School of Nursing Graduates Present Internationally

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August 15, 2023

UT Austin School of Nursing 2023 honors program graduates Brianna Garza and Tobechukwu (Tobi) Phillips presented their research at international conferences over the summer. 

Garza’s abstract for her study “Self-Concept Levels Among Pre-Licensure Nursing Students” was featured at the International Council of Nurses (ICN) 2023 Congress in Montreal. Phillips presented a paper on “The Influence of Mass Media’s Misrepresentation of African-American Health Disparities During COVID-19 on Nursing Students” at the Sigma Theta Tau 34th International Nursing Research Congress in Abu Dhabi. 

Both graduates’ projects grew from their participation in the nursing honors program at UT. 

Brianna Garza

For Garza, the presentation of her abstract represents “the perfect end” to her undergraduate education at UT, owing especially to the guidance of her mentors at the UT Austin School of Nursing and to her four years of “hard work.” As an honors student, she designed and conducted her research with the assistance of Associate Professor Julie Zuniga, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Programs Ana Todd, and PhD student and graduate research and teaching assistant So Hyeon Bang. When Garza presented her preliminary findings at The Longhorn Research Poster Session in 2022, Clinical Assistant Professor Li-Chen Lin encouraged her to submit an abstract on self-concept for presentation at the ICN Congress.

According to Lin, nurses with positive self-concept can have greater self-confidence in providing quality care, greater self-compassion, and greater resilience to face burnout and compassion fatigue. Lin added that students can begin to build their self-concept early in nursing school before their clinical experience. Then they can be in a better position to face potential adverse events in clinical preparation and as professional nurses. Lin said that Garza’s study sheds light on the mental health of future health care professionals.

In her cross-sectional correlational study, Garza defined self-concept as a person’s self-judgements and attitudes, influenced by social comparisons. Using the Professional Self-Concept of Nurses Instrument, she investigated associations between multiple factors and UT BSN students’ levels of self-concept. 

Her results were both promising and surprising. Higher levels of exposure to “real-world” nursing were negatively correlated with professional self-concept, but participation in UT’s Peer Academic Coaching Program and student organizations was positively correlated with self-concept. UT BSN students had a relatively high average level of self-concept: 78 on a scale of 27 to 108. 

Garza thinks that her findings may generalize to larger populations of nursing students and professionals. Improved self-concept might mitigate major issues in nursing today, including burnout and staffing shortages. At the ICN Congress, she hoped to promote the discussion of professional nurse self-concept as a potential solution to the worldwide nursing shortage. “It is vitally important to continue identifying factors” that impact the self-concept of nurses. 

As a student, Brianna Garza worked as a nurse extern in the neuroscience unit at St. David’s Medical Center and as a neurology home health aide. She is now in her RN Residency program in the Neuroscience ICU at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. 

Tobechukwu (Tobi) Phillips

Tobi Phillips, also an honors student, was a Forty Acres Scholar. During the UT Austin School of Nursing’s St. David’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research in Underserved Populations (CHPR) 21st Annual Conference, held in March 2023, Phillips won the award for best poster in the undergraduate research division. 

Phillips was mentored by UT SON Professor Michelle Wright, who recognized “her passion to mitigate health disparities and realize health equity” and encouraged her to conduct original research. Phillips is the first undergraduate student Wright has worked with who has applied and been accepted to present at an international conference. “I’m so proud of her success,” Wright said, “and I am excited to see where this opportunity will take her in the future.” At the conference, she will be able to meet with some of the world’s leaders in nursing research. 

Phillips’ study is an examination of social media’s effect on our perception of African Americans and their experiences of COVID-19. “When COVID-19 hit, and racial disparities were apparent in outcomes,” Wright said, Phillips “wanted to do a study that would help explore why this was occurring.” In a high school research study, Phillips had looked at how the media “primed people’s views of groups of people that they perceived as different.” Phillips was “really interested” in investigating whether the media shaped nursing students’ perceptions of individuals’ risk for COVID-19 infection. And according to Wright, knowing whether the media’s portrayal of different groups “influences health care providers’ perception of health risks may help identify where we can intervene to help mitigate disparities that exists in the healthcare system.” 

Phillips found the portrayal of marginalized communities in the media has negatively impacted their experience with COVID-19. Her studies showed 62 percent of white nursing students indicated they strongly disagree or disagree with the idea that their race/ethnicity will not receive worse COVID-19 care than other groups. However, she found that these students also didn’t think the media displayed negative bias towards them. Phillips shared, that although these students are aware of their privilege and the disparity in health care, they do not seem to have an issue with how the media portrays them. 

Phillips is now working as a pediatric emergency department nurse at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. She hopes individuals will gain a sense of self-awareness and empathy for marginalized communities through her presentation, but she also wants to show other nursing honors students that once-in-a-lifetime opportunities can stem from conducting research. “Do not minimize the opportunities and doors that research can open,” she said.