Versant Grant
Students in ECU's College of Nursing participate in a home health simulation as part of their clinical training. A new grant will help gather evidence to support the importance of professional development for nurses throughout their careers. (Photo by Jay Clark)

$2.1 million grant makes ECU center of nursing research

March 9, 2016

By Elizabeth Willy
University Communication

Dr. Elaine Scott likes to imagine a world where it's common practice for health care organizations to invest in nurses throughout their careers. And now she and the East Carolina University College of Nursing have the opportunity to influence the industry's mindset about this topic.

They are the recipients of a three-year, $2.1 million grant from the Versant Center for the Advancement of Nursing, or Vcan, to manage research that advances the understanding of how nurses influence safety and quality in health care as well as organizational sustainability and economic success.

"Nurses are what create the culture. They're the patient experience. They're a large part of the safety and the quality-of-care system," said Scott, director of ECU's PhD program in nursing. "How competent they are and how much they've been developed is an important expenditure for institutions that deliver health care."

Scott pointed out that nurses, who constitute the nation's largest health care profession, are also the largest group on any hospital's payroll. More often than not, they are perceived as a drain on resources rather than an asset needing to be invested in. Nevertheless, advancing their education levels and enhancing their skills helps nurse evolve into more effective partners in delivering care, which translates into improved patient outcomes and other benefits.

"This grant is an innovative endeavor designed to partner an academic center with a private corporation committed to improving the quality of patient care through developing and sustaining professional nurses within health care organizations," explained Michael Carman, Versant's managing partner.

Vcan houses the research efforts of Versant, a national company that provides competency development systems for new graduate nurses as well as nurses transitioning from one specialty to another. Since its founding in 2004, Versant has collected information and feedback from the nurses involved with its professional development offerings around the country. The result is an abundance of data for faculty, staff and doctoral student research.

This grant and the consequent partnership with Versant will make ECU the hub for investigations on the value of nursing, especially those using the Vcan longitudinal database.

Together with Dr. Mel Swanson, ECU's chief statistician for nursing and co-primary investigator on the grant, Scott and colleagues will oversee research efforts using the Vcan data and will spearhead new research initiatives partnering with Versant. The College of Nursing will evaluate applications from institutions and students outside of ECU wishing to use the data. The grant includes $200,000 annually to fund research awards for university faculty and doctoral students who participate in a national, competitive application process.

"The goal is to develop a network of researchers across the country who want to specialize in this area of research and to develop this center that houses this knowledge," Scott said.

As health care institutions are challenged to do more with less, it's important to demonstrate nursing's contribution toward achieving an organization's mission and outcomes, Scott explained. Agencies like the National Institutes of Health routinely fund research on clinical best practices, but few funds are available for this kind of research. The grant will allow Scott to study issues like the long-term influence that investing in nurses has on leadership succession planning, staff engagement and the retention of expert nurses in health care organizations.

"It matters how a nurse changes a dressing, whether they do it correctly or not. It matters whether they know the signs of sepsis and they recognize it early," Scott said, "but this is looking at the value derived from capacity-building in nurses."

With 3.4 million registered nurses in the nation and an aging population stressing an increasingly complex health care system, this topic is critical to the industry - and our national quality of life.

"Nurses are the lifeblood of our health care institutions," said Dr. Sylvia Brown, dean of the College of Nursing. "That's why this work is important and why we're thrilled to have this partnership and this center of research being established here at ECU."

Below: Dr. Elaine Scott, director of ECU's PhD program in nursing, meets with Versant Center for the Advancement of Nursing President Larissa Africa and Dr. Mel Swanson, chief statistician for the College of Nursing. (Photo by Conley Evans)