation consultants, even those who are internationally board certified.

“Minority women enrolled in Medicaid have lower income and experience greater health care and health disparities. Breastfeeding support is essential, but for these mothers in particular, not easily available or accessible,” explained Garcia-Rivero, a Doctor of Nursing Practice student at SONHS who is implementing a breastfeeding support quality improvement project with The Women’s Hospital at Jackson Memorial Hospital. “Anticipated results of this project include passage of legislation for state professional licensure of certified lactation consultants. The expectation is that this would contribute to significantly improved breastfeeding statistics due to improved access to essential lactation support.”

This was the first Sigma Congress Rising Star presentation for all three SONHS participants. They were invited after being nominated by the associate deans of their respective programs and passing Sigma’s Rising Star presenter qualifications. “The nomination from Associate Dean Mary Hooshmand and Dean Munro to be a Rising Star has been an honor, to say the least,” commented Garcia-Rivero. “I am honored to represent our school and raise awareness of this issue on an international level.”

Event registration for the three Rising Stars was made possible by the school’s Karen S. Muth Memorial Nursing Leaders Endowed Program Fund. “We are grateful to the family of Karen Muth, B.S.N. ’85, for supporting these future nurse leaders,” said Dean Munro. “I am so proud of the way in which our nominees and their high-caliber research represented our school at this prestigious international conference.”

To support future nurse leaders through the Karen S. Muth Memorial Nursing Leaders Endowed Program Fund, call 305-284-1785 or email