Undergraduate research prepares future nurses 

Shania Schmitz, Blessing of the Hands ceremony, St. Joan of Arc Chapel

Last year, Dr. Kelly Calkins, assistant professor, began researching how the coronavirus pandemic was affecting the mental health of critical care nurses on the front lines. She executed qualitative interviews with a national sample of intensive care unit nurses to evaluate their experiences and the effects on their mental health. 

As Calkins’ research moved into its analysis and publication phases, her work was supported by undergraduate researcher Shania Schmitz, who reviewed the nurses’ interview transcripts, grouped similar experiences into themes and supplemented the research with additional findings on improving care for critically ill patients in the ICU. 

This was Schmitz’s first dive into research. Traditionally reserved for graduate students, research opportunities are now trending for undergraduates in the college — and the experiences are proving valuable for career and graduate school preparation. 

Dr. Kelly Calkins

“To increase interest in research, it is vital to get students involved in the research process. By giving undergraduate students an opportunity to research, we help them discover their interest in it, foster their desire to seek new knowledge and hopefully have more students interested in pursuing an advanced degree, which will further elevate the profession of nursing,” Calkins says. 

Because Schmitz has aspired to be a critical care nurse since freshman year, she sought out research “to begin improving care for critically ill patients by indirectly decreasing complications and improving outcomes for them while also analyzing comforting measures,” she says.

As she prepares to graduate this spring, Schmitz admits that she did not anticipate graduating into a pandemic. Due to her research observations, she is well aware that challenges as a critical care nurse lie ahead. Yet, she is more than encouraged to pursue additional research opportunities after graduation.

“My research efforts indirectly affect the critically ill patient’s outcomes and provide nurses with evidence-based interventions,” she says. “I find it incredibly rewarding to contribute to my future profession by bringing awareness of the effects of COVID-19 not only on patients but also nurses.”

—Sarah Koziol, Arts ’92