11 March 2021 Home page

Researcher Profile – Jessica Schults

Jessica Schults is a Research Fellow; her role is shared (conjoint) between Queensland Children’s Hospital and Griffith University and she received a Mary McConnel Career Boost Grant in 2020.

Jessica said “Research funding from the Children’s Hospital Foundation has opened the door of opportunity for our team and my program of research. It has allowed me to progress a program of research independently as a nursing researcher and build research capacity within our intensive care unit. Without funding, this research would not be possible and without research, we cannot work towards improving the care for our sickest children”.

Here Jessica tells us more about herself, where and what she studied, how she got into research, and what she hopes to achieve.

I completed my Bachelor of Nursing in Toowoomba, which was a very relaxed setting to start my tertiary education journey. I’ve since completed postgraduate studies at the Queensland University of Technology, James Cook University, and Griffith University. I choose subjects I enjoy (e.g., critical care) and try to avoid things that hurt my brain, one example of this would be my abysmal attempt at physics in my first undergraduate degree.

I had always planned on enrolling in medicine after nursing for a few years, then two months before I was due to sit GAMSAT our PICU Nurse Researcher asked me if I’d consider doing a masters and I’ve never looked back.

My own clinical experience and that of my colleagues drive my research questions. Currently, my research looks at how we support children receiving mechanical ventilation. I am looking at how we may be able to use electronic health data to predict complications associated with mechanical ventilation and in the longer term prevent these from occurring. If we can prevent harm – we can get children home sooner, to do what they love.

A key finding of my research to date is that nurses can safely apply a mechanical ventilation intervention to improve lung function and oxygen following airway suction. This intervention also reduces the risk of developing a ventilator associated infection, however, the significance of this reduction requires further testing.

I think as adult learners we all face challenging life circumstances that have the potential to impede our education or research journey. My greatest achievement to date has been the establishment of a nursing scholarship for students who experience hardship during their studies. This was only made possible with the support of mentors and an established research group (AVATAR) at Griffith University.

In the coming years, I plan to focus on the use of clinical analytics embedded within electronic medical records to predict and prevent patient harm – with a particular focus on ventilator associated infections. This is important as our current clinical management is hampered by an inability to predict complications. This means that front-line staff can’t respond to a complication until it has occurred.

Clinical research is challenging but worth it. I learned very early on to run my own race, and practice with empathy. In this knowledge economy, we must support clinicians starting on their research journey. I believe this support is vital, and certainly an important part of my own personal journey.

In terms of surprises – the speed at which research progresses still amazes me. Looking back, I remember getting my first research grant and thinking ‘goodness now I have to do it, I hope I can’. I guess this was a logical and perhaps an inevitable moment. Unsurprisingly I continue to have these moments throughout my career.

Research funding brings with it a level of opportunity to develop research capacity, and the expansion and growth of our team, particularly nurses, brings me much joy. However, my favourite part of my job, and easily applicable to most clinician researchers, is my ability to contribute to clinical practice and work with clinicians and families at the bedside. My daughter (5 years) still thinks I have the coolest job as a ‘nurse – doctor’ and although the quality of my work is not important to her, seeing my role through her eyes reminds me of the importance of what we can achieve if we come together.

Higher Degree Research (HDR) programs and peers absolutely help you launch your ideas and see it through to completion. It would be wonderful if we could match clinicians with career researchers underpinned by University infrastructure in a mentoring cycle program at Queensland Children’s Hospital. Certainly, the mentorship I received throughout my progression from HDR to early career researcher was invaluable.

There is no doubt mentorship has transformed my research journey – and it continues to shape my trajectory. Mentorship in research is a necessity, particularly if you wish to be adaptable and thrive in an environment of flux and sometimes uncertainty. Mentors help you convert your ideas into meaningful progress for the benefit of the hospital and broader health service and I have relied on several mentors for different components of my development throughout my short career. I’m hesitant to mention anyone because I will forget someone, but I absolutely celebrate the support I have received from experienced nursing researchers, health service leaders, and experienced clinicians. I have absolutely been blessed with access to leaders in healthcare and academia. But you must have the dedication and drive to seek opportunities to extend your support and mentor network.

The Children’s Hospital foundation clearly gives priority to clinicians and researchers who seek to create breakthroughs that could have a significant impact on our children.

I’d like to say thank you to all their supporters for seeing the value of medical research and the contribution of women to this field. Your investment, which was no doubt challenging during uncertain economic times, will help shape the health outcomes for Queensland children for decades to come. Many of the completed (funded) projects have led to fundamental changes in our daily practice and subsequent improvements in care. Your support, your voice is appreciated.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could predict hospital associated complications before they occur, and prevent them from happening?  It would be even better if we could see the things that we are currently doing to prevent complications from occurring and celebrate how we are creating a safer clinical environment for our sickest children.