More than 100 students, faculty and staff gathered in the Century Rooms of the Millennium Student Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis Wednesday afternoon to hear the latest research on everything from nutritional education to music therapy to the link between nursing staffing rates and preventable medical errors.
Students in the College of Nursing’s Evidence-Based Practice and Concepts in Community Focused Care undergraduate courses presented their findings as part of the school’s annual Research Day, which was established in 2016. The event combines student research presentations with the McIntosh-Durham lecture, established in 1999 in honor of Elizabeth McIntosh, the original director of the Barnes School of Nursing, once housed at UMSL, and Jerry Durham, former dean of the College of Nursing.
Each year, a nurse researcher is invited to UMSL as the year’s McIntosh-Durham lecturer to present their research and experience as a nursing scholar. This year’s McIntosh-Durham lecturer was Devita Stallings, associate professor of nursing and RN to BSN option coordinator at Saint Louis University, who presented “Vital Signs: Stories from My Life in Nursing and Research.” Stallings recounted her journey from nurse to researcher to health care entrepreneur.
Stallings told the audience that it was anything but a straight path. Initially, she entered the University of Mississippi as pre-med major, intending to become a doctor. She quickly became disillusioned and decided to study nursing instead.
Over the course of her early career, Stallings spent time as a medical-surgical nurse, emergency department nurse, travel nurse and clinical educator before taking a position in academia at the University of Memphis. While working in the emergency department, she had developed an interest in hypertension – particularly among the African American community – which would go on to inform her research at Memphis and SLU.
“One of the first things you learn is how to take vital signs,” Stallings said. “Guess what? Checking vital signs really is what led to my research career. While I was in the ED, I really became fascinated with why people’s blood pressure was so high.”
“I also began to notice that there were a lot of disparities in cardiovascular health. I think I noticed that because I realized anything that had to do with the heart or anything that had to do with the circulatory system, like strokes, those were the patients I most loved caring for.”
That passion for improving cardiovascular health led Stallings to found Pressure Points, LLC, a startup that’s developing a hypertension self-management mobile health app. As Stallings concluded her lecture, she reminded the students that nursing could take them just about anywhere.
“I never thought I would be a nurse entrepreneur,” she said. “But nursing offers so many options for you. So, I would say, always keep an open mind and always be curious about the practice that you encounter each and every day.”
The audience also heard from O’Grady fellowship recipient Christina Castellano, assistant professor of nursing and UMSL PhD graduate, who presented her findings about motherhood amongst low-income, rural women in Missouri.
For the Research Day presentations, 12 groups of nursing students in the Evidence-Based Practice course capped off nearly a semester’s worth of research on topics including implicit bias and health care outcomes, fentanyl abuse education, the effect of sleep on nursing performance, the effect of midwifery care on pregnancy and labor and more.
At the start of the semester, the students broke into groups, chose a topic to research and engaged with a faculty mentor to build their projects and report their findings. As part of the project, they developed PICO (Population/Problem/Patient, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome) questions and implemented their literature review throughout the semester, with the Research Day poster presentation serving as the culmination of their work.
Three awards were given for the presentations:
- First place: “Curbing Childhood Obesity: Implementation of Nutritional Education” by Ava Gorham, Nick Jarman, Aliyah Jones, Jaela Love
- Second place: “Healthcare-associated Infections and Nursing Staffing: Discovering Critical Links” by Sarah Barksdale, Jasmine Birdsall, Peyton Brueck, Kayla Noe
- Third place: “The Effect of Sleep on Nursing Performance” by Grace Preckel, Charlotte Reichensperger, Devon Tourigny, Morgan Watson
Afterward, 14 groups of nursing students in the Concepts in Community Focused Care course concluded about three semester’s worth of work implementing research projects in the community with partnering local organizations such as Faith Parish Nurse Ministries, Girls, Inc., Places for People, Project Compassion and more. The students’ research built upon the skills and methods they learned in the Evidence-Based Practice course and focused on a variety of topics including the impact of art therapy, medication self-administration, diabetes and hypertension management, neurodivergence in the classroom and more.
Three awards were given for the presentations:
- First place: Healthy Eating at Project Compassion by Brittney Bounds, Sheila Garner, Hanifa Mohamed, Abby Swayer
- Second place: Neurodivergence in the Classroom: Safe Connections by Lucy Tobey
- Third place: Obesity Prevention Training: Faith Parish Nurse Ministries by Eric Foeller
“We really got firsthand experience getting in the community,” Bounds said of her group’s first-place project. “The people who run the organization, they have access to the community. They’ve been working with them, providing resources to them, so our part was really easy. One thing that I will note is that the data collection part of it – the community assessment we did – was like a windshield survey. Driving through these communities, actually talking to the people in the community through one-on-one surveys, we actually got a real sense of what the need was.”
Associate Dean of Research Kimberly Werner said these experiences help the students learn how to digest research and apply it practically on the ground.
“They may not be doing their own research or developing their own research projects, but they’re able to interpret what other researchers have done, and then – the most important part – they put it into practice,” Werner said. “So, they can take it to the actual clinical care. They can take it to patients in real time and improve the care that they’re receiving in the hospital.”
Werner also highlighted the importance of events like Research Day, which allow students to connect with each other, as well as nursing professionals.
“Post-COVID, getting together in places like this to share ideas, to learn from the experiences of people who’ve really excelled in their area, to really understand the possibilities that could happen both in research as well as practice is really essential,” she said. “It can be inspiring to students, particularly at the end of a hard semester when they’ve worked really diligently in their classes, to see what the future could hold for them and how they can contribute to the St. Louis community and how they can take ownership for being successful in their own career.”