Black History Month Research Spotlights: Staja Booker and Ellen Terry

Staja ‘Star’ Booker

When Gator Nursing researchers work to find new ways to change health care for the better, they shoot for the stars. 

And, as her nickname suggests, Assistant Professor Staja “Star” Booker, PhD, RN, is a College of Nursing research superstar.

Naturally curious from a young age, Booker’s passion for nursing scholarship and desire to both reduce pain and improve pain management has been felt by all since her arrival to the College of Nursing in 2019.

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Staja “Star” Booker, PhD, RN

Recently honored with the college’s first-ever diversity and inclusion award, Star is proud to be an advocate for addressing pain disparities, particularly those faced by older African Americans. Although she was inspired to care for others by her grandmother and sister (who is an occupational therapist), Star is also motivated by her late father, Donald Booker, as well as her late grandparents, who experienced segregation and prejudice in the health care system firsthand.

“I’m inspired to continue the pursuit of health equity and to elevate the voices of the unheard,” Star said. “My work addresses misinformation by correcting unfounded beliefs about Blacks in pain by filling in the gaps with new knowledge about their lived personal and health care experience. There’s so much we need to learn from older adults from diverse backgrounds — that keeps me invigorated to conduct research.”

For Star, the sky is ‘not’ the limit.

Currently, Booker is completing a National Institutes of Health-funded project exploring how movement can lead to pain and, as well as its impact on physical function tests and self-management for older African Americans with knee osteoarthritis. She is also involved in several health equity research activities, including serving as a co-author on papers confronting racism in pain research and addressing biases in pain experience/management among diverse family caregivers.

As another semester of research innovation unfolds, Booker believes that this spring will be an opportunity to break new ground in her field — as well as take her research “beyond the stars.”

Ellen Terry

Since she arrived at the College of Nursing in 2019, Ellen Terry, PhD, has devoted her research program to expanding what we know about pain.

Her own interest in pain research was inspired by her excellent mentorship experiences as an undergraduate student. Now, Terry is training Gator Nurse scholars of tomorrow by serving as a mentor herself though the EMBRACE program, an innovative nursing diversity group created to provide unique research and leadership opportunities for nursing students from multiple backgrounds.

In one of Terry’s latest projects, her partnership with an undergraduate student resulted in a co-authored entry in a scientific journal. Their work focused on a phenomenon called “pain catastrophizing” and how different ethnic/racial groups view pain.

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Ellen Terry, PhD

Expanding upon her prior work, the assistant professor currently researches underserved populations such as older African Americans who report both high levels of pain catastrophizing and a worse experience with pain. For Terry, understanding this phenomenon is just one-piece of the puzzle — after her study is complete, her research should provide researchers with much needed knowledge about how pain catastrophizing can influence pain, how different ethnic groups perceive and express pain, as well as how this affects their treatment and recovery.

 “There is an urgent need to develop treatments to reduce pain using self-management strategies,” Terry said.  “This is particularly important for vulnerable populations, who tend to be under-represented in clinical trials and often have less access to effective pain therapies.”

Terry said that this work marks critical step forward for future improvements to pain-related clinical outcomes in older, underserved populations with chronic pain. And, according to her, this work is just the beginning.