$100k Hartford Grants Boost Ph.D. Students

By Lee Lewis-Husk

quin-julieStudents earning their Ph.D.s in nursing wear many hats. In addition to coursework, research and writing, many work clinical or other non-academic jobs to support their studies and cover living expenses. Every penny of grant and scholarship funding helps these emerging nurse leaders devote more time to their professional goals.   

Two School of Nursing Ph.D. students have received major support from the National Hartford Centers of Gerontological Nursing Excellence. Julie Bidwell, R.N., B.S.N., and Quin Denfeld, R.N., B.S.N., C.C.R.N., C.S.C., are recipients of the Patricia G. Archbold Predoctoral Scholar Award, which provides $50,000 per year for two years to Ph.D. students with a demonstrated commitment to gerontological nursing. Archbold directed OHSU's Hartford Center for Gerontological Nursing Excellence and served on the School of Nursing faculty.

Denfeld was inspired to earn her Ph.D. after working with older adults in one of the OHSU critical care units. The award has particular significance for her because one of her clinical mentors, assistant professor of internal medicine and geriatrics Colleen Casey, Ph.D., A.N.P.-B.C., C.N.S., received the Hartford Foundation award in 2005. "I thought it was an amazing honor. It's a privilege to receive it," she says.

The funding helps Denfeld and Bidwell focus on research. "Many doctoral students can't commit to their academic programs full-time," Bidwell says. "I can be here all day, every day. Having funding has even made it possible to start my data collection early." Both students hold concurrent funding from other competitive sources, Denfeld from the Portland chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation and Bidwell from the National Institute of Nursing Research.

In separate projects, Bidwell and Denfeld are studying older adults with heart failure, the fastest-increasing cardiovascular illness. Associate professor of nursing Christopher Lee, Ph.D., R.N., principal investigator of a four-year, $1.5 million NINR study of heart failure in OHSU patients, advises both students. Denfeld is investigating the relationship between objective measures of heart failure severity and patients' presenting symptoms, which don't always match. In addition, physical frailty is linked with adverse health outcomes, and Denfeld is studying its relation to heart failure symptoms and disease markers. The Archbold award requires Ph.D. students to have appropriate mentorship, and Denfeld is co-mentored by professor of nursing Jill Bennett, Ph.D., R.N., an expert in physical functioning and quality of life.

In the same patient population, Bidwell studies how patient and caregiver health and quality of life change over the course of therapy with ventricular assist devices, or VADs. "Illness is rarely an independent experience," she says. "We hope to gain a better idea of what to tell patients and caregivers about the VAD experience and determine who—in both groups—is at risk for adverse outcomes." Bidwell is co-mentored by Karen Lyons, Ph.D., a family psychologist at OHSU who specializes in dyads (relationships between two people).

Both also credit OHSU and the School of Nursing's Hartford Center for Gerontological Nursing for their productivity. "I came to OHSU in part because of its long tradition of supporting gerontological nursing scholars," says Bidwell. Awards to predoctoral students such as Bidwell and Denfeld ensure OHSU will continue leading in this growing field. 

The Archbold award is designed to increase the nation's pool of gerontology nurse leaders. Applicants must demonstrate a commitment to academic gerontological nursing, and work closely with their mentors to develop individual career plans. "Planning helped me think critically about where to take my research, teaching and leadership activities," says Denfeld. "The Hartford Centers create well-rounded researchers."

Bidwell and Denfeld will also attend the National Hartford Centers of Gerontological Nursing Excellence leadership conference and the Gerontological Society of America's annual scientific meeting. "OHSU and the Hartford Center have supported me and many other students to attend these conferences," Bidwell says. "When you attend as a graduate student, you have the opportunity to meet leaders in the field very early in your career, which is helpful in choosing your own path."

The School of Nursing contributes 10 percent of the Archbold award's value each year. Applicants must attend institutions with strong gerontological nursing programs, and the school is proud to be one of the first five institutions ever designated as a Hartford Center based on its strong gerontology programs.