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Alex Fauer in navy scrubs

Scientist, Triathlete

Alex Fauer, BSN

Hillman Scholar in Nursing Innovation, University of Michigan

Research + Nursing = A Dynamic Career Path

As a sophomore at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, Alex Fauer faced a dilemma. He was excited about a career in nursing, but became deeply immersed in research, joining a social psychology research team looking at adolescent drinking and smoking behaviors. He was fascinated by the questions the team was asking, the rigor required by scientific research, and the knowledge that the study could help young people make healthier choices. However, from what he understood at the time, it didn’t seem like combining nursing and research was a viable career path.

Alex Fauer posing in hospital waiting area near windows

App for Good

The Hillman program gave Fauer the chance to immediately dive into meaningful research that offered the hope of improving the lives of health care professionals and seriously ill patients. In his first year, Fauer helped with a large clinical trial examining the handling of hazardous chemotherapy drugs, and why some nurses and other medical staff do not use protective equipment.

In his second year, he was part of a multi-disciplinary team studying whether an iPad app containing personalized medical information translated into laymen’s terms could meet the educational needs and improve the mental health outcomes of leukemia and lymphoma patients awaiting a stem-cell transplant. The study allowed him to combine his interest in psychology and interact with patients in the university hospital’s Bone Marrow Transplant unit to collect data about introducing the app and exploring tech as a way to deliver supportive care.

Alex Fauer viewing app on tablet

A Clinical Grounding, A Focused Body of Research

His time in the Bone Marrow Transplant unit had a profound effect on Fauer, sparking a broader interest in blood cancers. He is currently working with research data collected by his Hillman Scholars mentor, Professor Christopher R. Friese, PhD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN, whose research on understanding and improving health care delivery in high-risk settings, such as cancer, has received funding by the National Institute of Nursing Research, the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Fauer is studying patient-reported toxicities for patients who received chemotherapy at 29 ambulatory oncology clinics throughout Michigan. The team is analyzing both personal and practice-level characteristics of the clinics to see if there are links to the severity of symptoms patients experienced, ranging from nausea, vomiting, and pain to infections, falls, anemia, and bleeding.

Timeout for Triathlons

In addition to his challenging academic schedule and research responsibilities, Fauer also trains for and competes in about five or six triathlons a year. He fits in workouts either before or after his work at school and sees the intense physical training as a welcome complement to his graduate work. “Doing the [Hillman] program takes a real commitment, and I think it‘s important to have something else that gives you another source of fulfillment.”

Understanding, Integrating Practice and Policy

Looking ahead, Fauer’s doctoral dissertation will examine the reasons older adults with leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma experience adverse events while undergoing cancer treatment. He plans to use nationally representative Medicare data as the basis for his research, involving tens of thousands of patients. His goal is to identify ways to relieve their pain and improve their outcomes.

“Nurses learn a lot from the bedside. And they can use that information to inform research that can influence the next generation of research strategies and policies,” Fauer says. “There’s this intersection where the work at the bedside can inform the practice and the policies, and then those practices and policies can be brought back into practice.”

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