The 2017 National Nursing Research Roundtable: Preparing Nurse Scientists for Sustainable Careers: Scientific Innovations & Transdisciplinary Collaborations

The 2017 National Nursing Research Roundtable (NNRR) was co-sponsored by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), part of the National Institutes of Health. Representatives from over a dozen professional nursing societies met to discuss opportunities to support sustainable nursing science careers through development and use of technologies and transdisciplinary collaborations.

NINR Director Dr. Patricia Grady provided an update on NINR research and outlined the topic of research innovations adopted by nursing science, including genomic nursing science, data science, symptom science, and transdisciplinary collaborations. Dr. Grady highlighted the NIH training grants and career awards that support the preparation of nurse scientists for sustainable careers, and the brief, intensive, educational programs offered by NINR on the NIH campus each summer. These workshops, such as the Summer Genetics Institute (SGI) and the Methodologies Boot Camps, which have focused on data science recently, highlight the opportunities generated by scientific innovations and interdisciplinary collaborations.

In her keynote address, Dr. Antonia Villarruel of the University of Pennsylvania provided a more extensive discussion about building innovation and sustainability in research. She offered a broad perspective on the role of innovation in research, such as use of novel concepts, approaches, and methodologies. She added that innovation takes the form of improvement on, or new application of, concepts, approaches, and interventions. Dr. Villarruel encouraged researchers to think about sustainability in the early stages of research planning and added several considerations of what should be sustained, including the program of research, the team, infrastructure, or innovation, and the required resources for sustainability.

Dr. Villarruel proposed that innovation is inherent to sustainability, in order to address changing contexts and new discoveries. She brought attention to the role of science in informing health policy and health care, and whether such research has the potential to be sustained and expanded in scale.

Dr. Villarruel echoed these concepts in describing her own program of research, which focuses on health issues of children and adolescents in Latino populations and communities. She has received consecutive research grants to develop sexual risk reduction interventions that target adolescents and involve parental communication. The projects have shown long-term effectiveness of the interventions and feasibility for their dissemination to multiple communities and in a variety of formats, such as web-based, interactive training materials.

Drs. Jacquelyn Taylor, Patricia Brennan, and Kathleen Hickey provided scientific presentations addressing ‘omics-based research and precision health in minority populations; strategies for sustainability in the context of data-driven discovery, and the role of mentoring and building transdisciplinary teams in sustaining nursing science careers, respectively.

Dr. Taylor of Yale University could not attend the meeting, so her presentation was given by Dr. Hickey. Dr. Taylor’s work has focused on gene-environment interactions, with specific application to hypertension, and serves as an example of nursing science’s impact on precision health. In particular, nursing has played a role in addressing modifiable risk factors, such as lack of exercise, smoking, and obesity, that can influence outcomes in individuals predisposed to cardiovascular disease.

With extensive experience conducting community-based studies in Dominican American populations, Dr. Taylor noted the challenges of low minority participation in research. Successful approaches to recruitment include: engaging the community early and using community liaisons; providing practical health information; facilitating sample collection in participants’ neighborhoods rather than requiring participants to travel to research centers; demonstrating visibility and sustainability; bringing attention to the impact of culture and language on family health; and visiting high schools to inform minority students about research, summer research opportunities, and health topics of interest to their communities.

Dr. Taylor emphasized the importance of involving minority investigators in community-based research teams, which can enhance minority participation. She highlighted the Programs to Increase Diversity Among Individuals Engaged in Health-Related Research (PRIDE), a research education and mentorship initiative sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, that supports early-stage scientists from groups underrepresented in the biomedical sciences.
Dr. Taylor noted ethical issues associated with genetics research in minority communities, including returning unexpected genetics research results to participants, which is also being addressed by the NIH All of Us precision medicine initiative, and involving genetics counselors to explain the impact of research on health.

