My job

Collaborative research is the way forward for nursing

Huda Abu-Saad Huijer, professor of nursing science at the Rafic Hariri School of Nursing at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, reveals how her clincal supervision skills informed and influenced her career.

Huda Abu-Saad Huijer, professor of nursing science and director of Beirut’s Rafic Hariri School of Nursing: ‘Working with junior researchers has been the highlight of my academic career’ 

What is your role?

I am professor of nursing science and director of the Rafic Hariri School of Nursing at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, where I am responsible for the administration and academic development of the school.

How did you first become interested in nursing research?

After receiving my PhD from the University of Florida, I applied for my first academic appointment at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF). I was responsible for the clinical supervision of nursing students on paediatric wards, where I noticed that children’s pain management was not being adequately assessed and patients were suffering needlessly on post-operative floors.

As nurses were hesitant in prescribing and administering pain medications, this observation triggered my interest in studying pain assessment and management in children and the development and testing of assessment tools for clinical and research use. Paediatric pain management evolved to include palliative care in children and, at a later stage, pain relief and palliative care across their remaining life span.

What makes a good nurse researcher?

Being passionate about research. At UCSF my interest in children’s pain led to numerous research opportunities. Nurses need to have the knowledge and skill to conduct research, seek guidance through expert mentorship and be open to constructive criticism. They should be rigorous in their work and, most importantly, be honest and diligent in publishing their results.

What nursing research achievement are you most proud of?

The support of a senior colleague at UCSF was instrumental in me being one of the first nurse researchers to publish in the renowned non-nursing journal Pain on pain assessment in a body of work that is still considered seminal in its field. This was in addition to many articles on decision-making in nursing, post-operative pain and pain in the cognitively impaired. A number of studies were also conducted on the quality of palliative care among children, adults with cancer and on older adults.

Where have you worked previously?

I was granted a sabbatical leave after five years at UCSF to continue my research studies on paediatric pain in Paris. This was an incredibly stimulating experience and led me to accept another challenging position at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. I could not speak a word of Dutch when I took the position, so one of my first challenges was to learn to speak it.

My last move to the American University of Beirut – back to my country – was the most gratifying of all. I wanted to give back and, as director, I oversaw the university’s growth in research productivity, international accreditation and visibility.

What do you enjoy most about your work? 

Mentoring and supervising PhD dissertations and working with junior researchers has been the highlight of my academic career. As head of nursing science and director at the centre for nursing research at Maastricht University, I selected the best masters students for PhD studies with me and our work together was published in a large number of interdisciplinary journals. I was their mentor, but in the process I learned a great deal from them. All my PhD students have gone on to become excellent researchers.

What or who inspires you, and why?

My mother was a secondary school teacher in an era where women were not permitted to work outside the house. She has shown me that it is possible to hold a challenging position and at the same time, be an excellent mother. I was also fortunate to have worked with accomplished researchers in the US and Europe, all of whom have been a source of inspiration. 

What advice would you give to a nurse who is working in clinical practice, but has an interest in developing a research career?

Nurse clinicians interested in research careers should aim to get an advanced master of science in nursing degree with a clinical focus, and complete a PhD under the mentorship of a seasoned researcher. I strongly advise clinicians to work collaboratively with an interdisciplinary team because collaborative research in the healthcare field is the way forward for nursing. 

American University of Beirut’s Rafic Hariri School of Nursing


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