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Meet Amanda Bettencourt, PhD, APRN, CCRN-K, ACCNS-P

Before Amanda Bettencourt first set foot in a pediatric burn hospital, she expected she would find sadness there. She found the opposite.

“It was the happiest place I’ve ever worked. It was a place where nurses made our optimal contribution on patient outcomes. I saw resilient, happy children thriving after burn injury,” says Bettencourt, PhD, APRN, CCRN-K, ACCNS-P, GRN’19 of her time at Shriners Children’s Boston.

An exercise physiologist before becoming a nurse, Bettencourt headed directly into a pediatric ICU after graduation. “I was really inspired by this idea that being able to help a child and their family recover from one of the most stressful things imaginable would make such an impact on the future of society,” she says. “Those kids are going to grow up, they’re going to be something someday.”

The positive experience at Shriners inspired her to investigate the “secret sauce” of healthy workplaces while pursuing her PhD at Penn, encouraged by Linda Aiken. “My dissertation was me chasing down what was the magic in that place. We know from Dr. Aiken’s work that any patient anywhere has a worse outcome, a higher risk of mortality, when there aren’t enough nurses, when staffing is inadequate, or the work environment is not healthy,” she says. Eventually, her research showed that this effect is magnified for burn patient mortality. “I wasn’t surprised by those findings, but it was really nice to use science to demonstrate something that I had seen in my practice.”

As current president of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) board of directors, Bettencourt has a national platform to advocate for workplaces where nurses can “thrive and make their best contribution.” The AACN has healthy work environment standards.

“There is a gap between what we know needs to happen, and how to do it. So these days I focus on implementation science,” she says. As an Assistant Professor teaching undergraduate nurses at Penn, she adds, “I teach them about what to expect from the environments they’re going into, no matter where they practice.”

She hopes that AACN will continue to be a place where members can turn for the latest evidence-based knowledge, and to find community. “Especially after everything nurses have been through during the pandemic,” she says. “Nurses need healing right now, a place to get inspired to learn, to grow, to connect, and to find leadership opportunities.”

Her high standards were shaped in part by the Penn faculty and alumni whose footsteps she follows.

“I’m thinking of people like Drs. Martha Curley, Terry Richmond, Kathleen McCauley (a past AACN president), and Penn Alumna Kathryn Roberts (another past president of AACN). There are so many Penn faculty and alumni that have been impactful AACN volunteers and leaders,” Bettencourt says. “Each of them modeled for me what it means to be a leader, change agent, excellent clinician, and impactful researcher. I stand on each of their shoulders.”