Dr. John Blakeman, Ph.D. ’20 was a featured guest for MCN’s new podcast, MCN On Air. He sat down with podcast host, Noah Schlosser, on September 21, 2021, to share his passion for nursing research. Here’s an excerpt of their conversation, highlighting what research at MCN looks like, and how the research Dr. Blakeman conducts has far-reaching impacts. We invite you to listen to the third episode of MCN On Air in its entirety.
Prior to this interview, we talked a little bit, and you had talked about the science fairs that you did as a kid.
Yeah! I have had a love for research in science since I was in elementary school. Second grade was the first time I ever completed a science fair project, and it was a wonderful project where I essentially licked a bunch of apples… (laugh) and then used different kinds of antiseptic substances to see which apple would basically last the longest, and which ones would decompose the quickest. So, I used alcohol and iodine and things like that and just compared, from apple to apple, what would happen. And I think what was really fun about that, as a child, was, I got to see how you could ask a question, and it be fun to find out the answer.
So, what does research look like here at MCN?
So, my research really is focused on cardiovascular disease and symptom science, and “symptom science” is kind of a fancy term, I guess. It’s really, how do people perceive the symptoms they’re experiencing? How do they describe that, and so forth? How do they attribute symptoms? So if I’m, let’s say, experiencing shortness of breath, or if I am experiencing some chest heaviness or pressure, do I attribute that to the heart? Do I attribute that to the fact that maybe I just didn’t sleep well the night before? There’s a lot of things we can attribute symptoms to. I’m really interested in all aspects of symptom science. In particular, my research is focused on heart attacks. And what I’m trying to do is understand how can we help people to seek care for heart attacks, sooner. How do we get them to, hopefully, a hospital, but in the very least, a healthcare professional sooner when they’re experiencing symptoms that are consistent with, potentially, a heart attack? And so really, my whole program of research, I’m conducting multiple different studies, but all helping to understand, why do people delay, how can we do things to help reduce that delay, so that we’re saving heart muscle. So we’re trying to help improve outcomes by reducing delay times.
So, when I think of research, I think of, maybe, sitting down at a desk, with a highlighter and a magnifying glass, going through some books. Can you explain a little bit why that perception might be wrong?
Yeah, that’s something that I love to talk about, and I like to tell people. Every project that I work on, I’m collaborating with so many different people, not just at the College of Nursing here, but beyond. So, I work with folks from California, from North Carolina, from Texas, and on multiple different projects, because we each have our own skills that we bring to the table, and I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about research, and, in really every study that I conduct, there are aspects of it that I’m not an expert at. But beyond this idea that it is very much a team sport, it’s not an individual thing, it’s fun because you get to ask questions and find out the answer. And it’s not just reading, it’s not just writing. It’s going and collecting data in the community, meeting folks in the community, and different organizations that we partner with to do our research. It’s talking to patients. For my dissertation study, I did interviews with women that had experienced heart attacks to ask them more about the symptoms that they experienced in the weeks and months leading up to their heart attacks, and being able to have those conversations and hear their stories, and then actually take their stories and publish them—of course, they’re de-identified, it’s not like we’re telling, releasing any sort of sensitive information, but—telling their stories and really getting it out there so that we can improve the outcomes for others. You know, it’s really meaningful. I can see myself making a difference in that way, and also helping to sort of bring their stories to light.
Yeah. So, it’s a team sport. Everybody does their own area of research, then you all come together to make a more cohesive end product.
Yeah. In a research team perspective, I know my weaknesses. And I bring in the experts or those people that I feel like really can help us build this team that’s very, very diverse in talent and skill and so forth. So, you don’t have to be all-knowing. It’s about having curiosity. It’s about wanting to explore questions that maybe others haven’t explored, and using resources. So, I encourage everybody to think about, do you have that curiosity? Do you want to ask, and answer, questions? Do you want to make a difference in nursing? Because that’s also a question I get sometimes, is, people will ask me, “Well, do you not want to be at the bedside, or do you not want to be taking care of patients? Why do you want to do research? Why do you not want to be there?” And I usually respond by saying that, it’s not so much that I don’t want to be at the bedside, perse. I’m using my talents, my skills, my interests to hopefully make a difference in patient outcomes. So, I hope that the research that I do, that I publish, that I present, is able to be then translated into improvements in patient outcomes. So, I hope that my work is not just helping a few people that I may take care of at the bedside, but helping thousands and thousands and thousands over the long term.
