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Nurse scientists generate new knowledge for Air Force

  • Published
  • By Peter Holstein
  • Surgeon General Public Affairs
As the Air Force Medical Service honors nurses and medical technicians during National Nurses and Techs Week, a lesser known nurse specialty, nurse scientists, conducts research to improve patient care.

Nurse scientists are nurses who have achieved a PhD in nursing science, and engage in research to inform evidence based practices. The Air Force currently has only 12 nurse scientists on active duty, but they make a big contribution to Air Force Medicine.

“In the Air Force, nurse scientists are a small group of specially trained individuals, who conduct original research to generate new knowledge,” said Col. Susan Dukes, Commandant of the Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. “Having a nurse scientist lead an inter-disciplinary research team helps create a blend of expertise to impact patient care, which is what we all want.”

Nurse scientists’ areas of research focus primarily on problems related to nursing care or experience. One example is research into pressure injuries in the en route care environment. Pressure injuries occur when a person is immobilized for a long time, and can lead to the skin breaking down, a potential problem for aeromedical evacuation patients.

“Pressure injuries and the reduction of pressure ulcers have traditionally been unique to nursing care,” said Dukes. “Our research looked at the risk factors that lead to the development of pressure ulcers in Critical Care Air Transport patients, who travel for a long time in tight circumstances. We looked at various interventions to remove pressure in the CCAT environment.”

CCAT plays a critical role in the aeromedical evacuation system, and cutting down on pressure injuries incurred during transport improves patient comfort and outcomes.

“This particular issue was identified by nurses on the CCAT teams as a problem,” said Dukes. “Our nurse scientists conducted research to determine how patients are developing pressure ulcers, and then additional research on how to prevent pressure ulcers.”

Air Force nurse scientists also conducted research into pain management for patients during en route care. A nurse scientist was on board air evacuation flights, observing and documenting how the care team treated pain.

“We often think of pain control as administering medication,” said Dukes. “For this study, the nurse scientist also observed the environment and interactions between the patient and care team. This let them identify barriers to patients’ pain being treated.”

The study found that during these flights, noise was a significant barrier to communication between providers and patients. When the results were presented to Air Mobility Command, they incorporated them into training programs for flight nurses and medical technicians to make them aware of this challenge.

Having a nurse’s perspective drives research that makes fast, tangible improvements in patient care. Working with practicing nurses, nurse scientists make real contributions to improving the outcomes for wounded, ill and injured service members.

“I’ve found that what really inspires people in my field is our passion for taking care of wounded warriors,” said Dukes. “Whether it’s in the back of an airplane or in a deployed environment, working in the military can be really tough. It’s difficult physically and mentally, but nurses and nurse scientists are a group of true professionals who are really committed to the health and welfare of our service members.”