Science at the bedside
How one researcher is helping more nurses ask the right (research) questions
By Dahlia Ghabour
She researched. One thing always led to another, she learned. Now, she’s five months into her new two-part job as director of clinical research for the College of Nursing and administrative director of research for the UF Health Shands department of nursing and patient services.
Her job asks her to make connections — between students and subjects, questions and answers, doctors and families. She is the bridge.
“I believe in interdisciplinary research, collaborative research,” Duckworth said. “If you look at what studies get funded by the NIH (National Institutes of Health), and other foundations, that’s what they want. That’s who the grants go to.”
Duckworth said her whole career has been spent working with doctors on various clinical projects. She has a specific interest in asthma, sickle cell disease and genetic epidemiology, which she says are all interconnected.
Her own research started in the early 1990s at a critical care unit in Jacksonville. There she worked with Niranjan Kissoon, M.D., a pediatric and critical care specialist, to study the effects of exhaled nitric oxide levels present in asthmatic children on the basis of a theory their levels were naturally higher than normal.
When a 7-year-old’s nitric oxide levels ended up being a flat zero, Duckworth knew she had stumbled across something worth looking into — it turned out the child had sickle cell disease.
“I wondered if other sickle cell kids had low levels,” Duckworth said. “A lot of them weren’t diagnosed with asthma but had it, or had irritable airways; you would think they would have elevated levels. As it turns out, children with sickle cell disease and asthma are more vulnerable to acute chest syndrome. That’s what my dissertation was about.”
She credits much of her success to the mentorship she received from John Lima, Pharm.D., who she worked closely with for several years at the Center for Pharmacogenetics/Pharmacogenomics and Translational Research at Nemours Children’s Hospital.
Duckworth is currently studying weight change and asthmatic control in children with asthma who have had their tonsils removed.
She spends at least half her week at UF Health Shands Hospital meeting with nurses to help them formulate research questions and discuss ideas.
“I think you have to have the right mentors or right people around you,” she said. “I had the right people around me to encourage me — people who had a respect for what nursing brought to the table.”
Duckworth maintains that nursing is a vital part of the patient-doctor-family dynamic. When she was 12, she was hit by a car and spent a lot of time in a hospital with a “really mean nurse.” In those days, parents had limited visiting hours, siblings couldn’t visit at all — and being coldly treated during her stay formed her resolve. She was going to be a nurse, and she was going to be nice.
Having a passion for the work has always driven her to think of new angles to look at problems — and the most important part of any project is assembling the right team.
“Be collaborative,” she said. “That’s my favorite thing to do — bring groups together. We can make a difference.”