It’s no secret that research drives innovation forward, and as the health care world continues to evolve, developing research across inter-professional teams will continue to be an important part of improving health care delivery. Nurses play a pivotal role in this field, yet according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), less than one percent of the nursing workforce holds a PhD degree.
As nursing education also continues to evolve to meet the demands of the health care system, all levels of nurses are being exposed to research through their education programs and work environments. We often hear potential students talk about having an interest in research as a nurse, but are hesitant because they don’t have a specific research question in mind.
Dr. Hailey Miller, Assistant Professor here at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, and an alum of our PhD program, is proof that following your general interest in research can lead you to unexpected and rewarding places.
After discovering that she enjoyed research during her undergraduate program, and based on her clinical interest, she decided to pursue a PhD in nursing with a focus on cardiovascular disease prevention and management. However, like many nurses that are newer to research, refinement of this topic and what question she was proposing was unclear. She found herself in a place of uncertainty, which is not unfamiliar within the PhD community, but was unchartered territory for her at that point in her academic journey.
Dr. Miller reflects, “As nurses and nurse practitioners, we are trained with evidence-based practice and protocols. However, once you’re established in your practice, you start to notice areas of patient care that can be improved and start to ask questions about how to optimize the care you give. When you transition into the research environment, you are challenged to find the answer and that was really unnerving for me at the beginning of my research journey. I didn’t know where to begin.”
The core of research is immersing yourself into the unknown, which isn’t necessarily how you are formally trained as a nurse. Dr. Miller had to make the mental shift of staying in the gray area that researchers often find themselves in and being comfortable in that position.
Moving forward, her approach to the PhD program was to focus on refining her topic over time, while also building a skillset to be used in the future. “A senior PhD student advised me to approach the PhD program like building a toolbox and collecting all the tools to be successful.” This mindset allowed her to engage in her PhD and Post-Doctoral opportunities more openly to explore all the ways she could pursue her topic. Now, as an Assistant Professor, her research primarily focuses on developing multi-level interventions to promote cardiovascular health and clinical trial participation. The best part? She continues to collaborate with and learn from other researchers to find new ways of developing her research areas and improve the health of individuals and communities.
So, if you find yourself with an interest in research but hesitant on pursuing, Dr. Miller has some encouraging words, “Nurses have the privilege to join patients in their daily lives and play an intimate role in the care of them and their families. This holistic perspective allows nurses to contribute to the research environment in a unique and needed way. If you find yourself considering a PhD but don’t know where to start, don’t let that stop you!”
Read more about Dr. Miller’s journey to being our youngest PhD graduate in her faculty spotlight: https://magazine.nursing.jhu.edu/2023/03/faculty-spotlight-dr-hailey-miller/