Skin cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. Depression, which is estimated to affect more than 15 million adults in the U.S. Pediatric oncology nursing, a challenging and often stressful work environment.

These are some of the health care issues being addressed in the award-winning research conducted by recent undergraduates at the UCF College of Nursing.

The BSN students, who are in the prestigious Honors in the Major (HIM) research program, are part of growing tradition of research excellence at the college.

The HIM program began at the College of Nursing in 1998, and has steadily increased in student participation under the leadership of Vicki Loerzel, PhD, RN, OCN. Today, the college’s high-achieving undergraduates represent the highest proportion of students engaged in the program university-wide.

“To be the top program for HIM students at one of the nation’s largest universities is an honor, and it reflects the high caliber of our students and faculty,” said Loerzel, who is an associate professor and endowed professor at the college. “The quality of our undergraduate theses continues to improve each year, and our faculty play a key role in mentoring our students to success.”

Recognized at SURE, STTI and Founder’s Day

Nursing students who recently received recognition for their research are Amanda Schultz, Ryan Woodmansee, Amber Atkinson and Chelsea Hughes.

Schultz received a Judge’s Choice Award in the Health Sciences category at the 2017 Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence (SURE) at UCF. This marks the ninth consecutive year that a nursing student has received an award at the showcase.

She was inspired to pursue her research, “Exploring the relationships between symptom management and distress in pediatric oncology nurses,” after watching nurses care for her five-year-old nephew who battled leukemia. “When I would visit, there would be times where I would notice that the nurses were in distress and I never knew why,” said Schultz, who graduated Cum Laude in spring 2017 and recently passed the NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse. “I was truly honored to not only be given the award, but to be given the opportunity to contribute to this area, help the nurses who work in this field and share it with the research world. This effort will always hold a special place in my heart.”

Woodmansee and Atkinson received first and second place, respectively, at the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing 25th Annual Scholarship Day. Woodmansee’s research was, “Nurse practitioner student knowledge and attitudes towards skin cancer assessments,” and Atkinson studied “The effect of biofeedback in coping for patients with depression.” The students presented their research posters alongside college faculty, graduate students, alumni and members of the local health care community who wanted to disseminate research findings.

“I always have had an interest in research and while I’m honored to receive the award, being able to participate in this experience is a reward in itself,” said Woodmansee, who began graduate school for his DNP at the University of Florida this fall.

Chelsea Hughes, ’16BSN, was the recipient of the 2017 UCF Founders’ Day HIM Outstanding Thesis Award in the Health and Physical Science category. Hughes was recognized for her thesis, “Dosing Accuracy When Administering Oral Medications.” Held annually since 1999, the university-wide awards recognize outstanding academic achievements of students and faculty for the preceding year. Hughes currently is working as a nurse at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

“Our HIM students work extremely hard on their research projects, and these forums allow them to realize that their projects are on par with professionals in the field,” said Loerzel, faculty chair for Schultz and Woodmansee. “It also provides an opportunity for the students to gain confidence in their skills and pride in their work as they intelligently discuss their research with others.”

“But, most importantly, recognition can be the difference between thinking you did a nice job on your thesis to catching the ‘bug’ that makes you want to pursue graduate school and further your research – and the nation needs more nurse scientists.”

Enthusiasm for research

Schultz, Woodmansee and Atkinson are just a small sample of the HIM students at the college. For the past few years, the college has consistently had 18 to 26 students enrolled in the prestigious program annually. The growing enrollment mirrors a growing enthusiasm for the program and research.

“I have seen the climate switch from me presenting about HIM to eligible students to students contacting me about the program prior to starting the nursing program,” said Loerzel. “Participation is also increasing at our regional campuses and among our concurrent students.”

To prepare students for success, Loerzel meets with each interested student about their research, provides direction and identifies a faculty member who would be the best fit as a mentor. The college also offers an Honors Research course where HIM students learn about evaluating evidence and scientific writing.

“HIM is a tremendous opportunity for students to learn that they are capable of generating ideas and working with the evidence to answer questions. It prepares them to be leaders in the workplace and in health care,” adds Loerzel.