Volume 26 Number 2
Deanna Reising, assistant professor of nursing (standing), works with senior Susan Hall at a free hypertension screening on the IUB campus that Hall organized as part of her undergraduate research.
Encouraging Nursing through Research
Think "nurse," and most of us conjure up a dedicated soul providing patient care 24/7. We don't typically think of scientists and researchers whose work directly influences health-care policy and practice. So when Emily Brower and Susan Hall began the Indiana University Bloomington undergraduate nursing program as sophomores in 2002, neither gave much thought to a flyer advertising student research opportunities. When both signed up more or less on a whim, they never suspected that the projects they were about to undertake would profoundly influence their futures.
"I didn't really know what I was getting into," recalls Hall, now a junior with three semesters remaining to complete her B.S. in nursing.
Brower, also a junior now, had similar expectations. "I needed a job and doing research seemed like something that paid pretty well," she says. "I thought it was going to be easy."
It was anything but. Brower took on a project studying dietary supplement use among students. Hall joined a study evaluating hypertension screening and counseling programs on campus. Both suddenly found themselves shouldering serious research responsibilities on top of their required coursework in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, psychology, and other subjects.
When she wasn't in class or studying, Brower was busy learning about the benefits and dangers of dietary supplementssuch as ephedra, recently banned by the FDA§then drumming up subjects for her study through e-mail and advertising in dorms. She coordinated meeting times and conducted more than 70 half-hour interviews, asking students about how and why they used dietary supplements.
"It was overwhelming at first," Brower remembers. "I was stood up a lot, and when interview subjects did show up I often had to listen when they§mainly guys§said things about supplements that were simply wrong. It was hard to just sit back and not explain that they were endangering their health."
Spurred by a history of cardiovascular disease in her family and a previous interest in service-learning (education through hands-on experience), Hall participated in a study measuring student and community outcomes in a service-learning project focused on hypertension screening and education. She advertised the study, set up screenings, constructed spreadsheets reflecting the participants' feedback, and analyzed the results of the screenings and responses to a follow-up survey.
"A lot of the respondents didn't fully understand some of the questions, so I had to revise the survey several times," says Hall, who began the project in October 2002 and hopes to pursue the research through 2004. "It's much more challenging than I thought it would be, but conducting research has made me think of nursing in an entirely new way."
Undergraduate research in nursing programs is a relatively new concept. According to Deanna Reising, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at IUB who has supervised Hall and Brower, encouraging such work has become more important in recent years.
"There's an incredible shortage of nursing faculty in universities across the United States," says Reising. "Introducing students to research early on is a good way to get them interested in going on to graduate school."
An IUB nursing honors program that began in 2003 is intended to boost the number of nursing students doing extensive research. Although currently all nursing students are required to participate in some research activity as part of their coursework, to date only a small number participate more extensively in research. In their class of 50 students, only Brower and Hall signed on to extracurricular projects. So far the experience has been invaluable.
"It has opened my eyes to the possibility of getting a Ph.D. in nursing," says Brower, who plans to continue her research for an honors thesis. "The paper I wrote with Deanna is going to be published, and my name is on it. That's huge for me."
"I've gained so much from working with Deanna," agrees Hall. "The research nurses do has an impact on people's lives."