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Erickson pursuing research,
finds nursing program a perfect fit
April 20, 1998

"It sent shivers down my spine," says Karen Erickson of her first honors meeting, when she heard a nursing professor present her research on survivors of breast cancer.

"Not only did I know I was advancing in the right career, but I was fascinated with the quality of implications research has for nursing and health care practice," says the nursing.

major. Since that first honors meeting, Erickson has embarked on her own research projects, first through an independent study and now in the University Scholars program, one of the most competitive and prestigious academic programs available to students at UConn.

A senior with one year until graduation, Erickson transferred to UConn after spending her freshman year at Bryn Mawr College. She says UConn's nursing program has been the perfect fit for her.

"The nursing faculty are amazing," Erickson says, adding that two professors in particular have made a difference in her life. "Cheryl Beck and Deborah McDonald have been absolutely incredible mentors, professors and friends," she says..

Erickson's first experience with research was an independent study she took with McDonald. She transcribed recorded interviews for McDonald's study on post-operative pain management, and coded and organized data for analysis. Erickson says "there was a massive amount of data" and she decided to do a spin-off study from McDonald's research. She presented the results of her work during the Frontiers in Undergraduate Research poster session April 18 and 19.

Erickson's quantitative study describes how women communicate their pain while in the hospital after a surgical procedure. "A lot of patients in hospitals don't realize they have to tell the nurse about their pain and be articulate about it, in order to get relief. No one should ever have to be in pain, but pain is a major problem in hospitals," Erickson says.

She says there are a number of reasons why patients don't get the relief they need. "Sometimes patients expect nurses to watch their facial expressions, some people have language barriers and some want to be considerate of the nurse," she explains.

Erickson's University Scholar research project involves adolescent Latina women who are breast feeding their babies. "I wondered why women didn't breast feed, because it's the best thing you can possibly do for your baby," she says. She chose to study Latina adolescents because they don't breast feed as much as other groups, such as African Americans or Caucasians.

Erickson says no study focusing on the factors that encourage successful breast feeding, from an adolescent's point of view, has yet been conducted. So far, she has completed a review of the literature, has the methodology in order and will be recruiting participants.

Erickson, who is finishing her clinical rotation at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, works the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift every Wednesday and Thursday. She is assigned to a different patient each week and handles every aspect of care for that patient. "I love it," she says. When she's not hurrying off to the hospital, she studies for exams, does homework and writes papers. And then, of course, there is her research. "It's very hard work. It's challenging and exciting. There is never a dull moment," she says. "In nursing, you'll never, ever stop learning," she says.

And her professors keep her on top of state-of-the-art research in the field. "They incorporate new research we haven't heard about in their lectures. You're not going to get that out of last year's text book," she notes.

"Everything you want is here in the School of Nursing," she says. "If you want opportunities, they're all laid out in front of you. You just need to take them."

Sherry Fisher