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Building nursing research to improve patient care

Health Sciences Update | Jan. 16, 2013

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Susan Shapiro RN, PhD
Clinical Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Clinical Strategic Initiatives,
Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing

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Susan Shapiro says the fact that she has two bosses illustrates the two mandates of her position—to align the worlds of academic and clinical nursing and bridge the gap between nursing research and practice.

Shapiro came to Emory two years ago, recruited jointly by Susan Grant (Emory Healthcare chief nursing executive) and Linda McCauley (dean of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing) to a newly created job with a title long enough to double as a job description: associate chief nursing officer for nursing research and evidence-based practice in Emory Healthcare and assistant dean for strategic clinical initiatives in the nursing school.

All practicing nurses need to be "consumers of research so they can base their practice on solid evidence," says Shapiro. Some nurses—and the number at Emory has been growing since she came on board—need to conduct that research to generate and test such evidence so others can use it to improve care.

Typically, nurses—and in some cases physicians who work with them—come to Shapiro with a research idea. To turn a clinical question into a research project, she helps them determine feasibility, consider methodologies, navigate the approval process of the Institutional Review Board, and learn to obtain patient consent, collect data, and analyze results. Sometimes she serves as matchmaker, connecting nurses interested in the best practice to warm newborns with a nursing faculty expert in mother/infant bonding, for example, or introducing a nursing sleep expert to rehab nurses interested in studying the effect of evening back rubs.

The resources available to clinical nurses here are extraordinary, she says. In addition to the research infrastructure in the nursing school, Emory Healthcare has access to research librarians, data analysts, clinical informatics experts, statisticians, and others essential to sophisticated research.

On the academic side, where she works closely with the nursing school curriculum committee and program development, Shapiro is most proud of her role in reviving a master's degree program in nursing leadership, which began in fall 2013, to help nurses realize their potential for improving the value of care in the current rapidly changing health care environment.

Shapiro maintains offices in the nursing school and in Emory University Hospital, with swing spaces at Emory Midtown, Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital, and other clinical locations and spends much time conferring with current and would-be researchers, from those in exploratory stages to those ready to write their results for publication.

"Everywhere I turn at Emory," she says, "there are nurses with fabulous ideas for improving outcomes, reducing costs, and preparing nurse leaders. I have to find the hours in the day to help as many of them as possible move in the right direction."