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Nursing Science Improves Lives

5 Minute Read

Nursing consistently ranks as the most trusted profession because caring lies at its core. Nurses interact directly with patients. We learn not only about their symptoms, but their lives. It’s not surprising, then, that the issues nurse scientists explore usually focus on improving the quality of life. 

 At Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston, our mission is to “improve the health and well-being of our diverse community by preparing tomorrow’s leaders to drive innovation and excellence in nursing education, practice, and scientific discovery.” For nurse scientists, this means seeking answers to healthcare questions that directly affect patients, families, and communities. Nursing research is funded by healthcare systems and foundations as well as state and federal agencies.  

 Across the TMC, nurse scientists are conducting research supporting our aging population. For example, the Smart Apartment at Cizik School of Nursing is a laboratory equipped to simulate a home environment and test technologies designed to support independent living for aging and people with disabilities. In one of the first pilot studies, Associate Professor Jennifer E.S. Beauchamp, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Assistant Professor Shayan Shams, PhD, at UTHealth Houston are testing motion capture technology to detect psychosocial distress in stroke survivors and their caregivers. 

 The care and support of stroke patients and their families is a growing focus area among nurse scientists in the TMC. Both Dr. Beauchamp and Assistant Professor Seema Aggarwal, PhD, RN, AGNP-C, are testing virtual reality systems with stroke survivors. Dr. Beauchamp is piloting a study that is customizing an existing virtual environment to develop an interactive way to help survivors and informal caregivers who are coping with post-stroke loneliness and mental health issues. Dr. Aggarwal was inspired by her son’s virtual reality game to test the feasibility of using such technology to promote engagement in outpatient stroke rehabilitation. 

 Sometimes a seemingly small project can have a huge impact. A few years ago, Cizik School of Nursing research staff and students working with Dr. Beauchamp undertook translating an English-language video explaining the widely used “FAST” stroke awareness tool. Recognizing that a direct translation would not be as effective in Spanish, they instead developed the award-winning RÁPIDO acronym, which has been recognized by the American Heart Association. 

 Other work in the TMC with Associate Professor Daphne Hernandez, PhD, MSEd, FAAHB, focuses on the health of Hispanic immigrant families and other underserved communities to address food insecurity, housing instability, and barriers to activity and nutrition that can lead to obesity. Associate Professor Nitha Mathew Joseph, PhD, RN, CNE, is preventing modifiable risk factors of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes in Asian Indians living in the U.S. through physical activity, and Associate Professor Carina Katigbak, PhD, RN, ANP-BC, FAHA, has been examining  mental health and physical activity of older Chinese Americans. 

 Another growing area of research at Cizik School of Nursing addresses HIV prevention as part of “Ending the HIV Epidemic,” which highlights Harris County as a high HIV risk area. The need for innovation in HIV prevention and care are great in Texas, which ranks third among U.S. states in the number of new HIV diagnoses. As part of the Texas Development Center of AIDS Research, Assistant Professor Emily Barr, PhD, MSN, RN, is studying adolescents transitioning to adult HIV care and the use of telehealth to promote engagement in care. Assistant Professor Veronica Brady, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, is exploring the intersection of HIV, diabetes, and depression. My own research team focuses of on HIV prevention among youth experiencing homelessness. We are conducting several randomized trials funded by the NIH to examine the impact of nurse case management and just-in-time adaptive mobile HIV prevention interventions in hard-to-reach and high-risk youth populations.   

 Associate Professor Meagan Whisenant, PhD, RN, has built a robust program of research related to symptom monitoring and management among patients living with cancer, and she has more recently applied her expertise to characterizing symptoms of subpopulations of people living with HIV. Her work is an example of symptom science, a field in which nurses excel because of the relationships we build with patients and the focus on empowering patients to navigate their own care. Her colleague, Assistant Professor Stacey Crane, PhD, RN, CPON, is using an NIH grant to refine the “Smart Pediatric Oncology Tracker of Symptoms,” a web-based interface designed to make it easier for kids with cancer and their parents to report symptoms in real time so providers can offer more timely care. Studies started by Chao Hsing Yeh, PhD, RN, FANN, and collaborators are testing nonpharmacological pain management strategies for various of patients, including those experiencing chemotherapy related neuropathy, chronic back pain, and dementia-related conditions.  

 At Cizik School of Nursing, our researchers work toward not only improving the lives of patients but improving the work lives and well-being of nurses. Associate Professor Maja Djukic, PhD, RN, FAAN, studies issues related to new nurses’ transition to practice and workforce retention, and she is currently partnering with Instructor D’Hania Miller, MS, RN, and TMC hospitals on summer seminars for students from high schools with diverse populations as an introduction to the nursing profession. Building a pipeline of nurses for the future is critical step in addressing the growing shortage of nurses. 

 These and other meaningful research projects advance our mission as nurse scientists. We must continue to grow nursing research nurses by fostering early curiosity and promoting the partnership of clinical and research nurses within our health care systems and educational institutions. This assures that the research conducted by  meets critical clinical care needs and promotes a speedy translation from research to bedside. This assures that the findings from research are scalable and available to meet the needs of all, including those who are under-resourced.    

 I am honored and humbled to lead a group of innovative, passionate nurse scientists and educators at Cizik School of Nursing. Together with our counterparts and inter professional partners across the TMC and the nation, we are finding solutions to the most pressing health care concerns of our time. 

 Professor Diane Santa Maria is the Jane and Robert Cizik Distinguished Chair, the Huffington Foundation Endowed Chare in nursing Education Leadership, and Dean of Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston.

Serving a tasty brunch from the Breakfast Klub to youth experiencing homelessness are Dean Diane Santa Maria (third from right) and her research team for the study “Come As You Are – Assessing the Efficacy of a Nurse Case Management HIV Prevention and Care Intervention Among Homeless Youth.”  

Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston Dean Diane Santa Maria


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