Exploring factors that contribute to ideal cardiovascular health
MELANIE ESLICK MACN
PARTICIPANT IN THE ACN EMERGING NURSE LEADER PROGRAM STAGE 2
I have a confession for you. Coming to nursing as a mature-aged student, I enrolled in the fast-track Bachelor of Nursing at the University of Tasmania (UTas) not because I had a burning desire to be a nurse but because I thought it would be a challenging job that would provide a solid foundation for postgraduate studies. I’d been an editor for 20+ years and a nutritionist for more than 10, and I wanted to transition to health care as my career but I wasn’t sure quite where I’d end up.
Fast forward a couple of years and I’m delighted to be a novice nurse participating in the ACN Emerging Nurse Leader (ENL) program and about to begin my transition to practice graduate year. Just as it became clear during my studies that I wanted to practise as an oncology nurse, I realised I also wanted to be involved in research. So, with trepidation, towards the end of my undergraduate degree, I applied for a research internship at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research via the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).
The UROP is a program for UTas undergraduates who work under a mentor researcher for six weeks on a project that forms part of a research program at the Menzies Institute (and similar programs are available in other states). I applied so I could gain insight into biomedical research work and experience what it involves day-to-day, to find out if research suits me, and more importantly, if I suit it! The onus was on me to secure a researcher-mentor and I was immediately drawn to two epidemiological research projects led by one researcher who agreed to take me on. And so I find myself in week four of six, drafting an article about our research project for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.
Our epidemiology project aims to assess how healthy Australians are and what makes them so. We are using Australian Bureau of Statistics data from the National Health Survey to measure the health of Australian adults against the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 health metrics. Life’s Simple 7 sets out seven health behaviours and factors that contribute to ideal cardiovascular health and is increasingly used as an international benchmark in population-health research. I feel very fortunate to be working on a project that combines my interests in nutrition, healthy living and public health.
Because I’d never studied statistics and was more familiar with qualitative than quantitative methods, I began my internship by reading an epidemiology textbook. I needed a glossary of the language of quantitative research at hand. Along the way I’ve compared Australian health guidelines against Life’s Simple 7’s recommendations, conducted a literature review, defined the search parameters for our statistical inquiries and reviewed a first pass of our findings. At the same time, I’ve been drafting the method and limitations sections of my article, which I will continue to work on after my six weeks comes to an end.
The hands-on research and writing experience has been enlightening, challenging and interesting, and I am now determined to forge a career in research alongside my career in nursing. However, the UROP’s invaluable benefit has been meeting regularly with my researcher who has not only shared her considerable expertise to encourage me through the process, but also acted as a career mentor. It can be difficult for student nurses to make the leap into research and even four weeks in, I feel better informed to tackle research Honours in the short term.
I’ve no doubt that the UROP is my first step towards a research career and I’d encourage nursing undergraduates who are interested in finding out what research is about to apply to similar programs. Don’t think: ‘Oh that’s just for biomedicine and medical students!’ (as I did). As nurses, we bring a unique combination of skills and knowledge to research and just as there are diverse nursing roles, there are many research avenues to pursue. I was already excited about what this year, my first as a nurse, would bring. And now that I’m considering what I can bring to research as a nurse, my future seems even brighter.
Editor’s note: ACN’s ENL Program is designed to develop skills, build confidence and provide opportunities for nurses to represent our profession as leaders.