After 11 years as a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse at UCI Medical Center and CHOC at Mission Hospital, Sarah Rodrigues sought to better understand the experiences of the families she encountered.
As a PhD student at the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing, her research focuses on stress at the bedside. Working in the NICU, she witnessed daily the toll that stress takes. She also saw how people responded to it in very different ways.
“It was interesting for me to work with individual families. Sometimes the families you think would be most stressed out, based on objective factors, are not always the ones most stressed,” she says.
“Objective factors contribute to stress, but I’m interested in which factors mitigate and exacerbate individual reactions to stressful experiences, so NICU nurses can best support our families.”
Understanding NICU-related maternal stress
Some of the stress is from “expectancy violation.” It occurs when one’s expectations about an experience differs from reality.
“People have expectations about everything, (including) how things should look,” she says. “Those expectations can be met, positively exceeded or negatively violated.”
Rodrigues seeks to better understand how discrepancies between prenatal expectations and the postpartum NICU reality may affect NICU-related maternal stress. This will allow her to explore useful targets for intervention efforts to better support mothers during the NICU stay.
Supporting mothers’ psychological well-being during their NICU stay can lead to more positive health and developmental outcomes for the infant.
Inclusive Excellence Ambassador Fellowship
Rodrigues, who received her BS at the UCI School of Nursing in 2009, is a recipient of the 2020 Inclusive Excellence Ambassador Fellowship. The competitive fellowship provides a $5,000 summer stipend to support graduate student research.
As someone who aspires one day to be UCI faculty, the opportunity excites her.
“To me it’s important to be at a place like UCI where diversity is important, valued and supported.”
She explains in an excerpt from her essay:
“Commitment to diversity means more than recruiting and enrolling a diverse student and faculty body.
It means supporting inclusive excellence within the academic community as a whole, from the undergraduate to the faculty level, and throughout various stages of academic (and personal) growth.
It means being committed to providing support and mentorship to all members of our community so that we collectively benefit from the shared creativity, innovation, and problem-solving resulting from inclusive collaboration and incorporation of diverse ideas, perspective and approaches.”
During her fellowship, she’ll mentor up to six incoming graduate students. Each one is a first-generation college student from a minority-serving institution.
A passion for people and problem-solving
After she earns her PhD, she wants to continue her research and continue to advocate for families in the NICU.
“It’s important for NICU families to share their stories. When someone finds out I’m a NICU nurse, they often have a NICU story to share. I want to incorporate their stories into my research, to give NICU families a voice.”
Rodrigues also aspires to educate the next generation of nurses. She wants to impart the bedside, listening and problem-solving skills that are so critical in the profession.
“To me, that’s nursing: Taking the time to get to know each patient, their family and circumstances, and then problem-solving, taking the textbook or the order and making it work for that individual.”