To change the world through nursing

By Jill Jansen

Elham Algashgari has always dreamed of changing the world through nursing. Nine years ago, she traveled halfway around the globe to help make that dream a reality. A native of Saudi Arabia, Elham earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing at King Khalid University in 2012. After graduation, she accepted a position as a clinical instructor in the nursing school at Jazan University. It was there that she discovered a passion for teaching. A scholarship from Jazan to earn a master’s degree and PhD in the United States offered Elham a chance to further her education and pursue her dreams.

“My father was always supporting education, and he believed that education and getting a degree is like a shield for life’s challenges,” says Elham, a student in IU School of Nursing’s PhD program. “I am the first member of my family to come to the United States for education—it’s a big achievement for my whole family.”

Speaking very little English when she arrived in the U.S. in late 2013, Elham studied English as a Second Language (ESL) in Wisconsin before moving to Indiana to begin her master’s degree in nursing leadership and management at IU Kokomo. She completed her master’s degree in 2017 and applied for IUSON’s PhD program in Indianapolis. Seeking to expand upon her interest in cardiovascular disease and heart failure, she began working as a research assistant for Susan Pressler, PhD, RN, FAHA, FAAN, Professor and Sally Reahard Endowed Chair. Dr. Pressler, director of the IUSON Center for Enhancing Quality of Life in Chronic Illness, is an expert on cognitive dysfunction and memory loss in heart failure.

“I wanted to focus on the cardiovascular population, especially heart failure patients, but my experience was limited in this area,” Elham said. “Dr. Pressler encouraged me to just start reading and deep diving into the research so that I could find my specific interest.”

Elham’s dissertation, a secondary data analysis, examines the daily activities of heart failure patients and related cognitive dysfunction. Specifically, she is analyzing the difficulties that heart failure patients encounter in performing daily activities and how cognitive interventions can improve function and quality of life.

With Dr. Pressler’s support, Elham applied for and received a dissertation award from the Midwest Nursing Research Society (MNRS). She attended the MNRS annual meeting this spring to accept the award. After learning she’d won the award, Elham thought of her father, who passed away in November 2020.

“I cried because I was happy,” she said. “I wish my father was here I could tell him the news and tell him of my achievement; whenever I’d call home, he’d ask me, ‘when are you going to be a professor, when are you going to be a doctor?’ I’m so grateful to be able to get this achievement for him.”

On track to graduate from the PhD program in December, Elham is planning to return home to Saudi Arabia within the next year. To fulfill the terms of her scholarship, she’ll go back to teaching at Jazan University.
While Elham said it seems like she arrived in the U.S. just yesterday, so much has happened. In addition to earning two degrees, she got married to Sameer, also from Saudia Arabia. They met in the ESL class in Wisconsin and have a 5-year-old son, Yousef, who is named after Elham’s father.

“My goal firstly is to engage in my [teaching] job and demonstrate all the valuable skills and knowledge I acquired here in the United States,” Elham said. “I have so many ideas to complete in the research area, so when people ask me why I became a nurse, I still say ‘to change the world.’”