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Nursing Students Go from Bench to Bedside

Dartmouth Hitchcock immersion program provides opportunity to work as nurse researchers.

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Research roles for nurses can take many forms and now students have the chance to gain firsthand experience during Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center's, Lebanon, NH, "Bench to Bedside Summer Undergraduate Nursing Research Fellowship Program."

In its second year, the 10-week program was developed as part of a 5-year NIH Idea Network of Biomedical Research grant awarded to Dartmouth Medical School.

"The grant aims to strengthen the infrastructure for research," said Mary Jo Slattery, MSN, RN, clinical program coordinator for nursing research. "Along with the medical school, who invited us to join this endeavor, and participating institutions throughout the state, we are working hard to meet this goal."

Research Centric

The Bench to Bedside program is open to junior nursing students attending an affiliated New Hampshire institution with a desire to expand their understanding and participation in nursing research.

"We look for students who are considering graduate school or may have expressed an interest in research or quality improvement," said Slattery. "This program is a chance for students and faculty alike to foster careers in nursing research."

Demystifying the Process

Minimizing the Fear of Nursing Research

Support from nursing leadership helps staff overcome trepidations about conducting investigations.

Interested candidates undergo an extensive application process, which includes recommendations from nursing chairs and faculty. Four nursing students participated in the first year; three students took part this past summer.

Designed around three areas of research, participants gain experience as: the nurse researcher; the clinical trials research nurse; and the advance practice nurse involved in evidenced=based practice and quality improvement.

Each student is matched with a faculty mentor in the three areas. The size of the facility and the available resources allows for optimal faculty to student ratio.

"While students often look for an intensive clinical, bedside experience, this initiative offers an alternative yet equally rewarding opportunity," said Slattery.

The program is an autonomous experience where students are immersed in multiple research projects. "They participate in different aspects of research ranging from data collection to analysis," noted Slattery. "Students work closely on an established project with their research mentors."

Participants take full advantage of all an academic medical center has to offer, including seminars, weekly research roundtables, online learning, and grand rounds.

"They learn how to present their data, which they do at an annual statewide conference comprised of all the students involved in this program," she added. "So while here we have a nursing program looking at nursing research that is only one small part. There are other students in the other biomedical majors conducting research at Dartmouth College other institutions in the state."

Through this statewide grant students, whether it is in nursing, biology, chemistry or informatics are working together to develop an infrastructure for research across the state and across disciplines.

Perfecting the Program

Since it began the Bench to Bedside program has evolved to provide the best experience for both the students and the faculty leading the initiative.

While students in the first year spent three weeks working in each research role, based on feedback Slattery and her team redesigned the program for the second set of students, a change that was met with great success.

"We decide to create a more integrated program," she said. "The students were involved in a couple of different projects simultaneously."

For instance, they might work Monday and Tuesday with a nurse researcher and then two other days with the EBP/quality improvement component.

"It gave them more flexibility in their schedule; they always had something they were working on, and it gave them a longer period of time to actually come up with a project that they could own and then present at the final conference," said Slattery.

Program leaders also did everything they could to improve the experience beyond facility walls. Students who participated in the first year of the program lived in condos near the summer nurse externs, but differing schedules between the groups proved challenging.

So, participants are now housed in dorms with other undergraduate research students/fellows, which went a long way in developing interdisciplinary support and team work.

"This living environment set the foundation for interprofessional learning, which a core component of this initiative," stressed Slattery. "For instance, one of the students had a roommate studying immunology, and so he learned things he might not learn in his nursing program or early clinicals."

Interdisciplinary Approach

This grant, according to Slattery, represents the interprofessional opportunities that exist in nursing.

The medical school's willingness to include the nursing department has shown the benefits that an interdisciplinary approach to research can have for everyone involved.

"This is an innovative program that speaks to the value of interprofessional collaboration in education," she emphasized. "Such collaboration is often overlooked. Successful research cannot be done in isolation."

"This program is proof of that," she added. "It has been a fabulous experience to work with the biological scientists in trying to develop this. It is something I would encourage others to consider, reach out to colleagues and professionals with other medical disciplines and beyond."

To promote an interdisciplinary approach participating students at DHMC took part in an interprofessional journal club.

"Students from every discipline would share and discuss research, not only improving their skills, but building professional relationships with their peers across the continuum of care," Slattery mentioned.

"It created a sense of belonging, so they were not just nurses, but a part of a group of scientists. It was a very positive experience for all involved."

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Benefits to All

The benefits of the program went far beyond interprofessional cooperation. Students and faculty have prospered since it first began in 2010.

Nursing students gain invaluable insight and a unique perspective. "This program has opened their eyes to a whole other aspect of nursing that they usually don't get from their school programs," said Slattery. "The students I have worked with have grown immensely in a very short time."

This experience emphasizes the value of higher education and helps them decide their future path. "They have had the opportunity to see and work alongside nurses in advance practice roles," shared Slattery. "They witness firsthand what it means to be a doctorally-prepared nurse and gain the knowledge they need to decide how far they want to take their formal education."

In addition, it also gives them a better understanding of how research can improve clinical practice and the important research role they play as a bedside nurse, noted Slattery.

For faculty and staff, the program has helped them grow as individuals and as a team. "Our staff has had the opportunity to be mentors, which has helped bring together a group of clinicians, who may not have been brought together before to work on this common project."

"As a result of this program our organization is much stronger," she added. "Everyone benefits when we are communicating and working as one."

Alums of the program have actually returned to DHMC as new graduates, which was an unforeseen benefit. "We didn't expect that, but here we are getting some of the best and the brightest from our area to be part of our new graduate nursing pool; we couldn't have asked for better results."

Moving Forward

As Slattery prepares for next year's program, she hopes to incorporate more staff nurses.

"We want staff nurses to take advantage of all this program has to offer," she said. "As of now, we have staff nurses partnering with clinical nurse specialists on the EBP clinical improvement component."

"My vision of the program's future is one where staff nurses are involved across the board," she added. "This initiative is building the framework for interprofessional research and nurses at every level have a central role to play."

Catlin Nalley is assistant editor at ADVANCE. Contact: CNalley@advanceweb.com.


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