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Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital empowers nurses to take a leading role in research

Posted on Nov 13, 2018

Lisa Smotrich, B.S.N, R.N, CCRN, researches contaminants associated with milk storage
Lisa Smotrich, B.S.N, R.N, CCRN, researches contaminants associated with milk storage.

Crafting curiosity. Digging into data. Polishing presentations.

It’s all in a day’s work for a group of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital nurses driven to create a safer patient experience. On “mentorship Monday” nursing research fellows are learning about the research process, receiving one-on-one mentoring and using dedicated time to work on individual research projects.

It’s no secret that nurses are an essential part of a patient’s care team. Through their day-to-day work, they gain insights that others may not see. Nurses have the opportunity to identify problems, sometimes before they even happen and be a part of the solution by conducting research projects. 

“We want nurses to be a part of the feedback loop. They are out there on the frontline and know what is working and what isn’t,” says Gen Cline, Ph.D.(c), D.N.P., ARNP, N.N.P.-B.C., C.N.E., R.N.-B.C., advanced practice research education specialist and program director of the Nursing Research Fellowship at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. “Through research education, we can give them the tools to create organizational change to promote patient safety and quality.”

Every two years, the hospital brings on two new nursing research fellows. The third cohort of fellows started in October 2017. For consideration in this competitive program, nurses must have at least one year of clinical experience on their unit, submit a five-page research idea paper and complete a formal interview process. Those chosen receive guidance for every step of their project including support for sharing their findings at a local, regional or national conference.

Most nurse researchers at other organizations hold some form of doctoral degree. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Nursing Research Fellowship Program provides nurses who don’t have any prior experience in research the necessary supervision and mentorship support to allow them to be successful completing an evidence-based project or research study.

“We are building a network of researchers and the fellowship program is just one small part of it,” Cline says. “There are opportunities for all frontline staff to become involved in the research process. Very few hospitals are able to offer what we do.”

This year nurse researchers are working on 12 studies with three manuscripts already submitted or soon to be submitted for publication. Almost all are projects created by novice researchers. In comparison, other institutions may produce four studies and one manuscript per year.

Hillary Simpson, R.N., a nursing research fellow in the third cohort, is conducting an evidence-based practice project determining how to more efficiently provide education to families and patients with oncological diseases. While looking at a whole database of information from colleagues at other institutions, she’s testing small changes in process that could have hospital-wide impacts on how families are educated for care after discharge.

“Going through nursing school, you touch the surface of evidence-based practice and research,” Simpson explains. “The fellowship is a way to get in-depth, one-on-one training and mentorship.”

While nurse researchers such as Simpson use existing data, others are creating the data themselves.

Noticing a lack of supporting evidence for the way milk warmers in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) are used, Lisa Smotrich, R.N., nursing education specialist in the NICU and a fellow in the third cohort, is proactively seeking the best practice for preventing contamination.

“There are many opportunities to really optimize the nursing care we provide,” Smotrich explains. “Nurses do a lot of things because they make sense, but whenever possible we should use data and evidence to create our standards of care. As nurse researchers, we work to provide the data and evidence needed for nurses to provide safe and effective patient care.”

From infection prevention to improving communication among colleagues, nursing research is looking at all of the day-to-day things that happen during patient care. These projects cross every area of the hospital and impact everyone who has contact with a patient, including families and physicians. They play an important role in creating change for increased patient safety in a constantly evolving field.

This story first appeared in Johns Hopkins All Children’s Leading Care magazine.

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