Vital Views

The term "nurse scientists" might sound right out of some science fiction movie, but this is a very real and very significant league of nurses.  Associate Dean of Research at UNLVSON Lorraine Evangelista explains what makes a nurse scientist stand out; and what she's learned from mentoring young researchers.

Creators & Guests

Joseph Gaccione
Host, Writer, Producer
Lorraine Evangelista
Associate Dean of Research, UNLV School of Nursing

What is Vital Views?

Vital Views is a weekly podcast created by UNLV School of Nursing to discuss health care from a Rebel Nursing perspective. We share stories and expert information on both nursing-specific and broader healthcare topics to bring attention to the health trends and issues that affect us. New episodes every Tuesday.

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Joe Gaccione 0:02

You're listening to Vital Views, podcast for UNLV School of Nursing. I'm Joe Gaccione, UNLV Nursing communications director. Nurse scientists are a subgroup in nursing that do not receive a lot of publicity, potentially because many people don't realize a nurse can be a scientist. Here at UNLV, we have several faculty who not only perform research, but extensively study topics like symptoms, patient outcomes, disease processes, and population health interventions. Being a nurse scientist is more than holding a doctorate degree. It's using science to investigate and help solve global health concerns. Our guest today is Dr. Lorraine Evangelista, who is not only a nurse scientist, but the associate dean of research here at UNLV Nursing. She is a fellow of both the American Heart Association and American Association for Nursing, among other accolades. Her specialty is in cardiovascular nursing and received both her master's and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Evangelista has been with UNLV since Spring 2022. Welcome to the show.

Lorraine Evangelista 1:03

Hi Joe, thanks for having me.

Joe Gaccione 1:05

So as associate dean of research, what are your primary objectives?

Lorraine Evangelista 1:08

So I think, and this is from my point of view, my primary objective is really to spread the passion of doing research. I mean, research has always been something when I was an undergraduate nursing student that we didn't like. It seemed so, it seemed to be a very scary course, and we just wanted to get it over with. And I think in my role, personally, I just want students and faculty to be more passionate about it, to understand what, how much it can bring to our profession and how much satisfaction it could give us personally. So, that's my personal objective, but in terms of being the associate dean for research, it's definitely more building and enhancing the culture of research and scholarship within the school, which includes the students, the faculty, and any of the other collaborators we work with across campus.

Joe Gaccione 2:09

If you don't have that passion, how does that impact the work that you're doing?

Lorraine Evangelista 2:13

Like I said, if you don't have the passion, it really makes it dreadful. It's like you're lifting your foot with the support of your hands, and it's not a pleasant experience. And I think the legacy that I can leave behind is a lot of the lives I've impacted or the mentees that I've shown on how to be passionate about research.

Joe Gaccione 2:35

What separates a nurse researcher from a nurse scientist? Are there major differences, or are they pretty similar?

Lorraine Evangelista 2:41

They're actually similar. They're actually the same, I would say, but it started out being called nurse scientist, but when you bring up the term, “scientist,” people always imagine the bald man in the lab with the test tubes. So, it really refers more to basic science, which a lot of nurses are also engaged in, but I think a majority of the nurses, probably 80% of us who have our doctoral degrees, really looked at more applied science, or like you had said, we're looking at the population, we're looking at the community, and we're out there living life with the people that we’re actually studying.

Joe Gaccione 3:22

Your work revolves around cardiovascular health, can you describe more about what you look for and how your work has made an impact?

Lorraine Evangelista 3:28

When I started out with cardiovascular nursing, it was really more related to my practice as a cardiovascular nurse in the intensive care unit, where I really took care of patients after they had a heart attack and then the sequel of the heart attack would usually be chronic heart failure. And these patients are never prepared for something like this, so they keep coming back to the hospital, until they finally get the idea that they have to self-manage their condition. And that was the impact I had, originally in my research. was to help them self-manage. It was more secondary or tertiary prevention, like helping them through the disease process. But recently, I have really been engaged in primary prevention and working with communities and teaching the communities how to also self manage, but more so to prevent cardiovascular disease than to manage or to treat it.

Joe Gaccione 4:29

Are there normal red flags or factors when it comes to cardiovascular disease? Is it genetic, are there external circumstances that will more likely perpetuate the disease?

Lorraine Evangelista 4:39

Yes, there are, but I think it's kind of sometimes they use this as a crutch, the people who know that they're genetically, they're genetically more at risk for cardiovascular disease, will use it as a crutch, but really what I try to target are the behavioral factors, like exercise and eating right and maintaining their weight because obesity is the number one cause of cardiovascular disease. So, I'm very passionate about working on different activities or interventions to reduce obesity.

Joe Gaccione 5:15

When you talk about a crutch, does that mean people that know that they're more genetically prone to have cardiovascular risks will just forego any prevention measures because they assume that, “This is my fate, so so be it”?

Lorraine Evangelista 5:26

Yes. And they use it as a more, kind of like an alibi, that, “I'm gonna get it anyway, so I might as well enjoy life.” So, yeah.

Joe Gaccione 5:36

What are some of the best ways to prevent heart disease?

