UF College of Nursing, UF Health Shands Nursing, launch new program to fund nursing research and innovation

As part of a new initiative, UF Health Shands nurses have the opportunity to collaborate with College of Nursing faculty, as well as other bedside nurses, to produce funded research projects.

From developing new ways to communicate with patients to testing treatment protocols or running research trials in the hospital, nurses are known for coming up with solutions for hard-to-solve problems.

Thanks to a collaboration between the University of Florida College of Nursing and UF Health Shands Nursing, nurses have a new opportunity to develop those innovations and address the complex challenges facing the health care system today.

Through an academic-practice partnership, funding has been awarded to teams of UF Health nurses and college faculty. These funds will be used to support their efforts to develop research projects they hope will transform the nursing profession and how health care is delivered.

“Nurses are not just caregivers; we are scientists as well,” said Anna McDaniel, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, College of Nursing dean and the Linda Harman Aiken Chair. “We are thrilled to join with our nursing colleagues in the hospital system to combine the state-of-the-art, clinical knowledge of practicing nurses with the research insights of nursing faculty to create successful, collaborative projects and broaden our professional knowledge base.”

Each project team includes multiple principal investigators — at least one from the College of Nursing and one from UF Health Shands Nursing — as well as co-investigators and consultants who all contribute expertise. Eight teams, covering topics like COVID-19 discoveries, stroke care and nurse recruitment and retention, have been selected to receive funding.

The collaboration began after College of Nursing faculty and UF Health nursing staff devised a plan to help nurses receive greater support for projects originating from the bedside. UF Health’s standards for patient care call for nurses in leadership roles to develop self-directed projects, but this initiative marks the first-time clinicians at all levels have access to a formal program for securing funded research — as well as a direct partnership with college faculty members.

One research project will investigate discoveries made during the COVID-19 pandemic to help improve wound care. UF Health nurses on the Wound Care and Critical Care teams discovered that patients with the COVID-19 virus reported unusual skin injuries that did not fit the definitions of typical wounds. The team reached out to Debra Lyon, Ph.D., R.N., FNP-BC, FNAP, FAAN, UF College of Nursing executive associate dean and Kirbo Endowed Professor to develop an approach to describing what is different about these injuries and create a treatment plan for patients.

“These UF Health nurses are incredible,” Lyon said. “I am excited to lend my research expertise as a UF College of Nursing faculty member to this nurse-discovered project and help pull together the pieces needed to identify the cause of these wounds.”

Another project will focus on creating the next generation of nurses in the community. Reflecting on Gainesville’s transient nature, UF Health Unit 66 Clinical Nurse Leader Kim Martinez, M.S.N., R.N., CCRN, saw the need to identify ways to increase the number of nurses choosing to develop their careers locally. After meeting with Alachua County school system officials, she and her team began working to develop a mentorship project to serve as a pipeline for underserved students of Eastside High School to enter jobs in health care.

The group’s first step is connecting students with nurses who graduated from the same school and now work at UF Health. Then, these mentors will develop a program introducing Eastside students to the nursing profession and the steps needed to pursue a future health care career, helping inspire them to become the nurses of tomorrow.

“It is extremely important to give young people the tools they need to succeed. To pass that information on and to potentially help break down barriers that these young people face could have an enormous impact,” Martinez said. “This is a very exciting project and time at the university health system and I am honored to be a part of it.”

Irene Alexaitis, D.N.P., R.N., NEA-BC, UF Health chief nursing officer and vice president of nursing and patient services, said she is excited for this first-of-its-kind opportunity for UF Health Shands nurses to partner with the bright minds of the College of Nursing.

 “This will not only be an opportunity to encourage collaboration between the academic and practice systems, but also help us evaluate how to implement improved approaches to health care access and delivery at UF Health. I am eager to see how these selected projects will aid us in advancing the quality of our patient care.”

All eight teams will be mentored and guided by high-level College of Nursing and UF Health nursing officials over a year as they carry out their introductory, or pilot studies. Once their research concludes, findings will be shared with the community at a College Nursing Research Summit, the UF Health Nursing Research & Innovation Conference, professional scientific journals and conferences.

“Nurses have great ideas, but they often do not have the opportunity to turn these innovations into funded research; this collaboration and financial support change the game,” Mendy Dunn said. “The guidance they will receive through faculty participation on how to develop a research project is invaluable and will help these projects truly reach the next level. We are so grateful to launch this partnership and are eager to see it flourish in the coming months.”