As a young girl, Marianne Cockroft dreamed of being a teacher, but her mother thought she might be better suited to nursing. Turns out, they were both right.
A self-described obedient child, Cockroft followed her mother’s advice and earned not one, but three nursing degrees. She also followed her heart and put those degrees to work in the realm of public health nursing, where health education is a primary focus.
When she’s not working with students at the University of North Carolina’s School of Nursing, where she’s an assistant professor, Cockroft, 60, is delivering care to some of the Triangle’s most vulnerable and needy citizens.
“She was a very wise woman,” says Cockroft of her mother. “This has been a good fit for me. I’ve been able to combine nursing and teaching.”
Since January, Cockroft has been taking her nursing and teaching skills on the road to medically under-served people in Cary and Apex. With the help of a team of volunteers from UNC, Cockroft dispenses free checkups, medical counseling and referrals one day a week from a mobile clinic parked outside Dorcas Ministries in Cary and Western Wake Crisis Ministry in Apex. The clinic operates on alternate Tuesdays at each location.
The mobile medical unit is the most recent of many ways Cockroft has served her community as a nurse dedicated to teaching. From infants and toddlers to senior citizens, Cockroft has helped wherever she has spotted a need, first in her home state of Pennsylvania and now in the Triangle, where she and her engineer husband, Gregg, have lived since 1999.
After receiving a grant to help prevent child abuse, Cockroft developed a play group for low-income mothers and their children in Pennsylvania. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cockroft administered another grant to open a wellness center for Durham County senior citizens.
Older elementary school students and teens have also been the beneficiaries of Cockroft’s work. For teens, Cockroft used her public health nursing skills to create and present classes in a church setting. The first focused on the risks involved with having sex, using drugs or drinking alcohol, while the second dealt with teen mental health. She created the second class after a cluster of Triangle teen deaths by overdose, suicide and car accidents. Cockroft also has volunteered for years to teach sex education classes for fourth- and fifth-graders and their parents through her church.
The world needs more people like Dr. Cockroft.
Howard Manning, executive director of Dorcas Ministries.
Cockcroft has published academic papers on each topic in the hopes that other nurses would use her work as a guide to offering similar programs in their communities.
“She’s a person of vision,” says Howard Manning, who as executive director of Dorcas Ministries has worked with Cockroft on the mobile clinic project. “A person of vision who looks for ways to put that vision into practice.”
Born Marianne Channas, the third of four children of a blue-collar family living outside Pittsburgh, Pa., Cockroft says she and her siblings were the beneficiaries of her parents’ modest lifestyle and financial sacrifices. Her father was a steel mill worker and her mother, at age 57, become a licensed practical nurse – at the very same time that Cockroft was studying to become a registered nurse. Both parents were World War II-era military veterans.
Education was the top priority in her family, Cockroft says. All four children earned college degrees and finished their schooling without loans. Cockcroft graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1976 and began her nursing career at Magee-Womens Hospital, which is affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh. It was there that Cockroft earned her master’s degree in nursing education.
While her three children were young, Cockroft continued to work in nursing, choosing part-time positions that allowed her to keep her skills sharp while still being an involved parent. When her youngest was in high school, she worked full-time while starting on her Ph.D., which she received in 2013 from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
The idea for Cockroft’s latest project, the mobile medical clinic, was inspired by a Sunday school class discussion on social justice issues. Lots of ideas were tossed around, but because of Cockroft’s medical background, she homed in on what could be accomplished locally in the health care field.
Partnering with organizations already helping people in crisis made sense to Cockroft. “Instead of trying something new and different, why not build on our assets?” she says.
“If they are coming for crisis ministry, my presumption is they are under stress,” Cockroft says. And with stress often comes hypertension, diabetes and obesity – three areas in which Cockroft has expertise as a public health nurse.
Cockroft’s presumptions proved accurate in a survey of Dorcas and Western Wake clients. Nearly three-quarters of participants acknowledged they had at least one chronic illness. Hypertension was most frequently listed, Cockroft says. Other major concerns are chronic pain, diabetes, depression and obesity.
Hopes for expansion
Cockroft’s idea began to take shape. UNC’s medical school owned a mobile van that was available for rent. Cockroft’s church, Christ the King Lutheran in Cary, awarded the project a $20,000 grant.
As a public health nurse, Cockroft’s primary goals are promoting wellness, screening for chronic illnesses and teaching either prevention skills or, if necessary, management skills to those who already have chronic illnesses.
“What we’re doing (on the van) is all three levels of public health nursing,” she says.
Patients who visit the van are interviewed in depth about their health care concerns and given the time to ask questions in a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere, Cockroft says. “We don’t say, ‘OK, you’ve got 10 minutes.’ ”
Blood pressure screenings, blood sugar checks and weight management are all available on the van. If the nurses don’t have an answer to a patient’s question, Cockroft says, they look for another community resource for help. For instance, during one screening, a patient talked about being in an abusive relationship. The nurses provided contact information for the services of Interact, which specializes in helping victims of domestic violence.
While the project’s initial grant was for a year, Cockroft says she is hopeful the van will continue operating beyond 2016. The van driver donates his time, as do the nurses. The nursing students, who are all registered nurses working on master’s degrees, are also volunteers. A second church, First United Methodist Church in Cary, has awarded the project a supplemental grant, and the school of nursing underwrites a small percentage of Cockroft’s time as project director. The rest of her time is donated.
Ideally, Cockroft says she would like to see the program expand to include primary care services and be replicated in other areas of the state. She thinks faith organizations that already have committed to community outreach are logical places to tap into for additional help and financial resources. “You never know until you ask,” she says.
And what would Cockroft’s mother, now 96, think of her daughter’s accomplishments and her dream of mobile health care vans crisscrossing the state?
“For the longest time, she didn’t really grasp that I didn’t work in a hospital because that’s what nurses do – work in hospitals. That was different than what she envisioned,” Cockroft says.
“But she’s very proud, especially of my Ph.D. My daughter, the doctor.”
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Born: July 1955, Pittsburgh
Career: Public health nurse and assistant professor, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing
Education: Bachelor of science in nursing from Pennsylvania State University, 1976; master’s in nursing education from University of Pittsburgh, 1980; Ph.D. from UNC-Greensboro, 2013. “I was definitely the oldest member of my cohort.”
Family: Husband Gregg, three children, three grandchildren
Quote: “The world needs more people like Dr. Cockroft,” said Howard Manning, executive director of Dorcas Ministries.