Nursing Research Closes the Health Care System Gap

The mid-20th century saw an explosive growth in nursing research. As basic and preclinical discoveries were integrated into clinical practice, new problems arose that nurses were uniquely trained for and inclined to solve. Over the last 50 years, nurses have systematically worked to improve patient care, decrease health disparities, enhance quality of life in patients and their caregivers, and become integral in multidisciplinary teams working to make health and health care better.

Alabama is among the worst states in most health indicators, with racial and ethnic minority groups experiencing these health problems disproportionately. Today, research conducted by Auburn’s College of Nursing faculty helps address these health challenges in the community by working with racial and ethnic minority groups, influencing health care policy, and strengthening the professional status of nursing. With a high percentage of doctorally prepared faculty members, the college aggressively promotes a comprehensive research program linked to community health needs and community engagement.

Back row, from the left: Drs. Drew Frugé, Linda Gibson-Young, Pao-Feng Tsai and Caralise Hunt. Front row: Drs. Katilya Ware, Christine Feeley and Hae Sagong.

“Our faculty and programs are generating, evaluating and applying knowledge to improve health outcomes and inequities,” said Dr. Pao-Feng Tsai, associate dean for research in the College of Nursing. “With increasing use of technology in managing and improving patient care, the next generation of nursing research will concentrate on emerging new technologies as well as innovative health care systems. Some of our researchers focus on the health of minorities and older adults, improving diabetes care and endeavoring to establish a relationship between diet and physical health.”

Dr. Pao-Feng Tsai’s own research spotlights the use of technology to improve patient care. Her study plans to test a mobile-aid home-intervention program consisting of posture and core muscle training, stretching exercises, stress reduction methods and strategies to improve physical activity to treat myofascial pain syndrome of the low back, a widespread condition that results in pain and suffering in patients.

Tsai is also working with Drs. Hae Sagong and Drew Frugé to conduct a clinical trial which aims to improve physical function and quality of life in older adults with frailty. The team received funding from QuantumTX to determine the effectiveness of their pulsed electromagnetic field technology device in this population. The technology delivers low frequency magnetic fields to large muscle groups, which improves mitochondrial function and metabolic biomarkers enabling greater mobility.

Minority health is the research focus of several faculty members. Dr. Sarah Watts’ engagement project was funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, or PCORI, to improve health outcomes in Hispanic women with obesity. “Addressing this problem is challenging due to lack of resources and prior research, especially in the rural South,” Watts said. “This project will train stakeholders from Lee County, Alabama, to engage in designing and promoting future research efforts in this community.”

Dr. Katilya Ware is working on research designed to improve prenatal care among African American women. The PCORI-funded project will engage the women, their family members, clinicians and faith-based leaders to develop research priorities to reduce pregnancy-related deaths in the South. Ware’s work will assist in improving practices and increasing dialogues between families and providers to accomplish the desired outcomes for patients.

Drs. Morgan Yordy, Sarah Watts and Tiffani Chidume
Pictured from the left: Drs. Morgan Yordy, Sarah Watts and Tiffani Chidume

In addition to the focus on the health of a racial and ethnic minority group, Dr. Hae Sagong’s research tackles health care issues for older adults, a fast-growing population in the U.S. “Quite often, older immigrants face difficulties in finding and utilizing health-related resources, potentially resulting in a higher likelihood of getting frail before they can get care,” Hagong said. “My focus is on improving health care, thereby preventing frailty in older Korean immigrants.”

Dr. Tiffani Chidume’s project also focuses on aging care, especially fall prevention among the elderly. Her work has raised awareness and increased the practice of conducting fall risk assessments for older adults. Integration of these assessments into older adult care could decrease falls, which are often debilitating and result in rapid physical health decline.

There are several projects underway in the College of Nursing concerning diabetes care. Dr. Chrissy Feeley’s research examines the relationship between sleep and biopsychosocial outcomes in children with type 1 diabetes and their parents. Her focus on how sleep may affect children and their parents’ report of mental problems and diabetes outcomes will determine best practice for families navigating this disease and its long-term management.

Dr. Caralise Hunt’s efforts are focused on increasing physical activity among people living with diabetes or prediabetes through a community walking program implemented with therapy dogs. This project also involves Dr. Morgan Yordy, whose research investigates the impact and benefits of the human-animal bond.

According to Dr. Drew Frugé, biomedical research has grown exponentially over the last century. He is pursuing projects that involve the manipulation of gut microbiome through diet and physical activity for disease prevention, including reducing cancer risk and improving the quality of life. “The trillions of bacteria inhabiting the colon play crucial roles in transforming nutrients and other molecules in the GI tract that have a wide range of effects on host metabolic, immune and nervous system function,” Frugé said.

Dr. Linda Gibson-Young’s research explores childhood asthma and the family impact of the day-to-day management of this chronic condition. She is interested in demographic and family variables influencing management of asthma and collects data through school-based health education programs and annual community camp experiences. Her findings center on the significance of intervention with schools and rural communities to address child and family variables. Gibson-Young has also spent the past 25 years connecting with asthma researchers in Alabama and beyond.

The intent of College of Nursing research is to use the findings as the basis for making treatment decisions and encouraging evidence-based practice. The college’s faculty are collaborating with health care organizations, health care providers, multiple academic institutions, and other campus departments to improve individual and community health. Their work will empower patients, prevent disease and reduce patient and caregiver burden.