It Takes a College to Raise a Researcher

Rush University College of NursingBy Melanie C. Dreher

If increasing the number of NIH awards is a measure of success, the Rush University College of Nursing deserves high marks on its research report card. In three years, we have gone from one NIH-funded project to eight … not bad, given a relatively small senior research faculty.

But these results tell only part of the story. The real achievement is that this dramatic proliferation was not accomplished by recruiting academic “stars” to bring their programs of research to Rush. In fact, only one of the eight awards was granted to a new member of the faculty. The rest were seasoned faculty members who had been at Rush for several years. For five of the investigators, this was their first NIH award.

So what’s different? For sure, the creation of an Office of Research and Scholarship led by an associate dean who is a researcher herself, staffed by a statistician, data manager and knowledgeable support staff who understand NIH requirements for format and budget, located in a designated space equipped with smart boards to discuss, assemble and plan the project have all made a difference.

But the presence of expert scholars and a research office, no matter how well appointed, is not sufficient to accomplish the job. Rather, it takes a constellation of incentives, expectations and investments throughout the college, in which all members of the faculty and staff contribute to, and benefit from, the research enterprise and ultimately share the pride in its fulfillment. Department chairs, accountable for the development of a world-class faculty, negotiate with the associate dean of academic affairs to provide a modest additional investment of “protected” time for faculty members with research potential. In consultation with the associate dean for research, they help promising scholars develop a research program plan with timelines, and then monitor their progress routinely.

A small percentage of the indirect costs for each award are returned to the chairs to promote additional research and clinical scholarship in their departments. Since all members of the full-time and ranked faculty are expected to prepare at least one scholarly paper each year, the clinical faculty is nourished by the presence of the research faculty, who often serve as co-authors.

Each proposal submitted to NIH reflects the time and effort of many people and the investment of the whole college — from the department chairs who identify and encourage potential researchers, to research colleagues who participate in the “think tanks,” reviews and “re-reads” that enhance each proposal, to the practice colleagues who inform the research proposal clinically and complete the cycle from practice-based evidence to evidence-based practice.

Last year, the faculty voted to add a standing research committee to our faculty governance structure. This action was both substantive and symbolic in confirming the democratization of the research enterprise in the College of Nursing. Research is not a solitary enterprise and every proposal represents a college-wide effort.

Melanie C. Dreher, PhD, RN, FAAN, is John L. and Helen Kellogg Dean
of the College of Nursing of Rush University.

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