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A Life-Changing Research Experience: NINR’s Graduate Partnerships Program

November 16, 2017

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Every day, nurses explore ways they can improve their patients’ health and quality of life—in every healthcare setting and across the spectrum of wellness. Their experiences in the clinic can inspire nurses to pursue research careers to solve problems and develop interventions that can improve the outlook not only for individual patients, but for populations and communities around the world.

Recognizing the crucial role that nursing science plays in improving our understanding of the issues that affect patients’ health and wellness, NINR has—since its establishment more than 30 years ago—supported training programs to help clinical nurses pursue careers in research.

One important element of NINR’s training initiative is the Graduate Partnerships Program (GPP). Working in conjunction with graduate schools of nursing, the NINR GPP offers unparalleled, doctoral-level training opportunities within research programs at laboratories across NINR and NIH. GPP participants have a unique opportunity to conduct their dissertation research on the NIH campus, while being mentored by leading scientists and clinical investigators.

On the NIH campus, GPP participants are mentored by leading scientists and clinical investigators, and have access to countless resources that support their research. Just as important, though, is learning first-hand about NIH’s commitment to high-risk/high-reward and translational research.

Nurse scientists may be inspired to pursue research early in their careers, continuing on to a PhD program immediately after completing a BSN, or after having built a robust clinical career. NINR GPP fellows Stephanie Prescott, Katie Edwards, and Kristin Dickinson embody this spectrum of experience.

Below, these current and former GPP fellows discuss their individual paths to a career in nursing research, as well as the ways in which their experience in NINR’s GPP has affected their education and goals.

For more information on GPP, including information on application and eligibility, please visit, or contact NINR acting Intramural Research Program Training Director Dr. Pamela Tamez at

Stephanie Prescott, PhD(c), MSN, NNP-BC

nn-Prescott.jpgAfter more than 20 years treating infants in the neonatal intensive care unit, first as a neonatal nurse and more recently as a nurse practitioner, Stephanie Prescott has seen the often life-saving benefits of antibiotic use among pregnant women. And while these antibiotics may be critical to the health of women and their children by both treating and preventing illness, their effects on the infant’s microbiota (the microbes that live in and on the human body, performing many important functions)—and in turn on health and development—aren’t necessarily as clear.

Inspired to better understand these effects on the infants she treats in the neonatal intensive-care unit, Prescott pursued a PhD at the University of Virginia.

Through the dissertation research she’s conducting at NIH through NINR’s GPP program, Prescott hopes to improve our understanding of the impact of in-utero exposure to antibiotics.

Understanding is just the first step though. Prescott hopes to discover how the infant microbiota may be necessary for healthy development. Information like this could lead to interventions to protect or repair the microbiota during critical developmental periods, leading to improvements in lifelong health.

Prescott’s interest in research was ignited by real-world experience when she participated in a research grant at the hospital where she continues to practice. Prescott has continued her clinical work—experience that she believes is critical to nursing science—throughout her doctoral studies.

Through GPP, Prescott works with mentors such as Dr. Wendy Henderson, Chief of the Digestive Disorders Unit in NINR's Division of IntramuralQuote-Prescott.jpg Resesarch, and Dr. Giorgio Trinchieri, of the Cancer and Inflammation Program at the National Cancer Institute, in whose lab she conducts her studies.

The opportunity to be part of the world-renowned research environment at NIH drew Prescott to apply for GPP. She has found NIH’s educational offerings to be just as valuable as her laboratory experience. Says Prescott as she describes her experience as a GPP fellow, “Everything you want to learn is here.” She has found herself constantly inspired with new research ideas thanks to both the elective courses she has participated in at NIH and the clinical needs she identifies in her work.

Prescott—who successfully defended her dissertation proposal in late October 2017—looks forward to building her program of research and continuing her clinical practice after completing her doctoral program. Additionally, she plans to promote the field of nursing science to a new generation through a faculty position. “I’d like to share my experiences with nursing students and early-career nurses, so they are aware of all the possibilities that are available to them.”

Prescott’s career as a nurse practitioner has allowed her countless opportunities to impact the health of individual patients. As a nurse scientist, however, Prescott’s reach will extend well beyond her own practice. “Through research,” she notes, “I’ll be able to support the health of infants around the world.”

