Students at the University of Kentucky College of Education are contributing to research in a surprising field – health care. In recent years, Baptist Health Lexington created a fellowship to recruit doctoral scholars to be part of an in-house research team at the hospital.
“We found students with a data analysis background are ideal for this work, and that type of research background is a given in several of the graduate programs in the College of Education. For instance, students in the college’s counseling psychology program have good data analysis skills and are in a field very congruent with health care. We feel that’s valuable because you have to look at patients as a whole – mind, body and spirit,” said Karen Hill, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at Baptist Health Lexington.
Baptist Health created its research office to support employees working directly with patients, such as nurses and physical therapists, who often have ideas for making improvements.
“We mentor health care professionals conducting studies ranging from randomized controlled trials to case reports,” said Dorothy Brockopp, a UK College of Nursing Professor Emeritus who now works as Baptist Health’s nurse researcher and nursing and allied health research coordinator.
So far, there have been hundreds of theories put to test at Baptist Health. When a project is set into motion, the employee who proposed it becomes the principal investigator supported by the research team.
“We make it as easy as possible on employees participating because they have full time jobs,” Hill said. “Some are going back to school, some are single parents, and they want to be able to do this, but not have it be a burden on their time. The research office helps facilitate the project in a way that makes it possible for them.”
In recent years, a nurse on a cardiac unit proposed the team look at whether music could motivate patients in her unit to exercise, and what types of music worked best. A hospital administrator noticed the hospital’s high nurse staffing retention numbers and wanted to explore what factors contribute to it.
“This fellowship is the perfect opportunity for doctoral students in the College of Education to make their research relevant and impactful. They are addressing real needs at a local hospital, while also publishing in journals to help share that knowledge and impact health care at a broader level,” said UK College of Education Julian Vasquez Heilig. “We are thankful that Baptist Health is providing funding for this fellowship and involving our students in this important work.”
Krista Moe, an alumna of the UK College of Education’s counseling psychology program, was part of a team that helped nursing staff explore if the well-being of babies in the neonatal intensive care unit could be influenced by the type of mattress being used in their cribs. Other studies she helped design included one where they looked at whether it is possible to predict which patients are most likely to have a fall in the hospital.
During her fellowship, Moe enjoyed helping those who have never been part of a research study become active participants in the work.
“One of the most amazing things about the fellowship is that you get to work collaboratively with smart, talented people,” Moe said. “You have a nurse come in with all this clinical knowledge, and you get to help provide your research knowledge. We worked with some nurses with an associate’s degree who were able to have their name on a research publication. They are basically in charge of their research. It often inspired employees to go on and go after that next degree.”
Many of the proven processes and ideas are adopted by the hospital as a way to improve patient care. To help the effort have an even broader impact, they began publishing the studies in journals.
“We are an unusual community hospital in regard to our level of publications,” Hill said. “We have had Magnet designation for almost 20 years. One of the expectations of this national nursing recognition is that you have nurse-led research and that you get better and better and more developed at it each year.”
The commitment to publishing research has benefitted UK graduate students working on the team, providing them a chance to publish early on in their journey to a doctorate degree. The fellows leave the year-long program with several published studies on their resumes. They also get experience working with an Institutional Review Board that reviews each study to ensure ethics are properly applied when involving human subjects.
The Baptist Health team began fielding so many calls from other hospitals about how to set up a similar program, they decided to publish a book about how it was established. Two UK students served as authors on the book. One of them, Alex Lengerich, is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital in Tampa, Fla. specializing in health psychology.
“My time at Baptist Health definitely taught me a lot about the research and publication process but, even more importantly, it taught me how to collaborate and communicate with a variety of health care professionals toward a common goal,” Lengerich said.
In his current position, Lengerich works in a primary care physicians clinic providing group and individual therapy to veterans with a wide variety of mental and physical health concerns. His position also involves protected research time where he works with a variety of health care professionals on research projects.
During Moe’s participation in the research, she realized how much she enjoyed working in a hospital setting. Today, she is Baptist Health’s first full-time, on-site counseling psychologist.
“We created a job for her because we knew we had a need,” Hill said. “She sees patients who, for instance, are dealing with a cancer diagnosis or who are getting ready to have bariatric surgery. We were previously referring them to other providers in the community and now they are able to stay within our system to get the mental health care they need.”
A new UK College of Education student is selected for the fellowship each year. The recipient must not be employed in any other capacity at UK during the appointment year. Additional criteria for the position can be found on the college’s scholarship page.