When asked to describe myself, I have a lot of options. As a nursing student, I wear a variety of hats. I’m a caregiver, educator, comforter, and advocate. In Wharton, I’m a leader, team member, and analyst. I’m also a rock climber, musician, resident adviser, friend, daughter, and sister. Of all the ways I can describe myself, I never would have used the term researcher until now.
I came to Penn swearing to never go into research. As fate would have it, that’s where I now find myself. My research career began with nothing more than a desperate need for employment. A faculty member suggested I reach out to a researcher in his department who studied neonatal ICUs. While I certainly had no interest in research, I liked babies and birth, so I decided to reach out to her. The events that have since unfolded precipitated from hard work, good connections, and a lot of help.
The work focused on collecting information about a survey tool that evaluates nursing work environments. My investigation revealed a body of research yearning to be consolidated. Within a month of starting my job, I applied for a grant to synthesize research concerning this tool. Over the course of the year, the project grew in both breadth and depth. I participated in the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research in Wharton, spending an entire summer working full time. During my second year, I received funding to present my research at the Eastern Nursing Research Society Annual Scientific Sessions and the Academy Health Annual Research Meeting. With every development in my research process, I asked myself, “How did this happen? I don’t like research, right?”
Those conferences offered valuable opportunities to make connections and learn about current research. One of the keynote speakers at Academy Health discussed the importance of health services research (HSR). He specifically addressed the significance of identifying oneself as a health services researcher. We advance evidenced-based practice by questioning the structures, polices, and economics of health care systems. Without HSR, the best that policy makers, managers, and administrators could do is take a shot in the dark. As complicated and dysfunctional as the health care system can be, we will never know how to improve it without health services research.
My motivation at work is no longer just a paycheck, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. I go because I value what I do. Over the past two years, I learned to ask questions, unpack seemingly unimportant assumptions, and then ask even more questions. I patiently await issue briefs or new research in my field. I talk endlessly about the pros and cons of new policy and fantasize about solutions for repairing our system. My time investment generated my initial attachment to research. However, understanding the significance of the work magnified that spark into a flame.
So, I’m Jordan, and I’m a health services researcher.