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This summer, Hillman Scholar Charity Lackey participated in a prestigious research program at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C. G-SOAR (Graduate Summer Opportunities to Advance Research) is a program available to first- or second-year graduate students currently enrolled in a biomedical PhD program, 2019 information available here. Lackey’s research interests include the prevalence of mental health disparities, especially among African American women, and her dissertation work will examine culturally relevant interventions to improve the psychological and physical wellbeing of African American women through measurable outcomes such as improved birth outcomes and stress management. Following is a first-person account of her time at the NIH this summer with G-SOAR.

This summer I had the opportunity to escape Chapel Hill and explore what life might be like in the DMV [Delaware, Maryland, Virginia] area, I also went there for an internship at the NIH. In honor of tactful honesty, this was perhaps the most transformative summer I did not know I was in need of.

Prior to this summer, I had been in Chapel Hill working and taking classes without pause since 2013. I had grown sick of the area and was aware that if I did not seek a change in scenery and pace I may fade into a dark abyss. Finding out I was accepted into GSOAR provided an avenue for this relief, and it was that and more. Being at the NIH reignited my passion for the basic sciences that I had ignored in order to rightfully develop a clinical and application-based lens, but I had forgotten how riveting and different this world could be.

As I began to form relationships with others in my program I subtly became aware of the unique position nurse researchers are in. So many people were in awe at what I was doing, and in their stupor asked some slightly irritating questions, mainly centric to “why.” This irritating yet persistent inquiry folds into a greater theme of this summer and that is to trust your intuition and seek validation from within. I say this because I sense that so many of us are unsure of what we, nurses who do research, bring to the table.

Thankfully, my mentor Dr. Gwen Wallen was well-versed in the struggles of being both a clinically astute nurse with vast research interests. She pushed me to think critically about my ideas, to make room for exploring them and allowing others to critically evaluate the ways in which I communicate those ideas. From this, an intense project was birthed wherein I re-conducted a scoping review and presented the preliminary results to a lab group with respected researchers in my areas of interest. This went extremely well, but only because I believed that I belonged there and had mentors to remind me of such truths when I wavered.

Although the summer was short, I learned that the world for social innovation and change by scientific inquiry is vast and ripe with opportunities for the compassionate explorer in nursing research. This program provided the exposure necessary if one is considering a career outside of a university setting, an experience I strongly encourage anyone that considers themselves an innovator to consider.

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