Lorraine Evangelista 5:40

I think, like I said, behavioral lifestyle management is the best way to prevent it. Eating right, lowering your cholesterol levels by not having too much fat in your diet, exercising, I mean, the American Heart Association recommends exercising 30 minutes per day, at least five times a week and being able to manage stress, I think is a very important thing, because stress in itself just puts your body in high gear and gives you that risk for developing heart failure because it just increases the pro-inflammatory cytokines that are in your body that cause heart disease.

Joe Gaccione 6:22

In your experience as a nurse scientist, what are the intangibles of a strong study? What are common mistakes that you find from nurse researchers that maybe are starting out or even from the more experienced ones, are there things that when you look at a project and you want to know how it's working, where the researcher can go from there, are there things that you see most often that are missing?

Lorraine Evangelista 6:45

What I've learned through my three decades of mentoring people is that there's a lot of novice researchers that want world peace, you know? They'll, they will step into your classroom for the first time and, and they're gonna come in with a very ambitious project to try to solve the HIV pandemic or something. And, and to me, I just smile at them and laugh, and I just have to tell them, “This is a step process, you know? You have to start from the very beginning, you have to start by really identifying the needs of your target population and this will start from more basic designs of research. Like in the beginning, you might have to do focus groups to really understand what their needs are and once you do the focus groups, then you can kind of start identifying categories of issues that your target population faces, and then you can do more like have an exploratory study. So, you don't get to developing or testing interventions until probably five years into your career.”

Joe Gaccione 7:53

When you talk about novice researchers, we're not just talking about faculty, we're talking about students and not just graduate students, I mean, if you have the time, undergraduate students can also perform research. Would you say time is the biggest factor when it comes to choosing to go down that path?

Lorraine Evangelista 8:08

Time and commitment, I think. Like I said earlier, there's some times when I think the undergraduate students of today are much, much better than we were decades ago, in terms of appreciating the value of research. They come in knowing how to use and search for their own topics in research, and I'm really impressed with that. I think that's, that's a skill that they will bring forward. It will help the nursing profession move in terms of building our science and that's what I want to try to nurture, is when they're still undergraduates, you train them to be passionate, and then you kind of walk them through the process. And most of the undergraduates I mentor in in one or two years after they've graduated, they're back into graduate program for additional graduate schooling.

Joe Gaccione 9:00

And undergraduates, for sure, they're still learning the basics. They're still learning the tools and the skills, so they're not expected to come up with some type of big research project, but it is possible.

Lorraine Evangelista 9:11

It is possible. But I've had the experience where I had a Fulbright in 2017 and I went to the Philippines, and part of me was like thinking, “Oh, the Philippines is a developing country, I'm sure I'm going to have to start from the very bottom of training, the nurses that I will be working with at the Philippine General Hospital,” which is the biggest state hospital in the Philippines, and surprisingly, when I had a class of like 30 nurses, they were the nursing for, or any of the managers in the nursing units. The younger people just jumped on board and they were so easy to mentor, whereas the older nurses who were the ones that were the most skilled, that knew their nursing procedures in and out, they struggled. I was, I was literally like, “Oh, give me all the young ones,” but working with the older seasoned nurses was much more challenging because I don't think they have that understanding of awareness of the modern technology stuff like searching the databases for and where to find the science to support what they want to do. They just kind of think it's going to come out of the air and say, “Oh, the other hospital does this. I want to do it too,” so that was a challenge.

Joe Gaccione 10:32

When we talked about science support, it made me think of something on a broader level. It feels like the last couple of years, research and science have both taken, maybe not a hit, but they've been rattled, so to speak, with COVID and misinformation, and it almost feels like researchers have to be more on their toes now than ever, just to be able to prove what they're looking at is correct and to be able to disseminate the information correctly. Do you agree that maybe like, there's more pressure now, for scientists and researchers, regardless of the field?

Lorraine Evangelista 11:02

Yes, the pressure is there. I think it's because of the dwindling resources to support research, particularly funding. So, we need to be very innovative in terms of finding other sources to support our work. I think the key to my success in research is finding the collaborators who are just as passionate as I am, because not having the funds does not deter us from continuing to do what we're passionate about.

Joe Gaccione 11:31

Final question for you, how do you promote more awareness about nursing science?

Lorraine Evangelista 11:35

I like to go, when I'm at conferences and I'm presenting, a lot of people come up to me after the presentation, and I literally try to be as personable as I can, I give them my card and I tell them, “Contact me anytime,” because I see a lot of the people that usually come up are those people that have been contemplating on entering the research world, but just don't have that inspiration to do so. And so, I tried to, even if I don't know them, and I, when I see that they're really just eager to get into the research field, I follow through with contacting them after the conference, and that just starts an entire relationship.

Joe Gaccione 12:21

That is all the time we have today. Dr. Evangelista, so thank you so much for coming in.

Lorraine Evangelista 12:25

Thank you too, Joe.

Joe Gaccione 12:26

When this episode drops, we will have links on the episode page about UNLV Nursing’s research. Thanks for listening out there, have a great day.