KU Medical Center’s School of Nursing is enhancing healthcare outcomes and improving the healthcare system through research dedicated to precision health. Precision health, an innovative approach to health promotion, prevention and treatment, factors in individual differences in people's genes, environments and lifestyles. Investigators in the School of Nursing are engaged in exciting research that addresses pressing healthcare issues that have a direct impact on health and healthcare practices.
At the forefront of the School of Nursing's research initiatives is Barbara Polivka, PhD, RN, FAAN, who serves as the Associate Dean for Research. Prior to joining KU Medical Center, Dr. Polivka held the Shirley B. Powers Endowed Chair at the University of Louisville, where she collaborated with nurses within a major healthcare system to develop their research ideas. With Dr. Polivka's vast research activity, she thrives in research leadership roles. Her research includes environmental health, home healthcare and healthcare services in settings like acute care, home care and community environments. She has secured multiple grants, led interdisciplinary teams and accumulated an extensive publication record on diverse topics such as barriers to blood lead testing, occupational hazards of home healthcare providers and interagency collaboration. This experience, along with her passion for mentoring students and junior faculty, has prepared her for her current role.
Research in the School of Nursing focuses on five emphasis areas: Symptom Science, Data Science, Determinants of Health, Quality & Safety and Health Outcomes. These areas support the precision health approach, which is the cornerstone of research in the School of Nursing. The faculty members at the School of Nursing are actively engaged in research that not only advances healthcare but also addresses clinically relevant issues to improve health outcomes and the healthcare system as a whole. This includes topics such as barriers to health equity, nurse-patient communication and nursing workforce issues. There are several exciting initiatives underway within the school:
- Dr. Amanda Emerson focuses on barriers to health equity in women affected by criminal legal system involvement. She currently has Frontier’s KL2 funding that focuses on the development of an asset-centered intervention to support middle aged and older women with criminal-legal system involvement.
- Dr. Diane Manhoney is funded by a National Cancer Institute Diversity Supplement to investigate plasma microbiota biosignatures in early ovarian cancer diagnosis.
- Dr. Jamie Myers focuses on investigating cancer-related cognitive changes. She currently has funding for the Emerging from the Haze – in which she is comparing two telehealth delivery formats for psychoeducational cognitive rehab in cancer survivors and a Sleep Hygiene Education feasibility study for men with prostate cancer on Androgen Deprivation Therapy.
- Dr. Shin Hye Park is completing an AHRQ funded study addressing hospital and hospital unit characteristics, nurse staffing, nursing workload, patient turnover and patient outcomes.
- Dr. Jill Peltzer is a health equity researcher who uses community engagement strategies to understand and address structural racism and health inequities among Black and African Americans. She is currently funded to map Black women’s experiences across the breast cancer continuum of care and identify areas that contribute to inequities to co-create with breast cancer survivors strategies that will optimize their health.
- Dr. Janet Pierce recently completed a study exploring the effects of ubiquinol and D-ribose in patient with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction. She is currently funded by the Department of Defense to explore the prevalence of post-COVID-19 syndrome in active-duty military personnel.
- Dr. Qiuhua Shen is exploring the role of platelet mitochondrial function as a potential biomarker for heart failure. She is also exploring the leukocyte transcriptomics in morbidly obese individuals with high output heart failure using RNA sequencing.
- Dr. Karen Weis’ research focuses on maternal perinatal mental health on maternal and fetal health. She has developed the Mentors Offering Maternal Support (M-O-M-S™) intervention. She is also researching rural nursing workforce issues.
- Dr. Barbara Polivka is completing a NIEHS study in which she is exploring the real-time impact of residential environmental exposures (VOCs & PM2.5) on asthma symptoms in adults with asthma.
- Dr. Kristi Williams focuses on the care of older adults and improving nurse-patient communication, providing cognitive training to improve older adult self-care and incorporating telehealth and other technology to link family caregivers with healthcare providers. Dr. Williams developed CHAT/CHATO – Changing Talk training program to educate nursing home staff about not using ‘elderspeak” (similar to baby talk) and instead using person-centered communication strategies.
The school's strengths lie in its faculty members' dedication to enhancing healthcare, patient and community outcomes, nursing practices and the nursing workforce. This would not be possible without the work of the Office of Grants and Research, which plays an integral role in facilitating grants and research activities for both faculty and students. This office is led by Director Wendy McDonald and Grants Manager Carla Keller-Tran. They have a portfolio of faculty grants they manage using a life cycle approach. This is unique on campus due to the fact they manage the pre-award grant submission processes from award to closeout. Additionally, the School of Nursing provides ample support through an office manager, research assistant and two research program managers who assist faculty with all research-related tasks.
Currently, the School of Nursing is actively expanding its research portfolio with funding from various sources. Several PhD students have recently secured external funding for their research, while assistant professors are exploring promising research areas. The senior research faculty members enthusiastically mentor junior colleagues. Dr. Polivka adds that mentoring the next generation of nurse scientists is a key goal in their research initiatives. Through a dedicated team of faculty, supportive staff and a focus on meaningful healthcare research, the School of Nursing continues to drive innovation and contribute to the advancement of healthcare practices and outcomes.
This article was authored by Dr. Barbara Polivka and Annelise Mozzoni. Edited by Annelise Mozzoni.