Creating the space to heal

Dr. Song in her UT Health San Antonio branded white coat and hard hat holds renovation blueprints under her arm.

New center will bring specialists from different fields to guide patients and their caregivers through their cancer journey

By Jessica Binkley

Navigating the complexities of cancer care can be overwhelming for cancer patients and their families. The stress of suffering symptoms while weighing treatment options, coordinating appointments and dealing with end-of-life decisions can lead to negative health outcomes for patients and caregivers alike.

That’s why Lixin (Lee) Song, PhD, RN, FAAN, vice dean of research and scholarship at the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing, decided to leverage her ongoing research of cancer survivorship, family caregiving research and technology-based interventions to develop a Center for Holistic Care of Cancer Patients and Families.

Song joined UT Health San Antonio in September 2022. In December 2022, she received a $600,000 Translational Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention (STARs) award to renovate space needed for the center. The award, allocated by The University of Texas System Board of Regents to help attract and retain the best-qualified faculty, provides funding to help purchase state-of-the-art research equipment and make necessary laboratory renovations to encourage faculty members to perform their research at a UT institution.

A blueprint for team care and patient accessibility

Funds from the STARs award will be used to address the privacy needs of research participants and perform blind clinical trials. Renovations will include enclosed office spaces for interviews, data collection and digital health intervention testing such as eye tracking and voice recognition. The spaces will accommodate a variety of research activities in ways that safely enable patients, caregivers and health care professionals to participate.

Funds will also help build a robust digital health platform to enhance the current survivorship care programs at the university, along with equipment to assess the impact of cancer-related stress and the proposed digital health interventions on study participants’ immunologic and neuropsychological health.

“It is a great honor to receive this STARs award,” Song said. “The development of this transformative center will address the unique needs of the highly vulnerable cancer patient population and their families in San Antonio and South Texas, minimizing the impacts of cancer and treatment-related stress on health outcomes for this population.”

Personal perspective

Song herself had a close friend who suffered the many rippling effects of cancer. Her friend faced not only the physical damage of experiencing severe symptoms and encountering many health complications, but also the emotional and mental stress that goes along with trying to understand complex clinical processes and implications of different treatment options.

“I witnessed how the cancer affected every member of my friend’s family,” Song said. She explained how the lack of open communication and understanding of complicated care can take a toll on a cancer patient and their caregivers, leading to stress and exhaustion.

“Seeing their struggles with processing an overwhelming amount of information and bad news, as well as all the decision-making involved with end-of-life care — that led me to become passionate about research that can improve cancer care for both patients and their families.”

The center responds to the Texas Cancer Plan and the Aging Texas Well Strategic Plan priorities by leveraging
interdisciplinary teams and resources at UT Health San Antonio’s School of Nursing, the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine, the Mays Cancer Center, the Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, and the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Specialists from different fields — nurses, surgeons, radiation oncologists, social workers, psychologists and data scientists — will together help guide patients and their caregivers through their cancer journey, conducting important research along the way.

“The insights we will gain in this new center will have broad applications for improving the health outcomes of patients and families with other illnesses as well, benefitting the whole community,” Song said.

Broader research plans

In addition to guiding the construction of the new center, Song has big plans for the school’s research initiatives and its Office of Nursing Research and Scholarship, which oversees the research-related projects, goals and activities within the School of Nursing and serves as a resource center for every step of a project’s implementation.

Research at the School of Nursing builds on five pillars: healthy aging and aging-related conditions, biobehavioral and mental health research, clinical and translational science, health disparities and population health, and data science and digital health. The school’s faculty and students conduct research that aims to improve the lives of patients, caregivers and community members at large, bolster health access and education and develop innovative teaching and clinical models in nursing education and training.

“While the school has done outstanding in instructional and public service grants, I envision obtaining federally funded research grants to further expand opportunities that will support the growth and development of faculty,” Song said.

As for what attracted her to the university: “I was impressed by many attributes of UT Health San Antonio, but most especially I was drawn to the diverse community and highly vulnerable patient population it serves,” Song said. “There are tremendous needs to serve the largely underserved populations here who have limited resources and face numerous challenges during their cancer journey.”


Top research awards

Investigators within the School of Nursing have attracted funding for Fiscal Year 2023 for projects that tackle issues such as substance use disorder and cancer care, initiatives that expand health care services for vulnerable populations such as foster care youth and programs that foster diversity in nursing education and training to prepare a culturally competent health care workforce.

Lisa Cleveland, PhD, APRN, CPNP, IBCLC, FAAN – $26.9 million in Health and Human Services state contracts for multiple programs that provide recovery support services to pregnant and parenting women with opioid use disorder and substance use disorder, as well as programs that promote overdose prevention through education and improved access to care.

Lixin (Lee) Song, PhD, RN, FAAN – $1.7 million including $600,000 from the UT System and $913,137 from the Department of Defense, to establish the Center for Holistic Care of Cancer Patients and Families with dedicated space that will safely enable patients, caregivers and health care professionals to participate in research to assess the impact of cancer-related stress and the effects of digital health interventions on health outcomes.

Karen Schwab, PhD, APRN, CPNPPC, PMHS – $999,000 ($4 million total over the course of four years) from the Health Resources and Services Administration to expand health care services to foster care youth and their families, keeping in line with the state’s new, community-based model for meeting the needs of foster youth according to each community’s strengths and resources.

Vanessa Meling, EdD, MBA – $828,045, including $599,626 from the Department of Education Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program and $228,449 from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, to boost Hispanic, low-income student engagement, provide increased opportunities for research and clinical mentorship and offer wellness and financial counseling, peer mentoring and tutoring.

Janna Lesser, PhD, RN, FAAN – $721,250 from the Health Resources and Services Administration for programs that prepare a diverse, culturally competent health care workforce representative of the community it serves and to improve workforce distribution throughout South Texas, particularly among rural and underserved areas and populations.

Share this post!

In the 2023 issue of Tribute

Tribute is the official magazine for the alumni and friends of the School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Read and share inspiring stories highlighting our alumni, faculty and students who are revolutionizing education, research, patient care and critical services in the communities they serve.

View the 2023 issue

Categories for this article :