Uzoji Nwanaji-Enwerem, MSN chose to come to Yale School of Nursing (YSN) because it offers an ideal scientific environment for her career growth and development as a nurse scientist. YSN offers courses and seminars from all of Yale’s graduate and professional schools, providing access to some of the most innovative minds in healthcare, the arts and sciences, and thinking spaces to address the complex issues of today’s world.
YALE NURSING MATTERS (YNM): WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE YALE SCHOOL OF NURSING AS THE BEST PLACE TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP IN YOUR CAREER?
UNE: Beyond the immense prestige that the Yale PhD program in nursing is ranked among the top five programs by the National Research Council, YSN offers an ideal scientific environment for my career growth and development as a nurse scientist. Yale’s institutional commitment to fostering independent research careers supports my scientific development and expertise in my niche of academic interest. YSN offers courses and seminars from all of Yale’s graduate and professional schools, providing access to some of the most innovative minds in healthcare and the arts and sciences and thinking spaces to address the complex issues of today’s world.
YNM: TELL US ABOUT YOUR NURSING JOURNEY BEFORE ARRIVING AT YSN.
UNE: Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a nurse. Throughout my educational trajectory and clinical experience as a registered nurse and advanced clinical training as a nurse practitioner, I developed an understanding of the critical importance of the influence of environmental and societal factors on health outcomes among disadvantaged, vulnerable, and underserved populations.
During my educational journey at Winston Salem State University (WSSU)—a historically black constituent of the University of North Carolina—for my undergraduate degree and WSSU-Duke Nursing Bridge to the Doctorate (BRIDGES) Program for my master’s in nursing, I acquired experience with rigorous research. These included opportunities to obtain, prepare, and publish research data that were essential to stimulating my interest in pursuing a doctoral education at YSN.
YNM: YOUR RESEARCH AREAS OF INTEREST ARE PSYCHOSOCIAL STRESS, SLEEP HEALTH, AND CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW, AND WHO ARE YOU COLLABORATING WITH?
UNE: As an African American woman, I am particularly passionate about conducting research that will contribute to improving the health of underrepresented populations who often experience societal stressors, such as stigmatization. My experiences as a minority student inform my research interests and focus on research development.
My pre-doctoral education furthered my understanding of nursing research and granted me abundant opportunities to develop into an independent nurse scientist who conducts interdisciplinary research focused on stigma and other psychosocial and environmental concerns that contribute to health inequity, minority health, and drug addiction and treatment. Currently my research focuses on stigma and sleep.
Specifically, the purposes of my dissertation work, which will be an explanatory sequential mixed methods study, are to (1) evaluate the effects of Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)-related stigma on self-reported and objectively measured characteristics of sleep among patients on Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) and (2) to obtain a comprehensive understanding of experiences and perceptions of stigma and their associations with sleep deficiency and relapse and retention in MOUD.
Integrating both qualitative and quantitative data will improve understanding of multiple dimensions or the intersectionality of stigma, providing a more detailed and meaningful assessment from the perceptions of the study participants than previous research focused on more limited aspects of stigma.
Because the proposed study is nested within the NIH HEAL-funded mechanistic study (CLOUDS STUDY - the Collaboration Linking Opioid Use Disorder and Sleep), not only do I have the opportunity to collaborate with YSN faculty including my primary mentor, Dr. Nancy Redeker, and other faculty such as Dr. Lois Sadler, but also the opportunity to build interdisciplinary collaborations with those who are PIs of the parent study who are not at YSN including Dr. Klar Yaggi and Dr. Declan Barry.
There’s an old Nigerian Igbo proverb that states “Otu onye tụọ izu, o gbue ọchụ” which translates to “Knowledge is never complete, as two heads are better than one.” I am excited to be working with a team full of experts within their own discipline, as it will provide me with a wealth of knowledge.
YNM: HAS THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ALTERED YOUR RESEARCH PLANS?
UNE: COVID-19 has adversely impacted society in a variety of ways. This period of self isolation has caused a lost sense of physical community derived from the classroom academic settings. Nevertheless, the advanced technological age has allowed for connections to remain powered and for learning to still occur through virtual settings.
Beyond the negative, a positive that has transpired from the pandemic is the period of time that I was able to use to further reflect on important research questions and considerations for my dissertation work. Thus, COVID-19 has not altered my research plans, but further clarified my vision for what I hope to achieve.
YNM: WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH WHILE STUDYING AT YSN?
UNE: It is my goal to serve as a leading scientist in my field of research relating to societal influence on health, sleep, and addiction. My primary objective is to remain curious and ask the tough and unanswered questions. As an African American woman, I strive to use my work as a vehicle of positive change to not only resolve gaps in our understandings of issues in my realm of research, but to advance progress on resolutions to positively impact nursing and the communities it serves.
YNM: WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO OTHER NURSES WHO ARE CONSIDERING A PHD?
UNE: My greatest piece of advice is if higher education will play an integral role in your competence, ability to lead and serve, and contribute to scientific and academic research or to become a nurse educator, then applying for a PhD is the right decision. By attaining a PhD, an individual is positioned to serve at the forefront of addressing the future of healthcare and nursing knowledge and re-defining accurate standards and means to deliver the highest quality of care.