The intricate research Barbara St. Pierre Schneider, RN, DNSc, RN, CNE, has been conducting on muscle crush injury has its roots in her early nursing studies. “As a nursing student, I learned about the effects of sleep deprivation on the immune system,” she said. This piqued her interest on how the immune system has an impact on injury recovery.
St. Pierre Schneider’s investigation into muscle crushing injuries, which she began four years ago, is the initial step into research for many undergrad and graduate nursing students at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where St. Pierre Schneider is an associate professor in the School of Nursing.
“One of the aims of my current muscle crush project was to look at why different blood cell types arrive at injured muscles,” she said. The inflammatory response, which first snagged St. Pierre Schneider’s interest as a student, still is her focus.
What’s novel is that these changes occurred in the muscle without any concurrent trauma — there was no damage to skin. “We wanted to be sure we were studying just the reactions in the muscle injury,” she said.
Another element of the study, also funded by a Department of Defense grant, was to examine the effect of low atmospheric pressure of aircraft on muscle recovery, as atmospheric pressure lower than that at sea level has less oxygen content.
“We found that one type of macrophage was reduced by the lower atmospheric pressure, so the next step is to find whether muscle healing is affected by this change,” St. Pierre Schneider said.
Research implications for injured soldiers
The results of the research have applications for injured soldiers transported by air from the battlefield. Understanding how to counteract the effects of lower cabin pressure can help ensure that muscle recovery occurs in a timely manner, she explained.
Nurses also can apply the results of the studies in their clinical practice, according to St. Pierre Schneider. “Nurses are involved in helping patients engage in physical activity after injury and designing a care plan,” she said. “With this knowledge, nurses can have a stronger appreciation and deeper understanding of what the patient is experiencing, why healing is taking more time.”
If one’s muscles aren’t recovering in a timely way, she added, it limits the person’s overall well-being.
A retired nursing faculty member and two graduate nursing students assisted with research procedures, data collection and data entry on the muscle crush project, which was published in August 2013 in Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine. She is now finishing a manuscript with another set of data she hopes will be completed in the next few months. Her next research grant proposal will target understanding how a low atmospheric pressure leads to a reduction of white blood cells in muscle injured by crush.
[accordion title=”What it takes to be a nurse researcher” load=”hide”]Barbara St. Pierre Schneider, DNSc, RN, CNE, noted when she talks to clinical nurses about becoming involved in research, many are leery. However, she points out, many skills nurses already have can be transferred when implementing research, including using observation skills; identifying patterns; making connections with information and appplying technical and psychomotor skills.
“A lot of the concepts we use in nursing are also valuable in research, such as taking data you’ve gathered and synthesizing it, then forming a conclusion,” she said.
“Ask yourself, ‘Are you curious and an analytical thinker? Do you like solving puzzles?’” She believes nurses who answer “yes” would find research compelling.
St. Pierre Schneider suggests nurses interested in pursuing research look for opportunities in their clinical setting, as well as at nearby universities. A nurse could volunteer to participate in a study to learn some skills. Another option is to go back to school, looking for a program that is research-intensive. “I think most graduate programs have a research course; that’s how my interest in research started,” she said.[/accordion]