Oct. 14, 2020

Nursing students benefit from 2020 PURE studentships

Despite pandemic, students continued to develop research skills over summer

Each summer, UCalgary undergraduate students have the opportunity to experience research outside the classroom by applying for a studentship. It's a way to gain financial support and work in an area of interest, but students can also develop their skills in collaboration, in critical and creative thinking and in communication.

For the summer of 2020, eight UCalgary Nursing undergrads were awarded studentships in diverse areas of health-care research. Below are some firsthand accounts of how they were impacted by their own unique opportunities, including some advice for students considering applying (spoiler: do it).

Six of the eight students received Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) awards. PURE provides up to $6,000 in financial support to UCalgary undergraduates to conduct research for eight, 12 or 16 weeks between May and August. 

Noopur Swadas, fourth-year student at UCalgary

Noopur Swadas, fourth-year student at UCalgary

Student: Noopur Swadas (fourth year)
Supervisors: Drs. Sandra Davidson and Sarah Dewell

Swadas: "For my project, I assessed the knowledge and attitudes of pharmacogenetic testing among nursing students, registered nurses and nurse practitioners in Canada. Pharmacogenetic testing is a new advancement in medicine which has recently gained traction. 

I chose to explore pharmacogenetic testing as increased awareness of this field of study allows nurses to inform their patients about patient testing. Nurses are not only responsible for patient care, but are also patient educators who need to answer patient questions.

For the study, I created and coupled an online survey with a social media recruitment strategy through platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Reddit. My background research suggests nurses have limited knowledge of pharmacogenetic testing in Canada, though they are highly receptive to its implementation. This study will serve to direct educational strategies in the future.

The PURE award has been a rewarding opportunity for me, and it's definitely enriched my undergraduate degree. Throughout this program, I've been exposed to research early on in my career, which will be a foundation for success. Through the mentorship and support of Dr. Dewell, I've grown professionally and gained valuable research skills.

I would definitely encourage undergrads wishing to apply for the PURE award to go for it! The program allows endless learning opportunities for academic research. The one-on-one mentorship builds a long-lasting bond with your supervisor."

Dewell: "Nurses have a key role in medication administration and monitoring, patient education about pharmacogenetics and advocating for equitable access to testing. In Canada, little is known about what nurses understand and think about pharmacogenetics.

Noopur was dedicated and hard-working, while balancing all of the responsibilities in her busy schedule. Her passion for nursing and nursing research, particularly genomics-informed nursing, is remarkable. Her work will help shape future educational opportunities for Canadian nurses."

Simon Paisley

Simon Paisley, third-year nursing student at UCalgary

Student: Simon Paisley (third year)
Supervisors: Heather Bensler and Carla Ferreira

Paisley: "Our goal was to provide rationale for using virtual simulation as a method to develop and enhance undergraduate nursing students’ cultural humility as well as their understanding of the refugee experience.

At the beginning of the studentship, we planned to develop a full virtual simulation using ArcGIS StoryMaps, which combines text, interactive maps and other multimedia content, to tell the story of the Yazidi refugee population in Calgary. However, as we conducted our literature review, we found that there was an apparent gap in the literature for using ArcGIS in nursing, let alone any evidence supporting the use of virtual simulation as a teaching tool to develop students’ cultural humility.

We discovered through our research that cultural humility is only an emerging skill in transcultural nursing literature and that it has never been directly studied or measured as a key learner outcome from a virtual simulation. Our work then, we hope, will contribute to the paradigm shift from teaching undergraduate nursing student’s cultural competence, to teaching them the importance and impact of approaching each patient interaction with cultural humility, with a particular interest in those with refugees.

COVID-19 did change our original plan to implement a large-scale in-person simulation, but we were able to quickly pivot to the new cutting-edge project.

Meetings with other researchers and specialists made this studentship very special. We had the incredible opportunity to meet with Renna Truong, a resident ArcGIS specialist at UCalgary, Dr. Cynthia Foronda, a leading researcher in Cultural Humility and Virtual Simulation from the University of Miami and also Suzanne Goopy, current adjunct associate professor with UCalgary Nursing and the inspiration for our project with ArcGIS StoryMaps.

I was initially quite nervous to begin the summer studentship, but Heather and Carla’s incredible versatility and expertise in international and global health and virtual simulation allowed me to grow as a nursing student in ways I never would’ve imagined. I look forward to continuing this project throughout the rest of my degree and implementing the research skills I have learned from this studentship."

Bensler: "I will say how much of a joy it was to work with Simon. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, he had to pivot overnight to create a very different, but impactful project. He developed a literature review of cultural humility and virtual simulation. He also spent time learning about story-mapping and ArcGIS in preparation for a future project that will allow us to move an in-person simulation to the online environment. His work is relevant to today’s educational environment."

