UIC selected for ‘Future of Nursing’ grant, names two scholars

The University of Illinois at Chicago has been selected as one of 25 U.S. nursing schools to receive the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Future of Nursing scholars grant to increase the number of nurses earning PhDs.

Keesha Roach

Keesha Roach

Alison Hernandez and Keesha Roach were chosen by the college to receive the scholarship, which not only provides financial support but also mentoring and leadership development to nurses who commit to earning their doctoral degrees within three years. Hernandez and Roach are among only 48 nursing scholars in the country to receive the prestigious award this year.

“The UIC College of Nursing is honored to be selected again as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation partner with the goal of accelerating the development of the next generation of PhD-prepared nurse leaders,” said Linda Scott, associate dean for academic affairs and director of doctoral studies for the college.

“Coupled with the depth and breadth of our faculty and our extensive research, UIC has a robust learning environment for scientific inquiry and skill development for future nurse scholars,” Scott said.

Fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s more than 3 million nurses have a PhD in a nursing or related field. The Future of Nursing scholars program aims to increase that number to conduct more nurse-led science and discovery and to educate the next generation of nurses.

Nurses receive their doctoral degrees in the U.S. at an average age of 46 – about 13 years older than PhDs in other fields. The program provides an incentive for nurses to start doctoral programs earlier, so they can have long leadership careers after earning their degree.

Hernandez, a certified fitness instructor, is interested in examining holistic interventions that can be used to improve the safety and independence of older adults, particularly those facing early to moderate dementia.

Alison Hernandez, College of Nursing

Alison Hernandez

Born and raised in Mexico City, she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and Spanish from the University of Miami. She then served as clinical research coordinator for studies of multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease at the John P. Hussmann Institute for Human Genomics in Miami.

“The satisfaction I derived from working with physically and cognitively disabled patients gave me a glimpse as to how rewarding it would be to become a nurse specializing in rehabilitation and long-term care,” Hernandez said. She moved to Chicago in 2012 to pursue a master’s degree in nursing practice at DePaul University, where she was named an Albert Schweitzer fellow and designed a year-long physical activity and health education program for underserved senior citizens in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

Following her graduation from DePaul, Hernandez joined the nurse residency program at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center’s medical surgical trauma unit. She is interested in conducting research on how low-impact exercise such as yoga can improve mobility, balance and safety in a person’s daily life, especially senior citizens.

“I want to provide older adults with low cost, effective and safe ways to prevent injury and reduce health care expenses,” she said. “I believe my proposed studies on cognitive and physical health will contribute to the early detection, prevention and better management of depression and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease among older adults.”

Roach, a Chicago native, graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in psychology. During that time she served as a research assistant on a study on alcoholism gene expression in the Pima Indian population, conducted at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and National Institute of Mental Health.

After graduation, Roach returned to Chicago to work as a research assistant at the University of Chicago’s Howard Hughes Medicine Institute, performing research on the genetics of Type 2 diabetes and obesity. She continued the project at the Pasteur Institute’s Center for the Study of Human Polymorphisms in France, where the genetics data were used as part of the human genome project. Her team continued its work on the genetics of diabetes and obesity at the Wellcome Trust Center in Oxford, England.

Roach became interested in nursing as a second career and returned to school to receive her nursing degree from Loyola University Chicago. She later received a master’s degree from DePaul. She has worked as a critical-care nurse in the emergency room and the intensive care unit at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She is interested in researching the genetics and epigenetics of sickle cell pain.

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