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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Turning hunches into research: Connell faculty advance hospital nursing science

by debra bradley ruder, photographs by josh levine

Photo of Professor Ann Wolbert Burgess with Robin Cunningham
Professor Ann Wolbert Burgess with Robin Cunningham, a clinical educator at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

Advancing nursing practice

On a July morning, two dozen nurse managers gathered for a research methodology workshop at Newton-Wellesley Hospital—part of a new collaboration between CSON and the hospital. Professor Ann Wolbert Burgess, a psychiatric and forensic nurse scientist who has published extensively, was leading a six-part educational series on nursing research with Eileen Searle, a CSON doctoral degree student, and June Andrews Horowitz, a Connell professor with expertise in postpartum depression.

The participants identified research questions on topics like simulation training, safe medication practice, patients’ cell phone use, and thermometry. Burgess and Searle helped clarify their projects: “What’s your aim? What are the assumptions? Can you reframe the question? What does the literature report? Focus groups can provide strong pilot data.”

“We’re trying to make nursing research an integrated part of their practice,” Burgess says. “It’s really about making sure the nurses are asking, ‘What’s the evidence and best practice for improving patient care?’”

Photo of Eileen Searle
Eileen Searle, doctoral student.

Spreading knowledge

Publishing in peer-reviewed journals is the brass ring of research, and CSON faculty have had success guiding their hospital-based mentees toward that goal. Assistant Professor Melissa Sutherland, for one, helped nurses at McLean Hospital in Belmont design and execute a study management of patients with (or at risk for) metabolic syndrome, a weight-related condition that raises the risk for diabetes and heart disease and is associated with some antipsychotic drugs. The paper, coauthored by Paula Bolton, M.S. ’83 among others, appeared in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services in March 2012.

Nursing scholarship has also moved forward at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), where Associate Professor Katherine Gregory and Assistant Professor Lichuan Ye serve as Haley Nurse Scientists, a partnership between the hospital and CSON that fosters clinical nursing research. Ye, who studies sleep disorders, is collaborating with BWH nurses to better understand sleep patterns among hospitalized patients and to spread the word internally about the importance of shut-eye.

Gregory, meanwhile, coauthored two papers this year based on nursing science investigations she helped lead at Brigham and Women’s. One, titled “Tub Bathing Improves Thermoregulation of the Late Preterm Infant” and published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing in March/April 2012, reported on nursing research showing that late preterm infants washed in hospital tubs had warmer and more stable body temperatures than those who were sponged off.

“This is one of the first studies tailored to nursing care for this patient population [born between 34 and 37 weeks of gestation], and it now guides practice here at Brigham and Women’s Hospital,” says Gregory, a former neonatal ICU nurse who studies gastrointestinal health in premature infants.

In a second project, Gregory urged BWH neonatal nurse Jo Ann Morey to study a class she has taught for years to prepare women who are expecting to have a baby cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit. The results were published in the American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing in May/June 2012. “I walked her through the process of developing a study, like finding the right things to measure and how to measure them,” Gregory notes. “And lo and behold, her class does make a difference.”

As Dean Gennaro sees it, the faculty are continuing a tradition of nursing science that goes back to Florence Nightingale, accelerated during the 1980s, and is now woven into the fabric of the nursing profession. Gennaro, who serves on the National Advisory Council for Nursing Research, (see article) expects the demand for evidence-based practice will grow in the United States. “We know that nursing research contributes to patient satisfaction and cost savings and improved outcomes,” she says. “It’s an exciting time to be a nurse and a nurse scientist.” ✹

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