Furthering its mission to establish and participate in interprofessional education on the UT Austin campus, the School of Nursing recently received a $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to launch the \Center for Health Equity Research (HER). With a goal of fostering trans-disciplinary research to solve complex health problems, the center is quickly becoming a national model for improving the lives of people with chronic health conditions by helping them learn to better manage their illness.
To help meet this goal, the School of Nursing has provided funds to support two scholars who, in addition to working on their doctoral degree, will assist Dr. Miyong Kim, the center’s director, in promoting meetings and events, preparing materials and announcements, and providing input into the content and design of the HER website. The first scholars are Nicole Murry and Ya-Ching Huang.
As a neo-natal nurse for 10 years, Nicole became interested in health literacy and helping patients gain access to tools and resources for good health care as they move from the hospital to home.
“The transition from hospital to home is very stressful for most patients, Nicole said. “I wanted to explore how organizations are using health literacy to prepare patients to manage their care and how they might do a better job of making this change less stressful and more successful. But that meant I needed to learn how to conduct research, and that’s where the Center for Health Equity Research came in. It is helping me build the skill set I need to conduct this research.”
On the other side of the spectrum is Ya-Ching, whose experience has been to help individuals with chronic illness learn how to better manage their symptoms in the community. In the case of patients with diabetes, for example, she helps them learn how to control their diet, schedule exercise time and understand glucose levels. Her patients often are confronted by limited resources and barriers, such as travel and accessibility, for which she attempts to find solutions.
“People with chronic illnesses suffer a lot, but nurses can help with that,” she said. “We can help them learn coping strategies in order to obtain a better quality of life.”
In addition to her other tasks, Nicole’s role as liaison with the Center for Health Communication, another new center on the campus at UT Austin, has been eye-opening. That center, designed to bring together researchers and experts in many diverse areas of health communication into one unit where they can collaborate, share ideas and innovations, and advance scholarship to improve health, is a natural complement to the HER Center.
“I’ve learned a lot about the value of communication from this group, and, because of my back- ground, I believe I’ve helped them understand which proposed projects are more likely to work in a hospital setting and which won’t,” Nicole said. “You can have what looks like a great idea to help patients, but implementing it in a hospital might be difficult. These are things that need to be discussed and worked through. This is where nursing experience can be so valuable.”