Saving Our Skins
Nurse practitioner’s skills range from spotting cancer to making ‘rash’ decisions
BY OLIVIA ABEL
PHOTO AUTUMN DRISCOLL
As a member of the team at Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut in Hamden since 2017, she helps patients find relief from eczema, psoriasis and acne, among other common conditions. “But sometimes we are challenged with out-of-the-ordinary things—for example, a rash we’ve never seen before caused by a rare disease such as the Zika virus,” she said.
“We also have to be aware that a lot of these skin con- ditions can be a manifestation of a serious disease like cutaneous lymphoma,” she added.
After graduating from Western Connecticut State Uni- versity in 2007 with her bachelor’s degree in nursing, Vinca worked as a surgical ICU nurse. A few years later—seeking new opportunities—she enrolled part-time in the three-year, online nurse practitioner program at QU.
“It’s wonderful to be able to advance your career and step up from being an RN to an independent practitioner,” said Vinca, noting that nurse practitioners perform many of the same functions as physicians. “I see my own patients, I diagnose, treat, prescribe and educate on skin disease as well as prevention. I enjoy being hands on, such as per- forming surgeries of non-complex benign lesions as well as non-melanoma skin cancers,” she noted. “I particularly enjoy my job because I am constantly collaborating as a team with my colleagues: doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.”
The number of nurse practitioners in the U.S. has grown more than 30% since 2010, partially due to a national shortage of primary care practitioners to meet the health care needs of a rapidly aging population. “We are a vital part of the health care team as providers, mentors, educators, researchers and administrators. We are involved in many indispensable ways,” she said.
Vinca recalls one of her most memorable cases: a 25-year- old woman who came in with a rash. “As I was performing my exam, I observed a concerning lesion on her leg; it ended up being a melanoma,” she said. Luckily, it turned out to be a melanoma in situ, which means the cancer was confined to the upper layers of the skin.
“Her case continues to resonate with me because it was my first professional experience with a melanoma, and she
was so young. Had I not performed a complete skin exam, this could have been missed,” she said.
Vinca thrived in the QU master’s program despite working full time and caring for an infant. “The professors were very supportive; we were very lucky to have such extraordinary professors that served as astounding mentors,” she said.
Although Vinca had a longtime interest in dermatolo- gy—sparked in childhood when her beloved grandfather died of a malignant melanoma—dermatology rotations were rare and proved difficult to find. After earning her MSN, she took a job at an interventional radiology practice in Hartford. While she found that field intriguing, she never gave up on her passion.
“It can be quite difficult to switch tracks in the midst of your career, but I networked and studied until I eventually landed a dermatology job in 2015,” she said. Around the same time, a growing interest in teaching and leadership prompted Vinca to return to Quinnipiac. “Professor Laima Karosas [chair of the graduate nursing programs] had been a great mentor, and she encouraged me to go for my doctorate.” After earning her DNP in nursing leadership, Vinca was ready to share her knowledge with others.
She currently serves as a clinical preceptor for both Quin- nipiac and Yale students and has lectured on dermatological topics at Quinnipiac’s School of Nursing and the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine. Last fall she joined the Yale University School of Nursing as a clinical instructor, where she teaches a health assessment lab. She is writing a chapter of a textbook on skin, hair and nails in collaboration with Karosas and Karen Myrick, associate professor in the School of Nursing.
Her time away from work is spent with her husband, Luti, 9-year-old son, Dion, and 6-year-old daughter, Sianna. They keep her busy with sports and other activities. “We love to travel as a family. There is so much to learn, and you realize what a tiny place you occupy in the world,” she said.
At this point in her career, she is happy to be working with dedicated people in a great profession. “And the best part is that I get the opportunity to build and sustain relationships with my patients and families,” she said.