After 15 fulfilling years as a psychiatric/mental health nurse, I left bedside nursing to pursue a masters of education degree in instructional technology. Upon graduation, I collaborated with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nutritional epidemiologists to develop web based instruction translating cutting edge genomics research into patient care. Soon after, my research group became focused on evaluating community and health care strategies to combat overweight. During two years of participating in regular meetings, I made two related observations: first, there were no nurse scientists involved and second, no one was developing strategies to use nurses as possible mitigators of disease risk. Nurses-employed not only in hospitals and clinics, but also in community settings such as businesses, churches, and schools-are an untapped, underutilized resource.
Given the limited time physicians have to treat overweight, nurses can play a pivotal role in solving this economically and socially expensive problem. I was inspired to pursue a PhD in nursing to discover how nurses could improve outcomes for overweight individuals. My purpose is to better understand how individual characteristics, psychological factors, and behavioral responses interact and alter the risks posed by abdominal obesity, a condition affecting more than half of American adults. This is of great importance particularly in light of the significant cardiovascular and metabolic health consequences associated with abdominal obesity. Clarifying these associations will have particular relevance for the clinical practice behavior of health professionals and may lead to the development and testing of clinical assessment tools and tailored interventions aimed at weight control for at risk populations. In the future, a critical component of my work will be to develop resources for nurses, empowering them with the knowledge and tools to intervene in the day to day management of overweight individuals to minimize disease risk.