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By Catherine Duncan
After obtaining her first bachelor’s degree in biology at The University of Texas at San Antonio, Cristina Cruz admits she began working on her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio with a very narrow view of research and nursing.
“I learned nursing is a much bigger and more complex world than I ever imagined,” she said. “I had no idea that my background as a biologist would be a great foundation for conducting nursing research.”
Her current participation in the School of Nursing’s SUNRISE program now has her setting her sights on a career in research by attaining her Ph.D. in nursing research.
Frank Puga, Ph.D., and Lisa Cleveland, Ph.D., RN, CPNP, serve as Cruz’s mentors for the SUNRISE program.
Her research topic is “The Relationship Between the Social Environment, Stress and Health Outcomes in Pregnant Opioid Using Women.”
“Although Cristina already had experience in lab-based research, she is now gaining more diverse research skills and incorporating more of a holistic view of how behavior affects health,” Dr. Puga said. “The SUNRISE program ties into these nursing students’ curriculum. This gives Cristina and the other undergraduate students the opportunity to take what they are learning in the classroom and bring it into their research.”
Cruz said she is excited about their research project studying how social support affects the mental health of pregnant women with opioid use disorders.
For the project, they are interviewing women and administering surveys to characterize the types of stressors these women face.
“Many of the women we work with experienced trauma in their lives. They have uncertainty about the pregnancy and maintaining custody of their child,” she said. “We are measuring social support and stress experienced by these women and the effect this has on their mental health.”
Dr. Puga said that by looking at the stressors and the outcomes, they can determine how social support can help. “We can then determine what evidence-based practices should be implemented in communities to help these women. We can use research to develop interventions that can help women and their infants be healthier and happier.”