US COPD Coalition

Sharon Cornelison Appointed to USCC Board of Directors


Sharon Cornelison, RCP, RRT-NPS, has been appointed to serve on the US COPD Board of Directors. Sharon will serve out the remainder of the unexpired term of former board member deNay Kirkpatrick, DNP, APN-BC, who resigned due to work commitments.

Sharon is a respiratory therapist, a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Specialist, and a COPD Research Coordinator at Wake Forest Baptist Health and Wake Forest University School of Medicine. After receiving her BA in Theatrical Design, Sharon then completed her clinical training in Respiratory Therapy through Forsyth Technical Community College. She will receive her bachelor’s degree in Respiratory Care from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s College of Health Sciences in May 2020.

Sharon’s professional focus centers around improving the quality of life in patients with COPD through intensive patient education, identifying and resolving barriers to care, educating COPD patients on how to be an effective, valuable team member in their own healthcare, and through the education of local primary care physicians in the early diagnosis and management of COPD.

Since 2014, Sharon has served as a COPD Navigator implementing inpatient and outpatient protocols to help Wake Forest Baptist Health reduce their 30-day, all-cause, COPD hospital re-admissions. In 2019, Sharon co-authored “Pulmonary Rehabilitation in the Management of Chronic Lung Disease” for the Medical Clinics of North America.

As a way of getting to know Sharon better, we asked her the following questions:

Why did you volunteer to serve on the USCC Board?

I have been following the advocacy work of the USCC and my NC state coalition for several years. As my work with the COPD population has expanded from the Pulmonary Rehabilitation arena into the outpatient clinic and research settings, I have felt the need to get involved with an organization like the USCC whose focus is on education and advocacy for the COPD population. Serving on the board affords me the opportunity to work and collaborate with other healthcare professionals and organizations across the country who are dedicated to improving provider, patient, caregiver, and community awareness and education about COPD.

What do you think USCC can do to help those with lung diseases?

What the USCC can do for patients with COPD is accurately reflected in their mission statement which focuses on three main goals: increasing awareness of the disease, improving patient care, and supporting the search for a cure for COPD. From a personal and professional perspective, I am incredibly passionate about improving patient care, as I believe this is one of the keys to maintaining a good quality of life in patients who have COPD. In my clinical experience, we continue to see a variety of problems in this area including reduced access to care, especially in rural areas, lack of early spirometry screening and diagnosis in those at risk for developing COPD, issues with inhaler affordability, reduced access to Pulmonary Rehabilitation programs, and other similar patient care issues. I would like to see the USCC continue to advocate, educate, and help implement policies that will improve both access to care and improve the quality of COPD care across the spectrum from inpatient to clinic to Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

What advice do you have for both persons with chronic lung disease and their professional and family caregivers?

For the clinical professional who treats the COPD population, I cannot stress enough the importance of being familiar with the GOLD Guidelines which utilizes an evidence-based medicine approach for the diagnosis, management, and treatment of COPD. In addition, to improve the prevention, early diagnosis, and management of this disease, I would encourage providers to incorporate baseline screening of all patients at risk for COPD who are at least 40 years old with a 20+ pack year tobacco abuse history. Early interventions with tobacco cessation counseling, COPD education, initiation of inhaled medications per GOLD, and follow-up care are keys to reducing disease progression/severity and maintaining quality of life in the COPD patient. For the COPD patient and those who care for them, I want them to understand that people can and do live well with a chronic lung disease like COPD. I encourage my patients to educate themselves about their disease and current available treatments, ask questions of their providers, and be an active member of their COPD care team. In addition, as a Pulmonary Rehabilitation specialist who believes in the positive physical and psychosocial impact these programs have on COPD outcomes, I encourage patients to get their physician to refer them to a local program, as evidence-based medicine has shown that pulmonary rehabilitation is the one intervention that can have the greatest overall impact on improving the quality of life in patients with COPD and other chronic lung diseases.

What can folks do to strengthen the voice of the community to better impact public policy and realize the goals of the COPD National Action plan?

The five goals of the National COPD Action Plan clearly reflect those of the USCC. To achieve these goals, again I cannot emphasize enough the importance of continuing to educate the community about the connection between tobacco abuse and COPD, and we need to continue to push for early screenings with spirometry for patients at risk for the development of COPD. In my own profession of respiratory therapy, The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) is very active in the political arena advocating for our COPD and chronic lung disease populations. We are currently supporting a bill in the house that would provide access to Telehealth services by respiratory therapists for our COPD population thus improving access to care. We participate yearly in the AARC Day on the Hill in D.C., and in 2019, we advocated for our COPD patients who are dependent on non-invasive ventilation by petitioning CMS and the Secretary of HHS to oppose their decision regarding competitive bidding for non-invasive ventilators. These are just a few things that my professional organization and respiratory therapists like myself are doing to help realize the goals of the National COPD Action Plan.