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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Discovering Nursing Research

dialogue - lichuan ye & barbara wolfe - fall/winter 2008


As a young girl, fond of math and biology, I dreamed of being a scientist. Growing up in China where "nurse" was translated from English only several decades ago and there is no clue that this word could relate to scientific research, I was not convinced that being a nurse would fulfill my childhood dream. After finishing my BSN, the rooted image of nurses as order-takers without any autonomy made me decide to change my direction to be a physician. The clinical training inspired me to conduct research that could directly improve the lives of patients suffering from chronic medical conditions. 

My mentor in medicine advised me that solid research training, including training as a nurse researcher, would help me to meet this goal. With his encouragement and my passion to be a researcher, I came to the United States to pursue my PhD in nursing. At the time, however, my friends—and even I, myself—could not understand how nurses can do research. Along with a new language, I have also been exposed to a different view of nursing. I am consistently impressed by the wide variety of nurses' research, from genetics to history. If my Chinese mentor in medicine encouraged me to come back to nursing, my U.S. nursing mentor taught me there are no boundaries to being a scientist, and that nurses can conduct research that contributes to the scientific world. This mind-opening process has made me proud to be a nurse, and I am committed to challenging the bias against nursing in my home country. I see myself reaching closer to my childhood dream of being a scientist. Deeply honored by joining the faculty of Connell School, I hope to share my pride and passion in being a nurse researcher, including my struggles with professional self-identification, with the students as I contribute to the research mission of our school.

Lichuan Ye, PhD, RN is an assistant professor of adult health in her first year at the Connell School.

My first introduction to research was as an undergraduate student. One day in class, a nursing doctoral student from another university invited us to participate in a health-related survey being conducted by her mentor, a "nurse scientist." I remember thinking, "What was a doctoral student studying nursing? What was a mentor? Why would a nurse be doing a survey?" This whole thing seemed rather novel. Was this because I was a young student, just learning, or was it related to the state of the discipline? More than 20 years later, I think it is likely to be a combination of both, keeping in mind that this was before the National Institute of Nursing Research or its predecessor existed.

Today, research is increasingly and instinctively embedded into the fabric of nursing. Nurses rely on the science to shape practice in the clinical setting. Nursing students are routinely exposed to the importance of using research to improve patient care. Nurses are actively taking lead roles is creating the science. This includes examining and advancing better solutions to familiar problems, as is BC doctoral student Lisa Duffy, who is conducting a study funded by NINR to examine the efficacy of an intervention designed to assist parents in coping with a child's illness. Likewise, nurses are increasingly pioneering unexplored territories, as illustrated by doctoral fellow Patti Underwood, who is pursuing the study of genomic markers in chronic illnesses to further develop individualized treatment planning. 

Szent-Gyorgyi once said, "Research is to see what everybody else has seen and think what nobody else has thought." Nursing has a unique scope to bring to bear on clinical research, contributing to new ways of thinking about issues and potential solutions. Today, the question is no longer, "Why would a nurse be doing research?" but rather, "Why not a nurse?"  

Barbara Wolfe, PhD, APRN, CS, FAAN is professor and director of the center for nursing research at the Connell School.