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A team approach to enhance scholarship among honors students in nursing.


Honors programs within schools of nursing have the potential to enhance young nurses' interest in developing programs of research early in their careers and can thus contribute to the successful development of nursing knowledge. Such programs also provide opportunities to enhance knowledge and skill in leadership and teamwork at a critical time during the development of their professional nurse identity. This article presents the successful approach one organization took when revising its honors program to meet the current needs of students, society, and the profession.

KEY WORDS Program Revision--Honors Program--Nursing Education Scholarship--Leadership--Research


The purpose of university honors programs is to attract highly motivated students seeking challenges beyond those provided in traditional college programs (Stanford & Shattell, 2010). Nursing honors programs are developed to further meet this need through the fostering of creativity and intellectual curiosity specific to nursing science.

A significant benefit of participation in honors programs is the opportunity for mentoring in faculty research and scholarship. Undergraduate student participation in research is known to improve analytic and critical thinking (Kardash, 2000), increase academic achievement and retention (Cole & Espinoza, 2008), and promote enrollment in graduate programs (Bauer & Bennet, 2003). Benefits of participation continue well beyond graduation, as nursing honors program graduates are more likely to pursue graduate studies and assume leadership roles (Williams & Snider, 1992).


The Institute of Medicine (2011) has identified the need for nurse leadership within interprofessional teams to conduct research and to redesign and improve practice environments and health systems. The American Academy of Colleges of Nursing (AACN, 2008) outlines the need to ground nursing practice within the best available scientific evidence through scholarship, including the identification of practice issues, the appraisal and integration of evidence, and the evaluation of outcomes. To support these goals, BSN education includes content on developing an understanding of how evidence is developed and an overview of qualitative and quantitative research processes. However, detailed content specific to nursing research is often not provided within the generic undergraduate curriculum.

Maintaining a robust nursing research agenda is essential to the evolution of nursing practice and the effective translation of scientific knowledge to operative, evidence-based care at all levels (AACN, 2010). Ensuring the ongoing educational preparation of nurse researchers and educators is essential in the generation of nursing knowledge that will transform practice and health system outcomes. One solution to increasing the number of PhD-prepared nurse scientists is the development of pathways for early entry into PhD education, such as the "fast-track" BSN-to-PhD pathway. The success of this pathway is highly dependent on generating interest and passion for scientific inquiry in pre-licensure nursing students. Engaging in the research process during this impressionable time of professional development may enhance interest in nursing research and thus increase enrollment in BSN-to-PhD programs.

Traditional undergraduate curricula include an introduction to building effective interprofessional relationships, conflict resolution strategies, and developing ethical decision-making skills (AACN, 2008). The immersion of honors students as active members of research teams provides experiential learning opportunities to further develop leadership competencies. Thus, the concepts of leadership and team science are important components of an honors program experience.

Our review of existing nursing honors program curricula found that students often work individually on a self-identified project rather than as members of an established research team under the guidance of a mentor. Our honors program was no exception. Limited student knowledge and experience with the research process, combined with time constraints imposed by the rigor of the nursing curriculum, created challenges for both faculty and students during individualized research practicum experiences.


The goal of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Honors Program is twofold. First, it is designed to provide students with a mentored research experience as active, contributing research team members. Second, the program is designed to prepare students for their role as future leaders and team members in research and health care settings following graduation. The program is comprised of three courses: "Introduction to Nursing Research" (one credit); "Exploring Nursing Research" (two credits); and "Research Immersion" (three credits). Participation in the program will increase a student's program of study by three credit hours; the final course, the Research Immersion, can be used to meet the program requirement for one nursing elective.

Introduction to Nursing Research

Through this seminar course, students are socialized into the Honors Program and introduced to nursing research. School of Nursing (SON) researchers present their current programs of research and career trajectories. Students are also prepared to work effectively as team members through short, biweekly presentations on topics such as conflict management, change theory, effective communication, and active listening.

Exploring Nursing Research

In the second seminar course, students are provided with additional opportunities to interact with SON researchers and identify areas of research interest from active projects within the SON. A formal contract between the SON researcher/mentor and student team is developed to outline team activities during the Research Immersion practicum. As student teams are active, contributing members of the research team, it is crucial that all participants have a clear understanding of activities and expected outcomes. Students are further prepared to fulfill their role through interactive presentations on the research process, critical thinking, and developing a personal ethical framework.

Research Immersion

Student teams work alongside members of the research team during their 90-hour practicum. Student activities vary greatly during the practicum as mentor research projects are in various stages, from institutional review board application to data analysis to dissemination. Scholarly outcomes, at a minimum, include writing a scholarly paper on the research topic and participating in a poster presentation within the SON.