Dr. Brennan, Director of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), discussed key elements that support the development of sustainable careers, such as team science and international research collaborations that can inform future problems in the United States. She highlighted the importance of open science to foster sustainability, which includes sharing science with society, engaging in science broadly, and expansive sharing of data across disciplines, including results of non-federally-funded research.

Dr. Brennan also emphasized the importance of making data available to the research community, beyond traditional forms of scientific publication. She described the FAIR Data Principles, which encompass considerations for an infrastructure to support data reuse:

  • Findability, and the important role of curation;
  • Accessibility, including security, authorization of access, and maintenance of metadata;
  • Interoperability, e.g., broadly applicable language; and
  • Reusability, such as sustainability, availability, and relevance to different research communities.

Dr. Brennan discussed the relocation of NIH’s data science initiatives to the NLM, which has historical experience in storing data collections and disseminating its holdings. Future goals in data science include building new tools for analytics and visualization, promoting training in general data science and to enrich specific disciplines, and supporting collaboration. To this end, the NIH Commons, a shared virtual space under development, will allow investigators to find, manage, share, use, and reuse data, software, metadata, and workflows. Dr. Brennan advised nurse scientists to consider data access and data management in planning future research projects.

Rounding out the formal presentations, Dr. Hickey of Columbia University discussed the importance of working across disciplinary boundaries in precision medicine and the need to create research teams to stimulate nurse scholars. Dr. Hickey said that nurses lead the way by addressing real world issues, care across the lifespan, diversity in patients’ health literacy and socioeconomic backgrounds, and helping patients and families engage in self-management. She added that public trust in nurses facilitates improvement in outcomes with personalized health approaches. Dr. Hickey encouraged nurse scientists to participate in a broad range of boards and organizations to enhance nursing’s visibility.

Dr. Hickey offered several recommendations for developing transdisciplinary teams such as: providing expertise in integrating science and technology advances; giving trainees opportunities to conduct their research and education programs in multidisciplinary environments, with diverse teams and non-nursing partners; and demonstrating team science through active engagement. To support early stage nurse scientists, she suggested involving them in grant writing, guiding them in presenting well at meetings, and encouraging them to seek mentorship in many areas.

Dr. Hickey cited the significance of NINR’s SGI in the development of her career as a researcher and mentor. She credited her embrace of new technologies and exposing her students to the same as key to her sustained research funding. Dr. Hickey described her current research, which uses novel, non-invasive, real-time home monitoring of arrhythmias in atrial fibrillation patients, as an example of team science involving experts in nursing science, medicine, engineering, and data science.

The break-out sessions and discussion portions of the Roundtable concentrated on: 1) the practice, education, and policy implications of science innovations and transdisciplinary collaborations in sustaining the careers of nurse scientists, and 2) strategies that NNRR organizations could use to highlight the importance of innovations and collaborations in sustaining the careers of nurse scientists.

The discussion focused on approaches to increase public awareness of nursing science and its role in research and health care advances, which could contribute to sustainability of nursing science. Coordinated messages and well-crafted media stories, tailored to resonate with each audience, could influence policy makers and enhance support. Examples include leveraging interest in precision medicine and the Cancer Moonshot, and connecting the involvement of nursing science and symptom science to those efforts. Highlighting the scientific foundation of nursing care, nurse scientist participation in significant research collaborations, and cutting-edge nursing science discoveries were among the recommended focus areas.

Informing students, in high schools as well as nursing schools, about opportunities in nursing science would also bolster its sustainability. Nursing professionals would also be an important audience for nursing science messages, to build awareness and interest in discovery and its application to health care.

Promotion of collaborative research by universities and partnerships with businesses, industry, and non-academic nurse researchers were recommended strategies to enhance team science. NNRR member organizations could be instrumental in initiating new research alliances. In light of the desire to work collectively, there should be awareness of overlap in the missions and activities of nursing organizations, as well as recognition of individual contributions. Continued interactions among NNRR member organizations were encouraged following annual NNRR roundtables, as well as broad dissemination of meeting proceedings.