Katie Edwards, BSN, RN

As a nurse at a level-1 trauma unit, Katie Edwards witnessed the effects of neurotrauma on the patients she treated. Edwards observed that nn-edwards_1.jpgpatients with seemingly similar injuries could have recoveries that were noticeably different. This begged the question: “What is the root of the different recovery trajectories for neurotrauma patients?”

To help answer this question, Edwards embarked on a research career by pursuing a PhD in the Healthcare Genetics Program at Clemson University.

At Clemson, Edwards learned about the NINR GPP program through a mentor and applied to complete her doctoral research at NIH. “I was motivated to apply to GPP because of the opportunity to gain experience in both clinical and laboratory research at NIH.”

As an NINR GPP fellow, Edwards works in the lab of Dr. Jessica Gill, Chief of the Brain Injury Unit in NINR’s Division of Intramural Research. Edwards has had the benefit of Gill’s mentorship, as well as the resources available through Gill’s research to reveal the mechanisms underlying differing responses to combat trauma and traumatic brain injury. In this setting, Edwards is studying protein biomarkers and gene expression in patients with neurotrauma as a result of blast exposure.

Quote-Edwards.jpgIn GPP, Edwards has found a program that supports not only her research, but other aspects of her career too. In addition to academic opportunities available through FAES (the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences—a non-profit foundation at NIH that conducts advanced educational programs and activities to complement NIH’s research and training mission) and NIH’s Office of Intramural Training & Education, she has participated in management training; presented a poster on her research at NINR’s scientific symposium, “Symptom Science Research: A Path to Precision Health;” and attends regular meetings with other GPP fellows to discuss their research and related issues.

Like Prescott, Edwards hopes to continue her own research, perhaps as a faculty member at a school of nursing.

Edwards would recommend the GPP program to others pursuing their PhDs, particularly those interested in nursing science. “My clinical experience helped shape my research passion,” Edwards notes. Her aim is that her program of research, informed by her clinical experience, will lead to improved recovery for all neurotrauma patients.

Kristin Dickinson, PhD, RN, OCN

nn-dickinson_0.jpgNINR GPP alumna Dr. Kristin Dickinson was first—as she puts it—“bitten by the research bug” during her work as a research assistant while she studied for her PhD at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing. Her experience there inspired Dickinson to cultivate her newfound passion for research.

This decision ultimately led her to NINR’s GPP program, where she conducted research on the causes of cancer-related fatigue in the laboratory of Dr. Leorey Saligan, Chief of the Symptom Biology Unit in NINR's Division of Intramural Research.

Coming to NINR as a GPP fellow, Dickinson knew she could expect mentorship in nursing science, the academic environment of a university, and the unique breadth and depth of research available at NIH. The atmosphere she found, however, exceeded her expectations. She discovered at NIH, "The research and expertise are unmatched.”

As a nurse scientist, Dickinson found a strong connection with NIH’s focus on translational research—turning lab discoveries into tangible interventions that impact practices in the clinical setting. “Nursing,” with its established commitment to patient care and quality of life, “is primed for translational research.”

Dickinson hopes to translate the findings of her own program of research into symptom management guidelines for alleviating the burden of cancer-related fatigue for patients.

As a GPP fellow, Dickinson conducted research not only at NINR, but also completed rotations at the NIH Clinical Center and the National Human Genome Research Institute. Through these rotations and other opportunities across NIH (including the Certified Junior Scientists Training Program offered by FAES at NIH) she gained skills and knowledge in support of her dissertation.

Her experience also fostered a greater appreciation of NIH and the innovative research it supports. “Research at NIH is limitless,” Dickinson notes. Quote-Dickenson-2.jpg“If you can conceive it—and it’s feasible—you can do it here.”

After completing the GPP program and earning her PhD in nursing, Dickinson returned to NINR as a postdoctoral fellow in NINR’s Division of Intramural Research, where she continues working with Saligan.

Now a recipient of an NIH Pathway to Independence Award, the NIH support that began with NINR’s GPP, will help Dickinson establish an independent research career dedicated to discovering ways to improve patient health and wellbeing.


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