When you were a little girl, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I wanted to be a professional softball player. When I was a child, there were no girls’ teams, but my dad coached baseball. I always had plenty of boys to play with, which actually helped me become a better player. The passage of Title IX in 1972 made a tremendous difference for female athletes. Even at UNC prior to Title IX, women’s athletics were intramural and club level. Eventually, my dream would lead me to UNC, where I was recruited to play softball. The strong nursing program also helped in my decision. I still follow UNC softball and keep up with my teammates, several of whom are also in healthcare.
Describe your research in five words.
“Assessing depression after a stroke.”
Share the pivotal “moment” in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.
Treatment for stroke is extremely time sensitive — we have three hours from symptom onset to treat. At UNC, we decided to empower the triage nurses to activate a “code stroke” prior to physician involvement to shave minutes. One day, the code stroke pager went off and I rushed to the ED. The nurse told me I had 20 minutes to get the drug into the patient; and she had it ready to mix and treat based on word from the physicians. The patient made a full recovery. It was at that moment I realized that you research different methods or processes, you test them, and keep tweaking and testing them until it makes a difference for patient outcomes. That’s why I conduct research as a nurse practitioner.
What’s an interesting thing that happened while doing research?
We know that depression impacts health negatively. The difficulty is with screening and diagnosing depression after someone has a stroke. While trying to determine the prevalence and incidence of post-stroke depression in patients treated at UNC, we learned that depression worsens in some people even as their functional abilities improve. During the study, we had a subject that was functionally back to baseline, however, 30 days after discharge he was not interacting with friends, sleeping a lot, and having negative thoughts. The study team was able to intervene and by day 90 his mood had improved.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?
First, don’t be afraid to fail. You will learn a tremendous amount from failure. Second, surround yourself with people that will support you while challenging you. I am fortunate to have wonderful mentors in the Department of Neurology and the School of Nursing who have inspired a love of research. Remember, the smallest finding can lead to the greatest determinant of success.