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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Flashes of insight: Connell School scientists pioneer nursing research

by patti hartigan, photographs by lee pellegrini

Danny Willis

Danny Willis had his "aha" moment years ago, back when he was an undergraduate nursing student at the University of Mississippi. He was assigned a clinical rotation at a state psychiatric hospital for the chronically mentally ill.

"I immediately felt at home," recalls Willis, associate professor of psychiatric and mental health at the Connell School of Nursing. "I really connected with the idea of the therapeutic use of self. The human being is the instrument of change. It's not an IV or a bag of fluids or the administration of blood. It's you, and the job you have is to facilitate growth and healing and health."

For Susan Kelly-Weeder, the "eureka" moment came later on in her career, which has included stints as an emergency room nurse and years of work as a family nurse practitioner. A few years ago, the associate professor of community health at the Connell School was helping out at University Health Services on the Monday after spring break. All the students she saw that day complained of an ailment induced (at least in part) by how much alcohol they had consumed over vacation. "One had a broken leg, another had a broken foot, and another had to be worked up for sexually transmitted diseases," she said. "And it was all related to alcohol. I said, 'Wow.'"

Kelly-Weeder and Willis, who both recently received tenure, have turned these moments of insight into groundbreaking research projects they hope will lead to interventions that improve long-term health promotion. Kelly-Weeder will study the increasingly prominent co-occurrence of binge drinking and binge eating, and Willis will explore healing among male survivors of childhood abuse. While both subjects have recently garnered attention in popular culture and the mainstream media, these nurse-researchers aim to delve beyond the sensationalist headlines to find evidence-based solutions to emerging public health problems. "We're tremendously proud of both of them," says Connell School Dean Susan Gennaro. "They are doing work that is cutting edge and is essential for the health of men and women in this country."

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Above: Danny Willis explores how—and why—some survivors of childhood maltreatment manage to heal.