Nurse-Scientist Talks About Newly Appointed Associate Dean of Research

Kathryn Lee

By Andrew Schwartz

The UCSF School of Nursing is fortunate to have many faculty members whose curiosity about the details of effective patient care influences everything from bedside strategies to national policies.

Kathryn Lee, RN, PhD, FAAN, professor and the James P. and Marjorie A. Livingston Endowed Chair in Nursing of the Department of Family Health Care Nursing, is no exception.

In January 2010, Lee was appointed associate dean of research at the UCSF School of Nursing. She chairs the Nursing Science: Children and Families Study Section at the Center for Scientific Review at the National Institutes of Health. Lee is an original member of the Comprehensive Mentoring Program at the UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute, directs the T32 Nursing Research Training Program in Symptom Management and has been a revered mentor for many years, named the Nursing Doctoral Students Mentor of the Year in 1996 and 2001, and has experience in working with almost every kind of grant mechanism.

Lee’s research has focused on women’s health with an emphasis on sleep patterns, circadian rhythms, and fatigue. Her studies have included childbearing women, women with HIV/AIDS, and midlife women. She currently directs the Nursing Research Training Program in Symptom Management and is actively involved in the Symptom Management Nursing Faculty Group at UCSF School of Nursing and the Sleep Research Society. Lee teaches a variety of courses at both the master’s and doctoral level at UCSF.

Lee answered questions about the nursing school’s role leading innovative research that paves the way for new health care practices and policies.

Q: The research enterprise at the UCSF School of Nursing is among the most highly regarded in the country. How has it achieved that success?

A: As a research-intensive faculty in a research-intensive environment, we provide excellent training of doctoral students in both qualitative and quantitative methods, and strong support for faculty development.

Also, this is a wonderfully collaborative environment; everyone here brings certain strengths to the table. And although we’re across the country from the NIH [National Institutes of Health], we have a number of faculty members who have served as reviewers for study sections, and they bring that expertise back to us.

Finally, there is an expectation here that faculty will spend half of their 80-hour work week [laughs] doing research. To be given the mental and physical space to generate new knowledge and disseminate it to students and the broader community is a wonderful gift.

Q: What are your priorities in this position?

A: Obviously, I want us to stay No. 1 in NIH funding, but I recognize that what underlies that kind of success is our commitment to helping researchers get to where they need to be. My role, therefore, is to be both cheerleader and matchmaker.

By cheerleader, I mean that I need to keep faculty enthused about their work. This can be a challenge when people have to put aside their most pressing questions while they get the training they need. So, even as we demystify the process by breaking it into doable pieces, we have to find ways to help people maintain their passion and have some fun. It may sound obvious, but if you’re going to succeed, you have to have a passion for exploring your research questions.

The matchmaking involves finding ways for people to make use of the interdisciplinary expertise across this campus, including the other three schools. It’s also matching people with the right grant mechanisms and tools. The NIH has devoted a lot of time and energy to helping new investigators, but midlevel faculty also need help. Maybe they’ve already done an RO1 and published the findings, but now they’re struggling with what to do or who to collaborate with next.

We all need help, or at least a sounding board, when we are making decisions about where to go next with our program of research. Part of that decision-making process involves information about potential funding agencies and their current funding opportunities or priority areas, and the other part of that process may well require added expertise on your research team from another discipline.

Q: What do you see as the unique role of research that emerges from a school of nursing, as opposed to other areas of health care research?

A: I’m not sure it always is unique. If a nurse-scientist is doing it, it is nursing research, but we pursue many of the same types of questions as any other scientist.

I will say, however, that as nurses, we tend to ask different clinical questions and approach things differently. For example, many health researchers are interested in sleep, but whereas a pulmonologist may be interested in apnea, a neurologist in the stages of REM [rapid eye movement] sleep or a psychiatrist in depression associated with sleep deprivation, a nurse might hone in on those things that affect daytime functioning, or adherence, or side effects.

Another example: In an era with shortened lengths of stay, we tend to be the researchers asking, “Where is the patient going to go? Is the family ready to have them? How can we best prepare the patient and the family so that a readmission is less likely?”

Q: What are the most significant challenges to this school’s continued excellence?

A: The first thing that comes to mind is securing bridge funding for researchers because it’s not always easy to fit research into NIH frameworks. Some projects take longer, and you end up doing follow-up or ending earlier than you want, or trying to get another grant while you’re still collecting data. That can limit the types of questions you can ask, so I’d like to find ways to create pockets of money that help people not get caught within the constraints of granting agencies.

I also think nursing needs to be more involved in the CTSI [UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute]. We are ideally suited to the translational piece, and the CTSI wants to tap into nursing, so nurse-researchers need to more aggressively assert ourselves into that program and its resources.

Q: What does assuming leadership for the Office of Research mean to you personally?

A: I’ve been here for over 20 years, and for the next decade, I’d like to use this opportunity to make a difference for our school, and not just change things to meet my own needs. I’m beginning to realize that I’ve actually learned something in my 20 years, that I do have some things I can share, and this is a great opportunity to pass it on.

Another thing I’ve been reminded of is that it’s not just faculty who make this research program what it is. The staff is very professional and gets a lot of pleasure from being part of the research enterprise. Michelle Kim and Sharon Lee help me realize that I can’t get the work done if I don’t have good, passionate partners on the staff side.

Related Link:

UCSF School of Nursing, Faculty Profile, Kathryn Lee