Nurses lead more than 100 completed, continuing research studies at Cedars-Sinai

When acute care nurse practitioner Bernice Coleman, PhD, RN, discovered that her African-American heart transplant patients had lower survival rates than her Caucasian patients, she decided to find out why.

The first nurse accepted into Cedars-Sinai's Clinical Scholars Program, Coleman, in her laboratory research, uncovered genetic differences among African-Americans and Caucasians that are linked to the discrepancy in survival rates between the two ethnic groups.

"People used to say that African-Americans have lower survival rates because they are uneducated, don't take their meds, don't show up to clinics, don't have access to care or don't see the doctor," says Coleman, shown above. "This research shows there are genetic differences in these two groups and may well begin to answer the survival question."

Coleman, who was instrumental in establishing Cedars-Sinai's ventricular assistance device program for people who are not heart transplant candidates, joins a growing group of nurses at Cedars-Sinai who are conducting groundbreaking medical research and bringing these innovations to the patient bedside. More than 100 research projects led by nurses have been completed or are ongoing at the medical center, including investigations of ways to reduce surgical site infections, prevent patient falls and improve pain management.

Margo B. Minissian, MSN, RN, a cardiology nurse practitioner in the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, has conducted numerous research studies in heart disease and has been published in such medical journals as Circulation. Most recently, Minissian, shown at right, was awarded pilot funding from the Foundation of the National Lipid Association for her "Do Women with Statin-Induced Myalgias Have Low Vitamin D Levels?" study. She presented this abstract as a poster at the American College of Cardiology last March.

Nurses like Coleman and Minissian manage to balance their passion for patient care with a deep interest in science. While maintaining their busy workload as full-time nurses, they still find time to devote to their laboratory studies.

"Nurses will always find time to conduct explorations that improve patient care. How could we not? Our entire practice is about improving the patient's experience," says Coleman.

After beginning her career as a nurse's aide in Connecticut, Coleman received her master's degree from Yale Nursing School before she came to Cedars-Sinai in 1987 to work as a clinical nurse specialist in cardiac surgery. She earned a doctorate from UCLA's School of Nursing in 1999, and is now a research scientist in the Division of Nursing and nurse practitioner in Cedars-Sinai's heart transplant and ventricular assistance device programs.

In 2009, the GE Healthcare and American Association of Critical Care Nurses awarded her the Pioneering Spirit Award for her work as a nurse, a researcher and a mentor to other nurses, a role she says she cherishes. Despite her many academic and professional achievements, Coleman remains focused on what she describes as the heart of the nursing profession.

"As we care for patients, we are really caring for families," Coleman says. "Our goal is to deliver their loved ones back to those families."

Cedars-Sinai nursing research studies

Cedars-Sinai nurse scientists and nurses are serving as principal investigators in a number of independent research studies at the medical center in collaboration with other scientists. Following is just a small sampling of their studies that have been recently completed or are still ongoing:

  • Reducing time to difficult IV starts using ultrasounds
  • Hospital-acquired pressure ulcers: Can they be eliminated?
  • Surgical site infection reduction: colorectal surgeries
  • Eliminating alarm fatigue and improving response times in the ER
  • Exploring vitamin D supplementation
  • Non-invasive skin temperature assessment in the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit)
  • Reducing central line-associated bloodstream infections in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit)
  • Seasonal variation in cardiac transplant antibody-mediated rejection
  • Integrating frailty care into acute hospital workflow
  • Preventing avoidable heart failure hospitalizations