Scholarship outcomes for the two cohorts completing the Honors Program since revision have exceeded expectations. (See Table 1.) Program participants and graduates have been our greatest recruitment tool as they describe their experiences to potential participants with enthusiasm.

Students are invited to apply during their junior year. Admission requirements include a 3.50 grade point average (which includes the first semester of nursing), a personal statement of how program participation can help achieve educational/career goals, and two letters of reference (one must be from an SON faculty member). We have found that first-semester student performance is a critical indicator of success in the Honors Program.

The number of students seeking admission to the Honors Programs since revision has surpassed all previous years; the latest cohort admitted 29 of 31 qualified applicants (25 percent of a class of 124 students). Historically, only 10 percent to 15 percent of students would seek admission to the program. The vast majority of students admitted to the Honors Program complete the curriculum; only one or two students from each cohort have left, usually due to the rigor of core nursing content. To date, from two cohorts, three students are actively seeking admission to the BSN-to-PhD program.


It is critical to nursing practice in today's complex health care environment to develop a cadre of nurse leaders, educators, and researchers who can advance nursing science across the multiple domains of practice. Nursing honors programs provide one mechanism for successfully developing future nursing practice and research leaders who will transform practice and health system outcomes.

Angela M. Jukkala, PhD, FIN, CNL, CNE, is associate professor, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing. Rebecca S. Miltner, PhD, RN, CNL, NEA-BC, is assistant professor, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing. Shannon L. Morrison, PhD, CRNP, FNP-BC, is assistant professor, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing. Sylvia Gisiger-Camata, MSN, RN, is a program manager, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing. Allison Todd, MSN, RN, is administrative director, University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Linda D. Moneyham, PhD, RN, FAAN, is professor and senior associate dean for academic affairs, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing. Karen M. Meneses, PhD, RN, FAAN, is professor and associate dean for research, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing. For more information, contact Dr. Jukkala at jukkalaa @

doi: 10.5480/14-1447


American Academy of Colleges of Nursing. (2008). The essentials of baccalaureate education for professional nursing practice. Retrieved from

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Bauer, K. W., & Bennet, J. S. (2003). Alumni perceptions used to assess undergraduate research experience. Journal of Higher Education, 74(2), 210-230.

Cole, D., & Espinoza, A. (2008). Examining the academic success of Latino students in science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors. Journal of College Student Development, 49(4), 285-300. doi:10.1353/csd.0.0018

Institute of Medicine. (2011). The future of nursing: Leading change, advancing health. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Kardash, C. M. (2000). Evaluation of an undergraduate research experience: Perceptions of undergraduate interns and their faculty mentors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 191 -201.

Stanford, D., & Shattell, M. (2010). Using an honors program to engage undergraduate students in research [Innovation Center], Nursing Education Perspectives, 37(5), 325-326. doi:10.1043/1536-5026-31.5.325

Williams, P. D., & Snider, M. J. (1992). Honors program participation and performance postgraduation. Journal of Nursing Educucatbn, 31(2), 65-69.
Table 1: Honors Student Scholarship Outcomes

Team                     Student Outcomes

3 students (Cohort 1)    Activity: Participated in recruitment and
                         initial data analysis
                         Outcomes: Assisted with recruitment and
                         data collection at national truck show

3 students (Cohort 1)    Activity: Participated in final phase of
                         smart phone app development to disseminate
                         perinatal guidelines (
                         Outcomes: Regional presentation

4 students (Cohort 2)    Activity: Participated in recruitment,
                         data analysis, and dissemination.
                         Outcomes: Two national presentations,
                         regional presentation, manuscript
                         in progress

3 students (Cohort 1)    Activity: Developed informational video for
                         children of cancer survivors/ tip sheet to
                         support spouses and co-survivors
                         Outcomes: Regional presentation

4 students (Cohort 2)    Activity: Developed nutritional tip sheet
                         with app resources for cancer survivors.
                         Participated in breast cancer awareness
                         initiatives in the community
                         Outcomes: Regional presentation

3 students (Cohort 1)    Activity: QI Test of Change: Developed tool
                         and implemented progressive individualized
                         goals with patients that increased percent
                         of ambulating patients
                         Outcomes: National presentation,
                         regional presentation

2 students (Cohort 2)    Activity: QI Test of Change:
                         Developed evidence-based training workshop
                         for unit mobility champions
                         (LPNs and assistants) that increased
                         percent of ambulating patients
                         Outcomes: National presentation, regional
                         presentation, manuscript in progress
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Title Annotation:Innovation Center
Author:Jukkala, Angela M.; Miltner, Rebecca S.; Morrison, Shannon L.; Gisiger-Camata, Sylvia; Todd, Allison
Publication:Nursing Education Perspectives
Date:May 1, 2016
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