Nursing research adds a unique perspective on patient care

Nurses Week 2016

It's National Nurses Week, and we're celebrating the more than 2,200 incredible nurses who make a difference every day at UChicago Medicine. We couldn't do it without them--from healing hands to heartfelt words, they leave an indelible mark on our patients.

In addition to providing extraordinary care, our nurses also conduct research to advance treatments, improve quality and safety, and enhance the overall health care experience for patients. Just like the traditional scientific research we usually cover here on Science Life, nursing research is ingrained at every level of the organization.

"Over the last several years we have worked hard to engage nurses at every level in nursing science and evidence-based practice," said Mark Lockwood, MSN, RN, co-chair of the Nursing Research and Evidence-based Practice (EBP) Council at UChicago Medicine. "The nursing profession is fortunate to have a link that goes directly from the point of care to advanced practice nurses to leaders in the organization and academia. By leveraging these relationships within nursing we can improve processes and the organization can benefit from our holistic perspective on patient care."

Science Life spoke to Cynthia LaFond, PhD, RN, CCRN, Director for Nursing Research and co-chair of the EBP council, about the program, and why it's important for nurses to contribute their expertise to research.

How is nursing research organized at UChicago Medicine?

Nursing research is part of our Nursing Shared Governance Structure. The Nursing Research and Evidence-based Practice (EBP) Council is comprised of nurses with varying roles and backgrounds, along with other professionals with an interest in research and EBP. The Council coordinates activities related to research, such as our Nursing Grand Rounds and Research Symposium, reviews research proposals that have implications for nursing practice before institutional review board (IRB) approval, and provides guidance and support to nurses interested in conducting research. We also review abstract submissions for the research symposium and chose interns for our first nursing research internship, which started in February, called the Nurses Using Research to Support Excellence (NURSE) Internship. In my role, I coordinate training related to nursing research, provide 1:1 consultations for projects, and conduct my own research.

How many nurses are actively engaged in research projects at any given time?

Right now there are 13 nursing research studies in various stages of proposal development, data collection, data analysis, and manuscript development or submission. These studies are conceptualized and coordinated by nurses, many with inter-professional teams. But nurses are involved in many more studies throughout the medical center, so it's difficult to track number of nurses involved in the conduct of research overall.

What are some examples of nurse-led research projects?

My program of research is regarding the management of children's pain, with specific interest in pain management of critically ill children. I am currently conducting a point-prevalence study across 14 pediatric intensive care units regarding the assessment and management of children's pain. Comer Children's Hospital is a site for this study, and the research team includes a multidisciplinary group from the pediatric intensive care unit. Some other examples are studies on pressure ulcers in critically ill adults, low blood pressure events in pediatric outpatients during sedation for MRIs, and barriers to use of electronic health record systems by urban kidney transplant patients.

What are the key areas of focus for the program moving forward?

The aim of the Nursing Research program is to support nurses in the conduct of research, research that will contribute to our understanding of how we can improve patients' experience and health outcomes. As we move forward, we hope to develop additional avenues for nurses to become involved in research and share findings at UCM and with larger, national nursing audiences.

Why is it important for nurses to contribute to research?

As the largest healthcare workforce in the United States, nurses are in an ideal position to lead change and improve patient outcomes. Nurses are knowledgeable regarding patient diseases and treatments, have close proximity with patients and other healthcare professionals, and are familiar with hospital systems and processes. Furthermore, being involved in research has benefits for patients, hospitals, and nurses. Past studies have identified that organizational support of the conduct of research is the most influential factor in nurses' using evidence-based practice. When nurses practice in an evidence-based manner (systematically use research study findings, clinical expertise, and patient preferences to provide care) patient safety, clinical outcomes, and healthcare costs improve. Additionally nurses feel empowered and more engaged in their roles and gain personal knowledge and professional growth.