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Collaborations Shape College of Nursing Research

Research at the College of Nursing brings a unique perspective to advancing health and healthy equity.
Helena W Morrison, PhD, RN, associate professor of nursing, works with a lab assistant in 2018.

Collaborations Shape College of Nursing Research

Among the many reasons for the College of Nursing’s outstanding rankings is its strong research program, a key area of focus for Dean Ki Moore, PhD, RN, FAAN. While research efforts targeting bedside care and patient education strategies are well-represented at the college, its research program is much deeper and broader than many realize.

The director of the College of Nursing’s PhD program, Lois Loescher, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Judith Gordon, PhD, the college’s associate dean for research, recently shared insights about the inner workings of the college’s research pursuits, from creating new technology to influencing human behavior.

“People still think that nurses are taking care of patients at the bedside. And granted, that's where most nurses do work, so it's harder for them to envision nurses doing so many other things,” said Dr. Loescher.

 Drs. Loescher and Gordon say the college’s research success is built on four key principles.

College of Nursing research takes a comprehensive approach

Nurses are trained to address the person, the environment, and well-being, and the research in the college typically incorporates these, Dr. Loescher said.

Nursing’s PhD program and its research work attract professionals from a wide swath of health care professions and other backgrounds. Pictured: a 2018 presentation.

“We look at it through a little bit different lens than a physician or a pharmacist. We're really looking at health in a broader context,” said Dr. Loescher, who noted she is pleased to see other health care fields have begun to move in a more holistic direction, too.

One of the most difficult challenges in health care is to change human behavior, both Dr. Loescher and Dr. Gordon said, and much of the college’s research work touches on ways to promote positive behavioral changes.

For example, Tracy Crane, PhD, an assistant professor in Nursing, Public Health and Nutrition Sciences, is studying the impact of lifestyle behaviors, such as changes to diet, physical activity, sleep and tobacco use, on health outcomes for cancer survivors.

“Most of these projects show the synergy that happens between practice and research,” said Dr. Gordon. “Our PhD students are nurses who have practiced and who have been working in various areas, and they’ve generated questions that we answer through the research process, which generates more questions.”

Nursing research includes basic and behavioral sciences, and beyond

“We have researchers who are looking at the effect of stroke on brain microglia, all the way to questions such as ‘How do we better provide tobacco cessation treatments to cancer patients at the UArizona Cancer Center?’ and everything in between,” Dr. Gordon said.

The science comes together just as it does in other colleges, in a variety of settings, including laboratories and community engagement programs.

“We have two core labs. One is a biological core lab that does basic wet lab assays looking at biological markers in our research. We also have a behavioral applied clinical science lab that provides space and facilities for doing in-person behavioral research across all our domains,” Dr. Gordon said. “Much of our research takes place in community settings. We recruit participants through health centers, community centers, and social media.”

College of Nursing research is as diverse as the researchers are

College of Nursing faculty is comprised of both nurses and scientists from other fields, creating a rich environment for team science. Faculty and students in the PhD program who come from a nursing career bring myriad life and work experience to the study of human health, and that makes the research that comes out of the college equally diverse. Those from other fields bring their expertise to enrich research and education.

Phone app, See Me Serene, for nursing research

Drs. Loescher and Gordon are prime examples.

Dr. Loescher began her career as an ICU nurse, then moved into oncology and eventually worked at the University of Arizona Cancer Center. She then earned her PhD from the College of Nursing, and now oversees the PhD program along with conducting cancer prevention behavioral research.

Dr. Gordon is representative of those with other professional backgrounds. Dr. Gordon’s health care background is in behavioral psychology. Before that, she worked in IT and theater. She pulled all of that together when she worked with students studying computer science to create the See Me Serene mobile phone app to study guided meditation for stress reduction and smoking cessation.

“I like to describe the research in the College of Nursing as research done by nurses and other experts about nursing and, primarily, about how to improve health, health care and health equity,” said Dr. Gordon.

College of Nursing research embraces teamwork

Nurses are trained to be collaborative in the clinical environment, which translates to being collaborative in their research pursuits, said Dr. Gordon.

The College of Nursing attracts students and researchers from a variety of backgrounds, which strengthens the work they do.

“We have so many connections to so many different fields, and I think it stems from an attitude of recognizing that there are different members of the team that bring different expertise, and together it creates this really positive synergy,” Dr. Gordon said.

Zhanette Coffee, FNP-BC, MSN, APRN, a nursing PhD student, is a prime example. She is studying integrative health approaches for patients with opioid use disorder and chronic pain. The study is a collaboration with researchers at the College of Pharmacy and the Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center.

Dr. Gordon and Dr. Loescher are both members of the University of Arizona Cancer Center and have worked on cancer prevention strategies. They say that College of Nursing faculty are involved in many kinds of health research with many collaborators.

“I think you'll find that a lot of the research we do may be perceived as something else besides nursing because we have so many team players,” Dr. Loescher said. Dr. Gordon agrees, “What this shows is the important contribution that the College of Nursing makes to team science and to improving health.”

Additional examples of ongoing research in the College of Nursing:

  • Terry A. Badger, PhD, RN, FAAN, chair of the division of community and systems health science: innovative ways to reduce psychological distress among cancer survivors and their caregivers, through telephone and app-based interventions
  • Aleeca Bell, PhD, RN, CNM, associate professor: integrative intervention for improving the maternal-child bond in order to improve health outcomes and long-term educational and other outcomes, among first-time, low income mothers.
  • PhD student Ottilie Rung: testing the feasibility of integrative health intervention alternate nostril breathing to reduce biopsychosocial stress in pregnant women who are victims of intimate partner violence.
  • PhD student Elizabeth Johnson: testing a USB wristband device worn by pediatric cancer patients that houses clinical trial information to be accessed by providers in critical care and emergency situations.
  • PhD student Cristina Rivera Carpenter: studying wellness among Diné women in Navajo Nation border towns using a methodology that integrates mainstream Western qualitative methodology with Indigenous methodologies.
  • PhD student Carrie Langley: studying the factors that facilitate and inhibit the use of community-based transitional support services by adults with mental illness post release from jail.