PhD student receives NIOSH grant

Paula Levi to study stress, heart rate variability in ICU nurses

Photo: Paula Levi University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing doctoral student and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Fellow Paula Levi has been selected for a NIOSH Pilot/ Small Project Research Training Grant.

As a PhD student in the UAB School of Nursing, this nearly $10,000 grant will help fund Levi’s dissertation research studying stress among ICU nurses in the workplace. Levi selected her research focus of ICU nurses with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from trauma experienced in the workplace following her experience as an ICU nurse, as well as an understanding of the high level of stress nurses can experience at work.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, this research has become more important than ever.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the deadliest pandemics in history. We expect the incidence of PTSD will be unprecedented,” Levi said. “While I always sought to pursue this topic, there is a much greater need now that COVID-19 has impacted so many nurses.”

In addition to the stress experienced by nurses and their risk of PTSD, hospitals can also experience the negative impact of stress. When ICU nurses suffer from PTSD, Levi noted, it can adversely affect their health and impact patient care. This stress can also lead to low retention rates and absenteeism, situations which Levi hopes to develop interventions to combat.

Through her study, Levi will observe events ICU nurses experience as they work in the ICU and gather data on the nurses’ heart rate variability. Levi will then connect the two datapoints to see how different events and circumstances impact heart rate variability and stress levels.

“I’ll use this tool to document the events going on so that I can link those observations directly with nurses’ heart rate variability,” Levi said. “Doing it in this way, rather than just monitoring heart rate variability, enables me to see how events at work impact the nurses’ heart rate variability. One nurse could have a patient who is about to discharge, while another has a patient in code blue. I believe this research will give me enough information to come forward with interventions for ICU nurses based on heart rate variability and I plan for that to be my next study.”

Levi’s mentors are UABSON Associate Dean of Technology and Innovation Jacqueline Moss, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Associate Professor Pamela Bowen, PhD, BA, CRNP, FNP-BC. Their support has helped Levi pursue her passions in research and accomplish her goals.

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