Research In Action

Research In Action

Erin Kennedy
My Journey to Nursing Informatics
May 11, 2021

When I entered college at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), I was eager to become a neuro-intensive care nurse. However, during my first semester, my entire worldview changed when my Nursing 101 professor challenged me and my classmates to consider nursing’s potential to influence broader populations and other disciplines.

After pursuing coursework, extracurriculars, and summer internships in healthcare management, entrepreneurship, and technology, I discovered research through the Injury Science Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

As a REU scholar I took part in driving behavior studies, including a study examining the distracted driving behaviors of parents with child passengers led by Dr. Catherine C. McDonald. 

During this time, I developed a toolkit of research skills that I still use today, including data analysis, literature review, manuscript writing, and presentation skills.

My experiences at CIRP solidified my decision to pursue a career as a nurse scientist.

Nurse to Nurse Mentoring

In addition to her vast program of research, Dr. McDonald is also a Registered Nurse, which made her an excellent mentor for me as I was the first nursing student to participate in CIRP’s REU program. This foundational research experience felt so natural to me and brought together all of my professional interests.

My experiences at CIRP solidified my decision to pursue a career as a nurse scientist. After completing the REU program, I continued to work with Dr. McDonald to publish two-peer reviewed papers, and she remains an important mentor to me today.

The Power of the CIRP Network

I am now a Registered Nurse and PhD student at Penn. After the REU program, I became a Hillman Scholar, a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded T32 predoctoral fellow at the NewCourtland Center for Transitions and Health at Penn Nursing, and also recently received a Ruth Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) for individual training grant to support my dissertation research from NIH.

My research now focuses on data science, informatics, and technology solutions to support transitions in care for older adults. While this might seem tangential to my foundation at CIRP, the Center has actually played a key role in every step of my journey.

I first discovered informatics during a REU seminar with Jeff Pennington, MSCS where we learned about the power of using big data and predictive analytics to transform research and healthcare delivery. After expressing an interest in informatics research, Dr. McDonald, introduced me to Dr. Kathryn H. Bowles, an expert in nursing informatics, who is now my dissertation chair. Dr. Flaura Winston, founder and co-scientific director of CIRP, is a key mentor for Hillman Scholars and hosts an annual seminar for us about healthcare innovation.

Even though my research is now applied in a different population, the skills that I developed and people I met at CIRP continue to inspire me in my work every day.