Discovering a passion for research
College of Nursing faculty are increasingly known as much for their research experience as their clinical practice. Case in point: Meghan Potthoff, PhD, BSN’01, APRN-NP.
Potthoff — an associate professor of pediatric nurse practice and research — has centered her career on offering the best possible care to children and their families. Though her roles as clinician, professor and researcher now go hand in hand, her path to the latter was an unexpected one.
“If you would have told me when I was an 18-year-old nursing student that I would one day be a faculty researcher, I would have laughed,” says Potthoff, who is also a nurse practitioner with the pediatric hospitalist group at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha.
At first, her only aspiration was clinical practice. But then, over the years, she saw a lot of problems, many methods in need of improvement — particularly in the area of pediatric palliative care.
“As a young nurse, I saw many deaths of children,” Potthoff says. “In a lot of cases, we were trying to fit these children into an adult model of palliative care, and it wasn’t working very well. It was clear we needed new ideas and better models to fit the needs of the children and their families.”
The foundation of Potthoff’s research rests on the very questions she’s asked herself as a nurse practitioner: How do we provide better care? How can we reach more people? How could technology or altered models help us provide services in underserved areas?
Potthoff focused her doctoral research on developing an intervention to help parents of children with a life-threatening illness determine their priorities. The result was a card game called Go-Wish Pediatrics.
The game — which includes about 50 prompts — is intended to work like a lighthouse in a fog, helping parents navigate their feelings, fears and hopes in a difficult time. The game, Potthoff says, helps parents ask questions they might otherwise have trouble even asking themselves.
Questions like: Should I be worried to leave my child’s bedside? Is it wrong for me to stress about my finances when my child is going through this? How do I even begin to talk about my child’s death?
The game works like a microcosm for all of Potthoff’s research — helping children and families articulate their needs and responding to them. Letting patients inform how best to care for them.
In addition to the life-changing impact such faculty research can have for patients, there’s a clear benefit to students as well.
Potthoff says the College of Nursing’s increased emphasis on research won’t detract from the quality of education faculty provide. Quite the opposite, in fact. Better research means better education. Potthoff, for instance, plans to include students in her own projects.
“It’s important for our students to see faculty doing research because it’s important for them to think about things on a larger scale,” Potthoff says.
“The College of Nursing provides an environment that truly fosters innovative teaching and research. We’re training the kinds of professionals and seeking the kinds of solutions that could change the face of health care.”
And for nursing students not interested in research? Give it some time. You never know.