When Lily Thomas, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, started her career as a nurse educator in nephrology at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) in 1983, she hadn’t expected that her career journey would lead to her dream job in nursing research.
“At the time there were no formal positions assigned to nursing research,” says Dr. Thomas. “However, that never stopped me from my vision of creating a foundation for developing nursing research. I felt confident that I could seek mentorship from faculty and experts in the field.”
While working as a nurse educator, Dr. Thomas joined a Ph.D. program, eventually assuming the role of Chair of the Nursing Research Council at NSUH, and later was appointed as Chair of System Nursing Research Council. These roles helped her to build the nursing research capacity across the health system and provided the foundation she needed to take on the inaugural role of vice president, system nursing research.
Read our discussion with Dr. Thomas below to learn about the important role of nursing research and its focus on care delivery and patient outcomes.
Can you tell us a little bit about the work of the nursing research team?
As nursing research and evidence-based practice continues to evolve across the health system, we are focusing on three key areas: Creating new knowledge through research; facilitating evidence-based practice (EBP), and building capacity and competency for research and EBP at the system’s sites. The overarching goal of research and EBP projects are to enhance patient care and outcomes. Our studies focus on patient safety, the impact of nursing interventions, symptom management, identifying and validating observed phenomenon and response to illness and treatment. Currently we are also working on some studies related to COVID-19.
What are some of the nursing research studies focusing on COVID-19?
Our team completed three studies after the initial surge in early 2020 and other studies are in progress. The research team at Northwell’s Institute for Nursing (IFN) and two of our hospitals conducted studies to understand the experiences of nurses and nurse leaders during the pandemic, impact of their deployment, as well as nurses coping during the pandemic.
Studies showed that nurses were motivated to work during the crisis because of their commitment to nursing and overall belief that nursing was a calling. Nurses never felt like they were doing enough for patients especially because they saw little recovery. Fortunately, the front line nurses used different coping mechanisms to remain resilient, and peer and team support mitigated feelings of being overwhelmed and powerless. Most nurses looking back on the care they provided during this period, described ways they had grown both personally and professionally. Quantitative studies are planned to utilize these results to explore programs that will ensure the physical and mental health of nurses.
How is research-based practice benefitting our nurses across Northwell Health?
Nursing research builds the knowledge base and science for practice, promotes excellence in nursing care, and impacts quality health outcomes. Our practice has evolved from a research-based practice to evidence-based practice (EBP). EBP combines the best evidence from research, the tacit knowledge successfully utilized in practice (clinician expertise) and patient values, and is utilized for problem-solving and clinical decision making.
We also have several sites that have Magnet Designation® (Magnet Designation is awarded by the American Nursing Credentialing Center in recognition of nursing excellence); and all the health system sites are on a journey to obtain the Magnet designation or re-designation. Meeting the Magnet criteria for Nursing Research and EBP are essential for this designation; the research team continues to prepare and partner with the sites to meet the criteria.
How can someone get into a nursing research career?
Gaining the appropriate knowledge and experience for nursing research will help in preparing for the role. That may include joining research teams as research nurses to becoming a nurse researcher/scientist, an EBP mentor or research faculty. My recommendation is to start participating in research-related activities as soon as your interest arises. At Northwell, this can be done by reaching out to site nursing research and EBP council members or nurse scientists/researchers. Nursing students can seek the mentorship of their faculty as well. Participating in research activities will give you an opportunity to understand research and assess if the role is right for you. Along with the experience it is essential to complete doctoral preparation for nurse researcher/scientist roles.
Why should nurses want to work at Northwell Health?
Northwell Health provides limitless opportunities for a rewarding career and personal and professional growth. The culture at Northwell is inspiring and empowering with unlimited opportunities for career changes or advancement. There are tremendous learning opportunities at Northwell provided through our IFN, Center for Learning and Innovation, and support for obtaining academic degrees through tuition reimbursement or for mentorship from nursing peers and leaders. My career is an exemplar —in 2013, I was inducted as a Fellow to the American Academy of Nursing because the work at Northwell qualified me to obtain this honor.
What career advice do you have for nurses?
Follow your heart! It is important to find meaning in your work and enjoy what you do. Identify what you want and the preparation you would need to reach your goal. Your dream will help you stay the course. Seek mentorship and create a plan to work toward your goal; however, be open to different paths that could lead you there. Learn to persevere! Never lose sight of your goal and celebrate what you achieve!