Global Contact Benefits U.Va. Doctoral Nursing Students

December 19, 2006
Dec. 19, 2006 -- University of Virginia nursing doctoral students Aletha Rowlands and Melissa Sutherland shared research interests with doctoral students from around the world at Universitas 21’s first International Doctoral Student Nursing Forum, hosted in September by the University of Nottingham. The nursing event was part of the organization’s Health Sciences Conference.

The three-day forum held in the East Midlands of England was an opportunity for nursing doctoral students from Universitas 21 participating universities to share research projects and learn about differences in educational and research approaches, as well as time to build relationships.

It was the fist year for the doctoral workshop and the schedule included master classes covering qualitative and quantitative research, presentations of individual research projects and discussions about the difficulty of taking research data to the publication stage.

“If you learn to collaborate as students, there is an opportunity to have a more global approach and opportunities to learn and make connections for cross-continental research,” School of Nursing Dean Jeanette Lancaster told a group gathered at McCleod Hall in early October to hear about the experience.

Lancaster emphasized the importance of identifying common research and initiatives among the participating schools. She anticipates that research and initiatives to respond to health care needs of impoverished individuals, racial and ethnic minorities and the elderly living in rural areas through the School of Nursing’s Rural Health Care Research Center will provide numerous occasions for collaborations and exchanges between U.Va’s program and one that exists at a U21 member school in Australia.

“They are ready start a conversation that would provide opportunities for doctoral nursing students from U.Va. and Australia to work together,” said Lancaster.

Eighteen doctoral students from nine countries gathered at the event in England. In addition to presenting a short overview of the individual research projects, participants explored the similarities and differences in the state of nursing and research in their respective countries.

Rowlands was struck by the variety of educational experiences and their effects on research opportunities and methodologies.

“We are very fortunate for what we have at our school,” Rowlands said. She cited the inclusion of statistics, as well as qualitative and quantitative analysis as a prescribed part of the curriculum at U.Va. and other U.S. schools as a big difference between nursing education in the United States and elsewhere. She learned that programs in other countries sometimes lack these technical courses to aid in research.

“Some do not have the course work to support their research studies,” Sutherland said. When starting on the research phase of their work, the students in other countries need to take these research-oriented courses outside the required curriculum.

Another eye-opener was how early in their education students in many countries set out on the path to be a nurse. Sutherland said that in Saudi Arabia the identification of math and science aptitude in grade school leads to completion of nursing education by high school graduation.

Cultural differences also abound. Because of lack of jobs for men in Saudi Arabia, many are going into nursing but are not respected for the work because of that country’s cultural norms. In Jordan, 65 percent of the nurses are men. Also, due to the great demand for nurses and a faculty shortage, those who had studied at schools such as the University of Nottingham often returned to Jordan and spent all of their time teaching, with little time for research.

Workforce issues also differed greatly from country to country. In England, after completing his or her education, a nurse is assigned based on need and there is no mechanism for moving up in the ranks.

Nursing students from England also reported that it was unheard of for them to pay out-of-pocket or take out loans to fund their doctoral education. In addition to paid tuition, they expect to receive an amount equal to their nursing pay while they pursued their Ph.D., said Rowlands.

Research topics covered a wide range of issues, including end-of-life care in the emergency room and cost and effectiveness of scoliosis screening. A participant from Ireland was studying elder abuse to create awareness of its prevalence. A Jordanian was looking at the problems of nursing retention in his country. Sutherland is researching how experiencing sexual abuse as a child influences later violence and risk behaviors. Rowlands is researching factors that influence the safe delivery of perioperative nursing care.

As Sutherland listened to the presentations and discussions she also realized that “they sometimes struggled with the same issues in their research as we have.” Sample sizes and recruiting study participants was a universal research challenge, she said.

Other countries praised the United States for easier access to research funding for nurses, Rowlands said. “We have the National Institute of Nursing Research to support nursing research.”

Despite the many differences, Sutherland came away feeling that “with all the political strife going on in the world, we all shared nursing and research. That was powerful for me. We were all there to share and to grow professionally and personally.”

The group has already started to build a bond around their research. They set up an e-mail listserv to keep abreast of each other’s efforts.