For students who are potential students, or current students, thinking that they really want to go into the nursing field, but maybe aren’t quite sure about, maybe, the bedside stuff, and they’re gravitating more towards the research aspect, what advice do you have for them?
I think getting involved in research and having…kind of dipping your toes, so to speak, into the water a little bit, and just seeing, you know, “Is this for me? Is this fun? Is this exiting?”—is very important. And it’s a great opportunity for students. So, there are few things that they can do. One, reach out to the faculty that they have in a particular semester. Even though that faculty member may or may not be doing research on their own, they’re certainly going to know folks that they can send that student to. And then beyond that, the College of Nursing actually has the Office of Nursing Research, Scholarship and Innovation. Dr. Mary Dyck is the lead of that office, and Dr. Myoung Kim, also. They work together on a lot of different projects, and so, students can certainly reach out to both of them. Dr. Dyck is the Associate Dean for Research at the College of Nursing, and so she’s very involved and knows what all the tenure track faculty or tenured faculty are doing in terms of research. She’s able to even connect students if they have a specific interest, if they have a specific topic, maybe, that they’re interested in, she could direct that student to a particular area of research and a particular faculty member.
Yeah, that’s awesome. And for the students who are just thinking about nursing school in general, why MCN?
That’s a great question, and there are so many answers to that. And of course, I think of it from a very “research-y” perspective, I guess, because of my interest. But, I think, even though you’re at a larger school, a larger university, it’s still a small community. We’re really lucky here that the College of Nursing is its own college, and so it’s very devoted to nursing students and nursing student outcomes, becoming great nurses. So, everything that we’re doing, whether it’s innovation in the Simulation Lab, whether it’s bringing students on board with the research projects that we’re doing, or just interactions in the classroom, it’s always about the student, and the faculty know students by name. You’re not just a number. And we care, we all care. We are one college and all focused on nursing. As faculty, we talk together a lot, and we’re not really divided into separate schools or things like that. It’s basically one big college, and so we have the ability to really help students in the best way possible. We, as a faculty, work well together. We network well together. And then that also helps the students.
The purpose of this podcast is to motivate and it’s to inspire people, it’s to encourage. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up?
I think one of the messages that I always like to tell nursing students, especially, who are listening…There is light at the end of the tunnel. I know that sometimes nursing school is really stressful, and that’s okay for it to be stressful, and it’s okay to sometimes feel frustrated, and it’s ok to sometimes be emotional. That’s part of the process, in a sense of that’s a normal human response. Nursing school is not easy, but there are many, many, many of us who got through it, and have become very good nurses for it. You know, nursing is a very special profession. Being a nursing major is very special. As a nursing student, let’s just speak directly to the students now, I mean, as a nursing student, you are experiencing things and doing things that many other college students will not do until they’re in their 40s, or beyond, perhaps. You’re holding the hand of someone who’s passing away, right? You’re talking to a patient who has severe psychosis, and is not even in reality. You’re talking to family members of a child who is dealing with blood cancer. And these are things that many college students can’t even comprehend doing, in many cases.
Yeah, they’re definitely thrust into the harsh realities of the real world a lot sooner.
Absolutely, and it’s harsh, on the one hand. But then, what I will also say is, there is so much beauty in all of that, because I think it helped me, at least as an undergraduate, recognize how valuable and how important life is, how not to take things for granted, and also helped me see how I can make a difference in the lives of others. And not just in giving them this medication, and that’s going to fix whatever problem they have. But in how I can actually, as a human being, help another human being in a more holistic way. I think that’s what’s so great about nursing. So yes, nursing school is hard. Absolutely. Nursing school takes a lot of work. It takes commitment. It takes sacrifice, in some cases. But at the end of the day, we’re doing something that other people dream about, in a sense. I mean, we’re getting to do things that other people just can’t even comprehend, and we have a very important role. And we have to make sure that we always are being professional and making a difference as best we can.
Learn more about MCN’s research initiatives at Nursing.IllinoisState.edu.