Research is essential in nursing education

March 10, 2009

AUGUSTA, Ga. - From preventing bedsores to helping patients quit smoking, optimal nursing care depends on research.

Research is an essential aspect of undergraduate nursing education, and other health care professions as well, a Medical College of Georgia nurse researcher says.

"Nurses bring a unique perspective to research, because we are often more oriented toward health promotion and disease prevention than disease treatment," says Dr. Martha Tingen, nurse researcher at the MCG Georgia Prevention Institute.

Most undergraduate nursing students envision positions in hospitals, clinics and direct patient care and may overlook a career in research, Dr. Tingen says. Research instruction in undergraduate curricula is often limited because it is not typically a responsibility of an entry-level nurse. Many nursing schools, including MCG's, require only one three-hour nursing research course.

"The importance of research during undergraduate education cannot be overemphasized," Dr. Tingen says. "We need more nurses and health care providers to ease the state and the country's shortages, but we also need those who are dedicated to research."

Nurse researchers build the body of knowledge used to teach new nurse clinicians and improve the quality and efficiency of care, says School of Nursing Dean Lucy Marion.

"Teaching research to our undergraduates leads to nurses who are more educated and prepared to be investigators themselves," she says.

Dr. Tingen's recent yearlong experience enlisting two MCG undergraduate nursing students in a National Institutes of Health funded study is featured in the March issue of the Journal of Nursing Education.

Anna Burnett and Rachel Murchison, who graduated in 2007, worked part time with Dr. Tingen in 2006 investigating gene-environment interactions related to passive smoke exposure and the impact on risk factors for cardiovascular disease in youth with a family history of the disease. The grant actually mandated student participation.

Ms. Burnett and Ms. Murchison underwent a six-week orientation that included Institutional Review Board required education and a computerized genetics course. After several months of laboratory work conducting genotyping, they entered data, reviewed related literature and helped Dr. Tingen review and analyze data. The students assisted with abstract submissions and poster presentations and contributed significantly to the manuscript about their research experience.

"It was very much self-discovery," says Ms. Murchison, now a nurse in MCGHealth's Shock-Trauma Unit. "You found your strengths and weaknesses and could tailor which part of the process was your most effective."

She and Ms. Burnett say the experience enhanced their appreciation for research and now see it in action in their profession.

"Nurses incorporate evidence-based practice every day at the bedside," says Ms. Burnett, a nurse in Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. "Statistical research gives us greater credibility and validity in clinical practice."

For example, evidence-based guidelines dictate how best to prevent bedsores. Interdisciplinary research helps nurses know how often patients should be turned and how to minimize pressure on vulnerable body parts.

Ms. Burnett and Ms. Murchison intend to further their nursing education, and both are considering futures as nurse researchers. "This was one of the highlights of my nursing school experience, and I hope other nursing students have similar opportunities," Ms. Burnett says.

That's a goal for Dr. Tingen, as well. "If all health care students could have even a two-week opportunity to be involved in a research study, it could potentially be the charge that ignites someone's interest in becoming a researcher."

Dr. Marion says the School of Nursing already is working toward increasing student research opportunities. Independent study can be conducted with the school's Nurse Scientist Incubator faculty and an honors program allowing students to work with investigators is proposed.

Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University

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