Student: Julia Gospodinov (third year)
Student: Cathy Liu (third year)
Supervisor: Dr. Lorelli Nowell

Gospodinov: "My research team undertook an extensive scoping review of literature pertaining to the use of grand challenges in higher education curricula. Grand challenges are innovative learning tools that engage students in discovering new ways to tackle society’s most complex problems, such as climate change or environmental sustainability. This opportunity greatly enhanced my ability to evaluate the credibility of sources, information and data, since I gained the skills required to extensively screen over 5,000 articles alongside my research team." 

My PURE experience brought to light a plethora of research opportunities available to nursing students that I didn’t believe existed prior to this summer. I am beyond proud to have contributed to a manuscript that is currently in the process of being published in an educational journal.

Liu: "My experiences over the three months participating in the PURE studentship were extremely rewarding and educational. The experience and knowledge I gained from participating in various workshops and working on a systematic review has directly contributed to my growth as a student researcher.

During the studentship I had the opportunity to work with an amazing supervisor and team of researchers who were supportive and flexible throughout the entire process. I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of this incredible learning opportunity."

Nowell: "It was such a pleasure to welcome Julia and Cathy to my research team. Together, we conducted a scoping review to explore existing literature related to the use of grand challenges in higher education. Our objective was to assess the effects of incorporating grand challenges in higher education curricula and to understand effective teaching strategies for carrying out grand challenges work. The findings of our review have been submitted for publication and will guide the use of grand challenges in nursing education. Having bright and enthusiastic undergraduate student nurses on the team helped bring a new and important lens to the topic."

Emma Watts

Emma Watts, third-year nursing student at UCalgary

Student: Emma Watts (third year)
Supervisor: Dr. Sandra Reilly

Emma: "I worked on a collaborative project with UCalgary Nursing and the Calgary Sexual and Reproductive Health unit at Alberta Health Services called “Supporting Youth with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) to Develop Healthy Relationships and Sexuality through Innovative Technology.”

Together with sexual and reproductive health specialists, I helped create educational videos and then designed, conducted and evaluated survey research to ensure that the videos met the collective needs of the target population. 

Practically speaking, I built skills in the areas of data entry, video software and survey creation, but I feel I gained much more than practical skills. When I began the project I knew fairly little about both the topic and population. This soon changed. Quickly, I built an appreciation and awareness of the importance of sexual health and relationships for youth with ID. Much too often, societal biases dismiss their needs in this regard.

My research experience has allowed me to see firsthand the role that nurses play in actively creating social environments in which people of all diverse intellectual abilities can reach their full potential. As I reflect back on my research experience, I believe I will take away numerous practical research skills, but also a greater understanding and appreciation of how nurses can promote the human flourishing of those marginalized by society."

Reilly: "In 1997, the World Association for Sexual Health issued the Declaration of Sexual Rights. Two of the 14 rights delineated the human right to accurate and understandable information as well as comprehensive sexual health education. However, these rights do not generally extend to youth with ID. By withholding comprehensive sexual health education, society places youth with ID at a disadvantage when making decisions, developing relational skills, forming relationships, recognizing boundaries and using social media safely.

This phase of the larger study aimed to produce developmentally appropriate, educational videos, suitable to online viewing, regarding the development of healthy relationships and sexuality on social media."

Student: Martina Vergouwen (third year)
Supervisor: Neil Jeffrey White (Cumming School of Medicine)

Martina: "I have been working on this project (FROST: The Effects of Weather and Seasonal Factors on Orthopaedic Trauma Volumes) since 2018. 

Its aim is to identify the relationship between weather conditions, time of year, surgical orthopaedic trauma volumes, after-hours surgery and patient wait times for orthopaedic trauma surgery.

My main role this summer was to interpret our statistical analysis and prepare a manuscript for publication. When I first started this project in 2018, I had never done research before, and it has been really rewarding to work on a big project like this one from start to finish. This year, I learned a lot about how to condense and report complicated statistical results in an easy-to-digest form. It was also very exciting to find a significant relationship within our data. We have some interesting findings that I think could have a significant impact on how resources are allocated towards orthopaedic trauma surgery.

I'm looking forward to focusing on disseminating and using these results to prevent weather-related orthopaedic trauma and to better prepare the system for predictable increases in orthopaedic trauma volumes. I am so grateful for the opportunity my summer studentship gave me to continue this research.

We believe the findings from this research can be used in two main ways. First, to influence the way resources are allocated to better reflect patient volumes. Second, to design preventative interventions, such as promoting the use of rubber cleats on spikes during icy conditions or broadcasting warnings about the conditions likely to lead to falls through mainstream media.

I'm not entirely sure what my goals are after graduation, but my research in orthopaedics has certainly piqued my interest in this field.

To anyone who has considered research but is unsure where to start, my advice is be brave! Put yourself out there and reach out to people who research something you’re interested in. You never know how you might be able to contribute to their team.

Even though research can sometimes seem scary, the best way to get over this fear is to simply start and try your best. There is also awesome support at the UCalgary if you need a little extra help along the way."

In addition to those above, one nursing studentship was awarded under the Alberta Innovates Summer Research Studentship (Paul Linek) and one under the BME Summer Research studentship (Anya Siddons), both supervised by Dr. Linda Duffett-Leger.