Samira Jones: Nutrition focus fits perfectly at School of Nursing
With a vision for a nursing school that transcends professional boundaries, the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing is building a team of faculty, students and researchers from diverse health professions and disciplines. One postdoctoral scholar embraces this vision in particular at the new school.
Samira Jones' face lights up when she describes the synergy between nutrition and nursing. The light shows the passion that drives her research and career, and reveals the vision behind many efforts to integrate education and research programs at UC Davis Health System.
Jones, who recently earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Nutrition, joined the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis last fall as a postdoctoral scholar. Jones says the position is a long-time dream for her to connect the two worlds of nutrition and health care.
Jones recalls with excitement how she first learned about an opportunity to be involved in interdisciplinary research. She attended a spring 2009 Department of Nutrition lecture featuring Heather M. Young, associate vice chancellor for nursing, dean and professor at the School of Nursing, and was thrilled to hear about the school's vision. Young herself has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from UC Davis.
"I knew immediately from Dean Young that I had something to contribute to the cultural and community emphasis of the postdoctoral research at the School of Nursing," Jones says.
Inspired by nurses
Jones' career was inspired by nurses. Two of her aunts are registered nurses and her grandmother became a licensed practical nurse in her 50s. Jones wanted to work with people and advance health, yet chose a different path. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Services from Florida State University and a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology and Community Health Education from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.
"I knew immediately from Dean Young that I had something to contribute to the cultural and community emphasis of the postdoctoral research at the School of Nursing."
Jones and the School of Nursing share a passion for helping underserved communities improve health. Jones' doctoral dissertation research was directed toward the development and evaluation of an educational program that promotes eating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, among African-American women. With her new position, Jones will seek ways to integrate nutrition and nursing research.
Jones currently supports a School of Nursing research project with Young. A research team is collaborating with six rural clinical sites, starting with Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee, Calif., to coach individuals with diabetes. The goal is to find methods of communicating by phone and online video to better help people with diabetes manage their health through daily food and exercise management. The research will help establish best practices in telehealth communication and how healthy behaviors are impacted by coaching. Jones develops nutrition criteria for evaluation and is part of the coaching team.
The grant is one of the first for the School of Nursing and sets a strong foundation for future research programs. Grant funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health as a joint project between the School of Nursing and the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center, underscoring UC Davis' commitment to interprofessional and interdisciplinary research. The grant strengthens the school's vision to advance health in the rural communities of California as a complement to the School of Medicine's Rural-PRIME program, which trains physicians to become health-care providers and leaders in rural communities.
A focus on healthy aging
In the future, Jones hopes to focus on cultural, political and socio-economic factors for older adults' access to healthy and nutritious food. Her grandmother, now 86, continues to inspire Jones' work.
"If my grandmother doesn't have access to proper nursing care and develops food insecurity, which means living in hunger or fear of starvation, then she doesn't have a total package of care," Jones says. "I believe more work needs to be done to understand nutrition and to provide access to health care for older adults."
For older adults and underserved communities in particular, lack of transportation or resources can lead to hunger and undernourishment, or even starvation. Chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure compound the problem, especially in situations where fast food is the only food available.
Jones is also interested in nurses and dietitians learning and working together. She sees many ways the two professions can collaborate to improve health care. For example, home-care nurses are at the frontline to see health problems based on food insecurity, and might work with a dietitian to suggest behavior and lifestyle changes that could provide a higher quality of life.
"The School of Nursing is perfectly located for nutrition and community health research with migrant farm workers in the Central Valley and their access to healthy food. This is just one opportunity for UC Davis dietetics research to integrate with School of Nursing research," Jones says.
"My definition of transformation is to integrate the learning, research and work of all health professionals for those in need."
Jones and the rest of the interprofessional postdoctoral team have two-year commitments with the School of Nursing and are working on individual research projects. Jones enjoys learning about the nursing perspective from the others who are eager to hear about the nutrition perspective.
The research team has already set a standard of collaboration through a writing support group dedicated to nursing research and by using their individual perspectives to approach combined research efforts. The team is creating a poster presentation that ties their research together for the Western Institute of Nursing conference this spring. Their presentation, "Optimizing Care Transitions Across the Continuum: Implications for Health Policy," explores transitions for frail adults or ethnic minorities between home, community-based services, hospitals, assisted-living facilities, nursing homes and others. The School of Nursing's postdoctoral team sees a future where care between these individual services is more coordinated, and system-wide policies are more culturally and ethnically sensitive across all settings.
Jones believes and hopes she represents the future of health education, research and care. It's a future where experts from different fields, including nutrition and nursing, learn together and work together as a team to advance health.
Spring / Summer 2010
UC Davis Health System is proud to be home to medical, nursing, family nurse practitioner / physician assistant, public health and health informatics students and to also be the internship site for pharmacy, nutrition and other programs. Improving the health of our communities requires that we bring together these perspectives, and UC Davis is well positioned to do so.