A Senior Researcher, Dr. Jean McSweeney, PhD, RN

Dr. Jean McSweeney is a professor and Associate Dean for Research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Arkansas. She received her BSN from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, her MSN from The University of Texas at Arlington, and her PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. She has served on the National Institute of Health, National Institute of Nursing Research Advisory Council. She is a Fellow in both the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Nursing.

Dr. McSweeney is a research pioneer in the field of women's cardiovascular disease and published the first study that described women's symptoms of heart disease. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the American Heart Association's Katharine A. Lembright Award, the 2011 Southern Nursing Research Society's Distinguished Researcher Award, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences 2015 Graduate School Faculty of the Year Award. She is  also a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing and a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Texas at Arlington.

What influenced you to become a nurse scientist?

There were two primary reasons I became a nurse scientist. First, I had faculty who believed in me and encouraged me to continue my education. Being the first person in my immediate family to attend college, I had not considered getting an advanced degree. However, Dr. Joyce Taylor Harden, my primary professor in my RN-BSN program, highly encouraged me to continue my education. I elected to pursue my MSN two years later and was again highly influenced my thesis chair, Dr. Lorrie Hegstead. She strongly encouraged me to seek a PhD. Two years later I enrolled in my PhD program. Once in the PhD program, my dissertation chair, Dr. Janet Allan, had a profound impact on my career. Janet encouraged me to pursue research that built upon my strong clinical background of critical care nursing. She helped me to see how these could be combined. I began to realize the substantial impact that research findings exert on developing the optimal interventions to guide clinical practice. This realization allowed me to transition from being a critical care nurse pursuing my PhD to becoming a nurse scientist committed to improving clinical outcomes of many, not just my own patients. Although this seems like it should be an easy transition, it was not because I truly loved practicing as a critical care nurse. However, once I completed my first qualitative study, I realized my practice was now incorporating health experiences from patients into research findings and disseminating these results to improve care for many. My research trajectory was firmly established after interviewing and listening to women's troubling symptoms and diagnostic experiences associated with coronary heart disease. Assisting women worldwide to have their symptoms recognized and treated appropriately became and continues to be the driving reason for me to continue to pursue my research as a nurse scientist. So, my second major influence stemmed from my research participants. I remain grateful to my faculty mentors who encouraged and challenged me to pursue this rewarding and often demanding career and to my research participants who allowed me into their lives to learn from their experiences.

What advice would you give to aspiring nurse scientists?

My best advice is:

  1. Build upon your areas of strength and expertise and find a research area that you are willing to invest your time and energy. We are in a period of very limited funding and it is easy to get discouraged. Your love for your topic and your determination to make a difference in health outcomes related to your topic are absolutely essential to see you through lean times.
  2. Find a mentor(s) and invest in this relationship. Be a responsible mentee, meaning listen to their advice, follow-through on suggestions, set and keep regular meetings, and be prepared to discuss the topic at hand. Do not waste his/her time and be respectful of the time he/she devotes to assisting you to succeed.
  3. Do not be afraid to change methods. To make a difference, follow where your results take you. Learn more, select excellent collaborators, and establish a give and take collaborative relationship. Learn from each other -- no one is BEST at everything!!
  4. PUBLISH -- Conducting research and not publishing results is wasting your participants' time and money that funded your research. Build upon your results, one step at a time. You will make a difference
  5. Always remember why you do the research. It is ultimately about helping your participants to achieve better health outcomes.