Students at the UC Academic Health Center are some of the brightest and best in the country and through their hard work and dedication are often recognized with opportunities of a lifetime.
Angela Clark, a PhD student at the College of Nursing, started off the fall semester having just experienced one of those opportunities, as she was one of 25 applicants who received the highly competitive National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) Summer Genetics Institute (SGI) award, which funded her attendance to the SGI.
In her application for the award, she says she had to make a solid case for "how genetic studies will contribute to their current/future research and exemplify a solid background of academic achievement grounded in empirical science.” At the SGI, Clark’s peers included students and faculty from Emory, Yale, Penn, Stanford and the University of California at San Francisco.
Clark says the most interesting part of the SGI for her was the lab work, where participants had the opportunity to provide buccal specimens and test their own DNA. They then ran several different experiments to first stabilize the specimens, then ran tests to determine if they had an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and/or Fragile X syndrome, she says.
The experience also afforded Clark the chance to meet potential mentors and colleagues with whom she can collaborate in her future studies. For example, she says, on the NIH campus in suburban Washington, D.C., she met with NINR Director Patricia Grady, NINR Intramural Research Training Director Mary England and Lois Tully from the Office of Extramural Programs, Genetics and Biology, Training, and Chronic Diseases.
"The program directors were very helpful and promoted networking across and within the 27 institutes that make up the NIH,” says Clark.
Clark’s primary research focus is drug addictions; as she immersed herself in basic genetics/genomics principles and bench work she says she gained a better understanding of the role of genetics in addiction.
"Attending the SGI was the integral piece that links biochemistry to research and patient care. We have so much more to learn about not only our DNA, but how it is expressed and how it affects our body and our overall health.”
Is your background in health care?
I have nine years of clinical and public health nursing experience and have focused on the identification and treatment of at-risk communities and individuals. Through my various career positions and clinical experience, I have learned to assess communities and individuals in need and effectively organize and promote optimal outcomes for a variety of health disparities. I have remained an advocate for the public’s health, highlighting harm reduction strategies with a primary research concentration on addiction. I am very interested in all aspects of addiction from the genetics/genomics of addiction to bedside care/treatment and the process of recovery. I am currently working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the colleges of nursing and medicine on evaluating community responses to opioid overdoses. My dissertation research will build upon these experiences. I plan to draft and evaluate original curriculum for responding to overdoses.
Why do you think research on this topic is important?
In the state of Ohio, nearly five people die every day of unintentional drug overdose, and the rapid increase in unintentional drug poisoning has been linked to opioids (Ohio Department of Health, Violence, & Injury Prevention Program, 2013). The Ohio Department of Health (2012) reports that half of fatal overdoses involve prescription opioids while heroin-involved deaths account for 16 percent of drug overdoses. Ohio’s rate of unintentional overdose has increased 372 percent in the past decade (Ohio Department of Health, 2012). The majority of my patients in treatment identify using heroin or prescription opioids. I have witnessed their grief and despair and have seen the widespread and devastating impact of addiction in their lives. I have also had the opportunity to share in patients’ success: watching them graduate from inpatient treatment and attending their six-month sober celebrations. Research that contributes to the knowledge base regarding prevention, harm-reduction and treatment of addiction is vital to decreasing the rates of unintentional drug overdose.
Who benefits and how?
Complications from substance abuse and addiction are vast: HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, unemployment, crime, poverty, homelessness, relationship problems, etc. Addiction is chronic, progressive and often fatal. It is also very costly, as the consequences of substance abuse and addiction annual costs exceed $600 billion (National Drug Intelligence Center, 2011).Thus, we all benefit from multifaceted research that combats addiction. At the participant/patient level, I strive to raise awareness and knowledge about the risks associated with overdose, recognizing overdoses, and how to respond to overdoses. It is my hope, and current research suggests, that participants/patients who receive training on how to respond to overdoses share this information with others who then respond appropriately. I believe that the end-product of this research will increase opportunities for harm reduction, prevent fatal overdoses and improve our communities.
The scope of nursing and nurse education is changing dramatically. How do you feel this will impact healthcare?
The Institute of Medicine report, "The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” has made several recommendations for nurses and challenges us to practice to the full extent of our training, advance our education, improve research and technology and transform health care. At the College of Nursing, our vision is to creatively leverage technology and lead the transformation of health care informed by the people we serve. Nurses have been commissioned with the great challenge of transforming health care, and those generating original research are pivotal to this transformation. We are continuously addressing the everyday challenges and questions of all aspects of health care to advance patient care and improve the overall quality of life.
What role do you see yourself in as you enter the workforce?
I am very passionate about patient care, patient education and nursing education. Upon graduation, I plan to continue working with my interdisciplinary team and addiction treatment facilities in the community to implement harm reduction strategies.