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For Better or Nurse

Otterbein professor is a major proponent of nurses’ health and well-being

When someone is stressed out from caring for others, it can have a negative effect on his or her own health, ultimately affecting the care the person can give.

Otterbein University professor Kay Ball has seen it many times in her decades-long career as a nurse. That’s why she’s made it a priority to educate her fellow nurses on the importance of their own wellness – and to ensure their working conditions are optimal for good health.

“One of the things that I try to instill in my students is healthy lifestyles,” Ball says. “You’ve got to take care of yourself to take care of your patients.”

An Otterbein alumna, Ball returned to the university in 2010 to teach after earning her doctorate. Among the subjects she teaches are perioperative (surgical) nursing, gerontology, evidence-based research, infomatics and leadership.

She teaches all her students the importance of keeping the mind, body and soul healthy, as well as maintaining good financial health and contributing to a healthy society. She often asks if her students would recommend their own lifestyles to patients to put things in perspective.

“Many times, nurses who are caregivers give the care out, but don’t take care of themselves in the meantime,” Ball says. “You can see that with overweight nurses. They’re unbelievable nurses, but they’re stressed … (and) they don’t take time for exercise. Maybe they’ll just grab McDonald’s on the way to work instead of having a bowl of oatmeal at home.”

Pointing out to nurses and nursing students the importance of healthy lifestyles also helps them understand the importance of prevention as a tool for good health, Ball says. Emphasizing prevention is a big part of modern efforts to reform health care, and if nurses go out into the world aware of it, they can contribute to the cause.

“A lot of our money in health care is spent on chronic conditions, and we can solve a lot of the problems … by teaching people to buy into healthy lifestyles,” Ball says.

Though she only recently became a professor, Ball has been teaching for many years and has also written several books.

One of her current interests is the hazards of surgical smoke, which is produced when surgical nurses cut and coagulate tissue. The World Health Organization has determined that contaminated air is carcinogenic, making it a workplace safety issue, Ball says.

“My research showed that surgical nurses have twice the incidence of general respiratory problems compared to the general population,” she says.

The technology to prevent the risks – surgical smoke evacuators – exists, but hospitals need to commit to installing them in surgery rooms, Ball says.

Surgical lasers comprise another key topic for Ball. She has lectured all over the world on lasers and has also written three books on them, having developed an interest in them when she was working at Doctors Hospital.

“We had the first outpatient laser center in world (at Doctors),” Ball says.

When the hospital started using the technology, there was no instructional book on it available to nurses, so Ball wrote one.

Beyond those issues, Ball always has her ear to the ground for new areas of interest. As chairwoman of the Mid-Ohio District Nurses Association and a policy counsel for the Ohio Nurses Association, she contributes to the endorsement of political candidates and testifies at the Ohio House of Representatives regarding health care legislation.

Among the topics she has taken an interest in lately are staffing requirements and rules as to who can administer medications to students during school hours.

One of Ball’s biggest projects came in 1994 when she worked at the White House as a contributor to Hillary Clinton’s health care reform efforts. She was there to represent nurses and specialty practices in the discussions in her capacity as part of the Nursing Organization Liaison Forum, itself part of the American Nurses Association.

She has also helped arrange a partnership between Otterbein and OhioHealth to provide nursing students clinical experience in the operating room.

Ball’s decision to go into nursing was spurred simply by her liking for the caring attitudes of the nurses she had encountered. She started on her career path in the early 1970s and, thanks to the professional fulfillment offered by the work, her interest has not wavered since.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Otterbein in 1983. She also holds an associate’s degree from Columbus State Community College (1974), a master’s degree from Central Michigan University (1987) and a Ph.D. from Virginia Commonwealth University (2009).

Ball, a native of Worthington, has two grown sons: a Battelle researcher living in Westerville and a restaurant owner living in Marion. She and her husband, Dan Flynn, live in Lewis Center. The couple have three grandchildren.

Garth Bishop is editor of Westerville Magazine. Feedback welcome at

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