‘While we treat diseases, we do not treat the root cause’
When and why did you develop an interest in research?
During my master’s degree, I was able to publish my research thesis and was hooked on research.
Who has been most influential on your career as a nurse and as a researcher?
While I had lots of great clinical ideas for research, my post-doctoral mentor, David Ronis, was an excellent methodologist and statistician, and he was definitely the most influential person on my grant writing.
Of your published research, which do you think has been the most influential and why?
Two areas of work have been the most influential. The first is my research that has shown that health behaviours, particularly smoking, can negatively influence biomarkers and survival among cancer patients. The second is showing the effectiveness of nurse-administered smoking interventions in real-world settings.
In a large cohort of head and neck cancer patients, I was the first to show that pre-treatment IL-6 predicted survival among head and neck cancer patients controlling for demographic, clinical, treatment, and health behaviour characteristics. To conduct this work, I followed over 800 head and neck cancer patients for more than ten years resulting in over 25 publications on their health behaviours and outcomes. In addition, I have conducted large randomised and quasi-experimental trials to test health behaviour change interventions, particularly smoking cessation interventions, among various populations.
You have published widely on cancer-related issues. What are the current research challenges?
While we treat the diseases, we do not treat the root cause of the diseases including smoking, problem drinking, obesity, sun exposure and risky sexual behaviour. The challenge is getting health behaviour interventions integrated into healthcare systems.
Which of your achievements has given you the most satisfaction?
My ability to train large numbers of nurses in healthcare settings to conduct smoking cessation interventions in real-world settings. Many said it could not be done. What is even more satisfying is watching the population quit rates improve. Every quit is a potential life saved.
What research projects are you currently working on?
I am trying to get cancer centres to implement smoking cessation interventions. It kills me when I see people getting chemotherapy with a pack of cigarettes in their pocket and healthcare providers do not address it.
The other area that I am working on is getting outdoor workers to use sun protection behaviours as melanoma risks are increasing.
I have also been involved in developing technological interventions, such as web-based and text message interventions.
What tips would you give someone new to research in nursing?
The same tips I would give anyone entering a new field: persevere, keep trying and do not give up.
What does the future have in store for nursing and nursing research?
While I am excited about the role of the doctor of nursing practice in terms of getting evidence into practice, I am worried about losing good PhD researchers in the profession. Nurses are the largest group of front-line providers and have the ability to make a huge impact on patient populations. Studies showing the efficacy of nursing interventions are strongly needed.
Sonia Duffy is the Mildred E Newton endowed chair at Ohio State University College of Nursing and is also a research scientist at the Department of Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System in the United States