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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Haley Nurse Scientists bridge nursing practice and scholarship

by vicki ritterband

Photograph: Lee Pellegrini

Jean Reilly has the skilled, confident hands of a caregiver who has been bathing babies for more than two decades. Although sponge baths are the norm on many maternity wards, including hers at the Center for Women and Newborns at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Reilly loves tub-bathing babies like one-day-old Manuel, who was born a month early and weighs only five pounds, six ounces. "I enjoy it more and the babies seem to as well," she says, lowering the newborn into a small pink basin of water warmed by an overhead heat lamp. "They are calmer during the bath and more alert afterwards."

Reilly has long believed that late preterm babies—born between three and six weeks early—fare better after tub baths. "During sponge baths, a lot of babies cry more and then shut down afterwards. They might go for hours without nursing," she says. Tiny newborns, who tend to have less fat on their bodies than full-term babies, often have trouble regulating their body temperatures—and heat-dissipating activities like sponge baths can disturb them, she explains. But a hunch lacks the heft of evidence. And Reilly's hypothesis that better thermoregulation might mean less stress on tiny bodies—and more energy spent on feeding and growing—might never have been tried and tested were it not for the Haley Nurse Scientist Program.

Now, with the expertise, support, and supervision of Haley Nurse Scientist Katherine Gregory of the Connell School, a veteran nurse's evidence-based theory has been quantified, tested, and scrutinized in a rigorous study. "Temperature Control in the Late Preterm Infant: A Comparison of Thermoregulation Following Two Bathing Techniques" (better known as "The Bath Study") was published last fall in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing. And that study may change the way babies like Manuel are bathed at the Brigham.

Established and funded by Steven and Kathleen Powers Haley '76, founders of the Brain Science Foundation, the Haley Nurse Scientist Program is an academic practice partnership between the Connell School of Nursing and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital nursing department that brings together the clinical capabilities of Brigham nurses and the research expertise of Boston College nurse scientists. The program creates a bridge between clinical practice and nursing research, sending doctorally prepared nurses to conduct scientific studies and develop evidence-based nursing practices with practitioners like Reilly, according to Connell School Dean Susan Gennaro. As she sees it, the partnership helps advance the field of nursing, moving nursing practice from bedside to the research lab and back more efficiently than is often possible—and improving the lives of some of the most vulnerable patients.

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Above: Brigham and Women’s Hospital staff nurse Jean Reilly, new mother Carla Wilson, and Assistant Professor and Haley Nurse Scientist Katherine Gregory with Wilson’s daughter Alana Nelligan. Photograph: Lee Pellegrini