Beyond the Bedside: A Summer Exploring Nursing Research

Mari Andrzejewski, NUR ’24, Trumbull, CT

When I initially applied to nursing school, I did so because I loved the human body, and I loved connecting with others. While I love nursing for those reasons, I learned to love it for so many more: serving as an advocate, being so trusted, instilling a sense of empowerment in patients, the interesting cases, and the endless number of career opportunities. However, in a post-pandemic world, where phrases like “nurse shortages” and “nursing burnout” popularized, I questioned what nursing environment I would best thrive in. After Penn Nursing introduced the Hillman Scholars Program in Nursing Innovation, a BSN-PhD nursing research path, I knew I had to give it a go. Upon becoming a Hillman Scholar this past school year, my advisor, Dr. Laura Starbird, took me under her wing, allowing me to help coordinate her research team throughout the year and into the summer, which is where my story begins!

This summer, I had the opportunity to continue my work with Dr. Starbird on her study, “Implementing PrEP for Women Who Inject Drugs in Primary and Reproductive Healthcare Settings.” PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a medication that is taken to reduce chances of acquiring HIV. Women who inject drugs are particularly vulnerable to HIV due to both injecting and sexual risk factors. However, PrEP is disproportionally prescribed to men, even though it can be used to prevent HIV in all persons, including women. Throughout my time on this team, we have worked towards our three aims, which include: (1) learning more about women who inject drugs and their healthcare needs, (2) learning more about clinics and their experiences with vulnerable populations, and (3) helping clinics implement PrEP for women in their primary and reproductive healthcare settings. As a research assistant during the school year, I helped screen women for participation eligibility and interviewed them about their experiences. This summer, I resumed my work by using qualitative coding software to generate conclusions from our interviews. Our many conclusions are to fill current gaps in research, especially one conclusion stated by many of our participants: HIV prevention advertisement does not include women, which negatively impacts medication use.

This summer, I left feeling as though I am finally making an impact as a future nurse. I challenged myself professionally, as I solidified my interest in nursing research. While research may not be a typical path for a nurse, I saw first-hand this summer how valuable it is to allow nursing philosophy to serve as a foundation in healthcare research. I also learned so much about coding software, and I experienced personal growth as my findings challenged my expectations and innate biases. I also felt incredibly honored to be trusted by our research participants, as well as to be trusted by my team to generate accurate conclusions to be used for future studies. This summer, we also learned that we had abstracts from our findings accepted to conferences for Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC) and The Association for Multidisciplinary Education in Substance Use and Addiction (AMERSA) for this upcoming fall. It was empowering to be accepted into greater communities who will value, celebrate, and continue our work, and I look forward to presenting in a few months.

Thank you to Penn, Career Services, our generous donors, and our team who have afforded me an opportunity to learn more about myself, about a new population of women, and about nursing research. Because of this opportunity, I can confidently say that the best of my research is yet to come!

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services