Summer Interns Investigate
Nine faculty. Nine summer interns. And eight weeks to get up to speed on the nuts and bolts of more than a dozen federally funded research projects aiming to improve and assess topics critical to nurses.
For the 4th year running - thanks to the financial support from the School of Nursing's dean and UVA provost - a small gaggle of UVA undergraduate nursing student interns brought their curiosity, capability and work ethic to McLeod Hall's 5th floor. Under the gentle guidance of as many faculty mentors, the nine tackled everything from phone surveys to assembling HPV self-collection kits, literature reviews to the intricacies of data analysis and patient consent. Working together and separately, they offered a portrait of their summer's work at a recent gathering that brought together parents, professors, siblings and staff who came to hear each of them present their summer's highlights, the challenges they faced, the victories they had, along with the perspective they've taken away, and how it's informed their nursing care.
Part of the university's focus on offering every UVA undergraduate powerful exposure to real-world scholarship and process, the group of budding nurses worked full-time with one to three nurse researchers, receiving a stipend, one-to-one mentoring and weekly roundtable discussions with some of Virginia's most prominent nurse scientists.
But there was plenty of levity spanning the eight-week intensive as well, when the group made time for extra-curriculars together including a spinning class en masse and an early AM painting of UVA's iconic Beta Bridge.
PhD in nursing student Heather Lothamer, a ‘den mother’ to the nine, called this year’s group a “motivated, engaged bunch” and one that took their work “and flew with it.” In many cases, the students said, their flight offered a vantage on areas of research they'd neither considered nor been exposed to before.
That was true for rising third year nursing student Maggie Dancy, from New Jersey, who, along with fellow intern Jaqui Arechiga, first worked on professor Beth Epstein's high-tech connectivity study in UVA's neonatal intensive care unit before pivoting midway to analyze interview transcripts with abused women for Linda Bullock, among the nation's most renowned domestic violence scholars.
“I’ve been in research classes all my life, but this experience taught me the most and made me realize how I might incorporate research into my practice” to strengthen it, said Dancy. “I never thought in a million years I'd be doing this sort of work, but now that I have, I’ll have a much better sense of what some women go through.”
Arediga echoed Dancy, adding that “the chance to see data, the literature, to learn about what’s statistically significant, and really get a sense that nursing spans a lot further than we thought" was immensely valuable.
While developing their individual skills, students also said the work emphasized collaboration and teamwork, teaching them how to ask questions and how to lean on one another for help and guidance.
“I learned, first and foremost, that research is not a single person,” explained Laura Eom, a rising third year. “I also learned that I thrive in a group environment, and always found my fellow interns spurred me on.”
That was music to the ears of Dean Dorrie Fontaine, who recalled her own seminal encounter with her research mentor nearly four decades back, and calls the researcher-mentee relationship "special."
"These are relationships that last forever," added Fontaine. "Mine has."