By Jason Farley, PhD candidate
“You’re getting a PhD in nursing? What made you decide to go the nursing route?” is a question many doctoral students in the school face. The answer from my perspective is simple. The discipline of nursing requires faculty who will address health and illness through scientific inquiry that is grounded in a nursing perspective. Like other science-based health care disciplines, nursing has the opportunity and the moral obligation to develop an evidence base that not only supports the practice of nursing, but fosters an environment of constant improvement and change in health and health care. The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing expects doctoral students to begin making changes in health care prior to completing their PhDs.
As a prime example, my dissertation research is entitled, “Prevalence, Risk Factors and Molecular Epidemiology of Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Among New Arrestees in the Maryland Department of Corrections.” As the title suggests, this study will assess the prevalence and risk of MRSA in people who have been recently arrested. MRSA is a drug resistant form of the staphylococcal family and has been responsible for jail/prison outbreaks of skin and soft tissue infection across the country. Due to the collaborative nature of the Hopkins environment, I have been granted access to the microbiology laboratory at the School of Medicine to further analyze specimens for specific molecular attributes.
The molecular analysis is sort of a CSI type of investigation that allows the researcher to determine the relatedness of the bacteria to one another. In other words: Did person A give it to person B, or vice versa? Ultimately, we hope to prevent the spread of this potentially deadly organism back into the community by eliminating transmission within the prison environment.
In addition to dissertation activities, students often take their expertise into exciting new frontiers to prepare for further study post graduation. Within my first two years of doctoral studies, I traveled to Beijing, China, to assist a hospital in obtaining Joint Commission International Accreditation. During my visit I revamped the hospital’s infection control department. This past winter I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, to begin work with the Medical Research Council—the South African version of NIH—to investigate the epidemiology, treatment, and state of the science regarding multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). For this project I’ve had the good fortune to work with a research team of world renowned experts in TB who are conducting ground-breaking research on MDR-TB transmission. Together, we planned a multidisciplinary study to identify the reasons that people are failing treatment for MDR-TB. This trip revealed to me considerable opportunities for research collaboration and provided me with a greater understanding of the health care infrastructure in South Africa. I will be returning to South Africa this September to complete work on the project.
My international experiences within the doctoral program have pointed me in the direction of my future career path. Currently, I am considering options for postdoctoral study, including applying for an NIH International Research Scientist Development Award to focus my attention on the intersection of HIV and TB in the developing world.
I continue to be amazed as I travel the world at the amount of first-line care provided by nurses—and I hope to further the impact of nursing care in the treatment of infectious illness in the developing world.
As for “going the nursing route,” it’s a path well taken. The journey continues to open my eyes to a global nursing community that is driven by evidence and sustained through compassion and caring.