Inside USD

Nursing Research Examines, Saves Lives

Friday, May 4, 2012

In January, Kristina James went to El Cercado, a small, impoverished village in the Western mountains of the Dominican Republic as part of a USD group of nursing students and faculty to perform wellness check-ups for elementary school children.

Among the results of the 148 children examined, 27 percent had some degree of malnutrition. To combat this statistical revelation, James learned of a women’s cooperative in the same community was working to produce a high-calorie, peanut-based nutritional supplement called Nutri-Fort.

“You don’t know the kind of impact it can have on a community,” James (pictured, left) said. “It was more than I could have ever imagined.”

When James, a first-year Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN) student, returned to San Diego, she learned about and entered the $30,000 Social Innovation Challenge (SIC), hosted by USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce, that champions student entrepreneurial ideas.

On April 27, her idea to help increase production of Nutri-Fort through improvements to enhance its business aspects as well as have James do follow-up assessments of children, earned $5,000 in the SIC.

“We wanted to do something to help feed the community,” said James, who teamed with fellow nursing student Amber Zimmerman, in the contest. “The Social Innovation Challenge was a great opportunity to get them some funding and help move their business along.”

James said the money is expected to be spent on necessities such as a refrigerator, an individual mixer, packaging materials, cooking utensils, three cooling fans and sacks of locally farmed peanuts.

Projects with a purpose such as James’ were plentiful at Thursday’s Graduate Research Day, which was held in USD’s UC Forums and, for this sixth annual event, was sponsored by the Hahn School for Nursing and Health Science.

“Nurse scientists and their research are transforming health care and this transformation will multiply over the next decades,” said Sally Brosz Hardin, the nursing school’s dean and also a professor. “Nurses focus on preventing illness, optimizing health, treating the whole patient — mind, body and spirit — and working with individuals, families and communities.”

Several USD nursing research projects, as noted by Hardin, include: assuring that pregnant mothers with HIV are adherent to their medications, thus preventing the transformation of the virus to the fetus; screening thousands of pregnant mothers and treating those at high risk for perinatal depression; defining and measuring Emergence Delirium in post-operative military patients; and designing videos for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

“Nursing research saves lives!” Hardin said.

Research examples, indeed, were varied. Beyond those specifically mention by Hardin were two projects proposed by first-year MEPN students, Joseph Bautista and Dana Lujan. Bautista examined his project from the perspective of social justice — “Human Trafficking and Nurse’s Role” — and Lujan’s looks at grief attitudes through Facebook participation on memorial pages.

Bautista’s poster presentation (above, right) was an action research qualitative study to increase awareness about human trafficking and effects on a victim’s health. It also provides “consciousness-raising” information for nurses. Those who viewed Bautista’s poster were asked to answer four yes-or-no questions to determine a research sample of nursing students’ knowledge. Questions included if they were aware that there are 12 million people at any time involved in trafficking; their knowledge of common health problems among trafficking victims; knowing the clues to determine if a patient is a trafficking victim; and if, after answering questions, the nursing student is willing to commit to action based on the knowledge provided.

“As nurses, we’re supposed to help people, to be patient advocates. This is designed to make (nurses) think,” Bautista said. “I want to create a ripple effect and create social change.”

One social change mechanism is the full advent of social media and its effects on society. Lujan’s examination of the power of Facebook focuses on it as “a tool in grief resolution.”

The social network’s approximate 800-plus million accounts include several connected to the deceased. Tribute pages and actual friend pages of deceased people exist. Lujan (pictured, left) said one specific instance — the August 2010 death of a high school cheerleading coach — interested her. She will conduct a research study to determine if participation to a tribute page is positively associated with grief attitudes in women ages 18-28. She noted there are postings on the coach’s page as recent as March 2012. She also said her personal Facebook page has more than 200 friends while the tribute page has more than 600.

“Social media has changed how we do things and how we connect,” said Lujan, who was a 2009 USD graduate in Communication Studies and Spanish. Having a memorial or tribute page for the coach, as an example, provides an emotional outlet for a community of people to express themselves, “to still access a part of that person,” she said. “I think there’s something therapeutic in that.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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