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Early Career Nursing Faculty Earn Opportunity for New Collaborative Research

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Posted: 10/6/2008

Three new research teams have been selected to receive pilot funding from the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (JHUSON) Center for Collaborative Intervention Research (CCIR).   This year's recipients will focus on MRSA infection in mental health patients, test a health promotion strategy for low-income, minority older adults, and address cancer health disparities among older, rural-dwelling African Americans.

"Nurses are uniquely poised for collaborative intervention research since we work so closely with the populations of interest," notes Center Director and JHUSON Professor Jerilyn Allen, ScD, RN, FAAN.  The Center provides funding for nursing faculty early in their research careers to conduct cross-disciplinary pilot studies which, according to Allen, "will be a springboard to larger intervention trials which contribute significantly to science and their careers as nurse scientists.

Jason Farley, PhD, MPH, NP, is an expert in the prevention and management of infectious diseases, though he began his nursing career as a mental health research nurse coordinator.  "I never dreamed I would be working again with mental health populations," says Farley, who now is collaborating with nurses and physicians at The Johns Hopkins Hospital (JHH) to learn more about mental health patients' vulnerability to Community-Associated Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA). The multidisciplinary team plans to test patients for MRSA on admission to two psychiatric units at JHH, and test them again when they are discharged.  Farley and his co-investigators will use the data to evaluate if MRSA transmission is occurring, which could pave the way for future interventions that will help reduce risk of transmission.  "We know that living with a person who has MRSA increases an individuals risk of developing an MRSA infection in the community, so it stands to reason that the same would be true in a communal health care environment," says Farley.  This study could change the long-held belief that mental health settings present a low risk of MRSA transmission. 

Sarah Szanton, PhD, CRNP, is exploring the effectiveness of a low-cost, low-tech approach to promote the health of low-income, minority older adults, a population at greater than average risk for disability and death. She and her collaborative team are building on anecdotal evidence to systematically evaluate health outcomes of ElderSHINE (Support, Honor, Inspire, Nurture, Evolve), a program that trains low-income minority seniors in mindfulness-based meditation and self-efficacy.  By comparing 25 new participants randomly assigned to intervention or to social support control groups on behavioral, social, and biological measures, such as stress hormones, blood pressure, heart rate, perceived stress, depression, and social support,  Szanton hopes to see if ElderSHINEs meditation and self-efficacy training can help improve health measures and reduce stress in a high-risk minority population of elders.  "The pilot has the potential to demonstrate a low-cost opportunity to delay the development of disability and decrease health disparities," notes Szanton.  "These are key issues confronting the health care system today and areas of emphasis for both the National Institutes of Health and Healthy People 2010."  

Jennifer Wenzel, PhD, RN, CCM, is seeking to address cancer health disparities among rural-dwelling older African Americans who are diagnosed and being treated for cancer.  By developing and evaluating a train-the-trainer program to equip nurse-led community health worker teams in rural Virginia, Wenzel and her team hope to provide a culturally appropriate cancer navigation intervention for this group of individuals at risk for poorer health outcomes.  "This is a truly collaborative project," says Wenzel.  "We are building upon resources from communities in rural Virginia and each individuals social network in addition to drawing on the strengths of a multi-institutional team of investigators and consultants." 

Recipients of these pilot research awards are but one part of the ongoing work of the Center, itself funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Nursing Research. Allen points out that the programs centralized resources and support benefit students and faculty alike in the development, conduct and evaluation of research projects, particularly when traditional sources of health research funding are dwindling.