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Release: June 7, 2001

UI College of Nursing establishes first clinical genetics nursing fellowship

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A new postdoctoral fellowship program in clinical genetics nursing at the University of Iowa -- believed to be the first of its kind -- will give participants the opportunity to collaborate in interdisciplinary genetics research and develop proposals for future study.

The program, which will admit its first two fellows this summer, is supported by a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Institute for Nursing Research. It is directed by principal investigator Janet K. Williams, Ph.D., associate professor in the UI College of Nursing whose primary research interest is genetics nursing. Co-directors are Trudy L. Burns, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the UI College of Public Health, and Toni Tripp-Reimer, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of research in the UI College of Nursing.

No other research institution in the United States has a postdoctoral fellowship program focusing on clinical genetic nursing research, Williams said. While the federal grant that supports the project is intended to benefit doctorally prepared nurses, she added, other qualified applicants will also be considered. The fellowships last two years, during which participants receive stipends, tuition and fees and health insurance coverage.

The project also includes an intensive summer fellowship program that will give participants exposure to clinical genetics research and help identify individuals interested in applying to the full two-year fellowship.

The fellowship program aims to provide participants with interdisciplinary training that links genetics and nursing research. In addition to the project directors, more than 40 UI faculty in the colleges of nursing, public health, medicine, and liberal arts and sciences will serve as mentors in research methods and genetics.

"This fellowship is housed in the College of Nursing," Williams said, "but it embraces the broader scientific community. That's rather special -- at other institutions these relationships have to be established, whereas here they already exist."

The role of nursing in genetic science as it relates to health care is important because nurses help individuals cope with their health problems, Williams said. For example, individuals and families who learn through genetic screening that they have increased chances of developing a debilitating disease may have special needs with respect to managing family relationships, planning for care giving services or making end-of-life preparations.

"With predictive genetic testing, these are new problems," Williams said. Participants in the fellowship program may be interested in developing effective strategies to help individuals or families deal with issues raised by genetic testing, Williams said, or they might want to investigate how individuals use genetic information to make health and behavioral decisions.

Because many of the UI's most prominent genetics experts are involved in the program as faculty and mentors, fellows also will gain opportunities to be involved in research linking genetic characteristics with specific symptoms or in population based studies to identify groups at risk for various genetic illnesses. As nurses, Williams said, fellows may gain insight into how to work with individuals to anticipate and possibly prevent health problems related to their genetic makeup.

Ultimately, Williams said, the fellowship program will contribute to the advancement of both nursing and genomics by training nurse scientists skilled in clinical genetics research. The project will also benefit the College of Nursing's existing doctoral programs through development of a genetics track for Ph.D. students.