Researcher awarded International Nightingale Award

Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Dr Therese Burke, has been selected to receive a 2020 International Nightingale Award of $5000 to put towards her research project investigating multiple sclerosis (MS) nursing.

Awarded by the International Organization of Multiple Sclerosis Nurses (IOMSN) and German-based science and tech company Merck KGaA to 10 researchers from around the world, the Nightingale Awards celebrate the inaugural Year of the Nurse and Midwife. Dr Burke’s winning project is fitting because it aims to define the role of MS Nurses in Australasia; exploring their skillsets, as well as their support and education needs.

In recent years MS-related knowledge has expanded and improved exponentially, leading to huge advances in medicine, treatment and MS care in general. Alongside these scientific advances, the role of MS Nurses has grown and responsibilities associated with these developments has increased – yet knowledge about the support and educational needs of these nurses has been lacking. Dr Burke argues that these needs should be explored so that nurses can be supported in their professional development and to achieve safe, effective, informed nursing care for patients.

As part of her study, Dr Burke has anonymously surveyed a broad cross-section of MS Nurses to answer the question: “What is the lived experience of MS Nurses in Australasia?” Her survey queried the current skillset of MS Nurses, the sources of support, education and learning, what areas of support are needed for the nurses to function well in their role and how the nurses define their specialty role. She also followed up with one-on-one interviews to gather further insights into the lived experiences of MS Nurses.

“The ultimate aim of the study is for the findings to have the capacity to provide direction for MS Nurses in their careers, bring clarity and focus to their role, improve support and education programs, and to promote a healthy and well supported MS Nurse community,” explains Dr Burke, who is a Multiple Sclerosis Certified Nurse herself and has worked in the MS Nursing space – largely in research – for more than 15 years.

At the beginning of the year Dr Burke was living in China and initially planned to travel to Sydney to work on the project in a part-time capacity within Notre Dame’s School of Nursing. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she found herself moving back to Australia and with plenty of time on her hands to focus on this research. “I have been working solely on this for the past six months. As a result, the project has been accelerated,” she says. Dr Burke is now at the data analysis phase of her research and expects to have results before the end of the year.

Working alongside Dr Burke as a Sub-investigator is Associate Professor in the School of Nursing, Joanna Patching, who also supervised Dr Burke through her PhD, which looked into the lived experience of MS patients. Dr Burke’s thesis made recommendations to health care professionals on how that experience – and therefore the quality of life of MS patients – could be improved.

“Therese graduated in 2019 and, based on observations from the PhD, we decided to do some post-doctorate work together exploring and defining the role of MS Nurses,” says Associate Professor Patching.

It’s this work that has attracted praise from IOMSN for having the potential to contribute to the expansion of multiple sclerosis nursing in a way that will have a lasting impact.

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