Kent Nursing Researcher Receives $50,000 Grant to Explore Use of Cognitive Behavioral App Among Family Caregivers

Kent State College of Nursing Assistant Professor, Amy Petrinec, Ph.D., RN, recently received a $50,000 two-year grant through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) to research family caregivers who experience a phenomenon called post intensive care syndrome family (PICS-F) that may occur after a loved one has spent time in a hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU). Through her research, Dr. Petrinec hopes to discover if regularly using a cognitive behavioral app will lead to a decrease in PICS-F symptoms for adult family caregivers serving as the primary decision maker for a loved one who is chronically critically ill. Participants will be asked to log onto a specific app every day and spend roughly ten minutes completing a task focused on self-care, such as a mindfulness exercise, deep breathing, and tracking sleep, exercise or other wellness variables. Cindy Wilk, MSN, RN, CNS, CCRN, CNE, Kent State University College of Nursing senior lecturer, is assisting Dr. Petrinec as a research assistant for this grant.


“I want to help family caregivers take better care of themselves. They are often short on time, overly stressed, and working or trying to get off work so they can be at the hospital advocating for their loved ones,” reflected Dr. Petrinec. “Most people have cell phones, smartphones in particular. Cognitive behavioral apps provide a suite of tools people can use to promote a decrease in stress and an increase in wellness.”


Dr. Petrinec will recruit participants from Summa Health in Akron, OH. “They have two 26-bed ICUs and a research center. The research nurses will screen and enroll family members in the study,” she explained. A specific set of qualifying credentials will be used to determine eligibility, such as the family caregiver’s loved one admitted to the ICU for three or more days and placed on a ventilator. At 30 and 60 days after enrollment, Dr. Petrinec will administer follow-up surveys related to PICS-F. “I will track participants’ symptoms as they wax and wane depending on if their loved one goes home and recovers, is moved to a rehab facility, or passes away,” said Dr. Petrinec. “There are many different scenarios so I will track symptoms related to the patient’s health outcome.”


She noted previous studies into family caregivers of ICU patients focused more on providing families with detailed information about their loved one’s condition and care. “Studies have shown there are some people who don't want to be overwhelmed with information. They like being avoidant because it often makes it easier to hang on to hope,” she explained. Through her research, Dr. Petrinec will introduce cognitive behavioral apps as another tool that may be beneficial to this population if integrated it into their daily routine.


As an ICU, burn and trauma unit nurse, Dr. Petrinec has worked alongside BSN students who often questioned why more help was not extended to a patient’s family. “I began thinking we could do better. Healthcare providers may not always have extra time beyond the care they are already providing, but an app on a phone might be an alternative way to extend additional help,” she said. “I credit those nursing students for igniting this research interest within me. As a clinical nurse, I worked with families every day, but I really didn't understand the gravity of the situation until these students started asking questions and I began looking into what's being done to help.”


A deep desire to care for others, along with a nudge from her mother, propelled Dr. Petrinec to become a nurse, sharing that her family often jokes that she just can't help being a caretaker. After she got married and had children, Dr. Petrinec made the choice to stay home and complete her master's degree. When an opportunity to work with students in critical care clinicals presented itself, Dr. Petrinec accepted the position. She stayed in the clinical realm with her students for a year before she was offered the opportunity to teach in the classroom. A few years later, Dr. Petrinec earned her Ph.D. “I didn’t set out when I was 18-years old to be an ICU nurse or to earn my Ph.D. and do research,” she recalled. “My nursing career just snowballed and evolved over time.”


At first, Dr. Petrinec admitted that she did not enjoy research because it is so different from clinical nursing. “I like getting things done and crossing things off my list. Research is a very slow process and that was difficult for me,” recalled Dr. Petrinec. However, she has since discovered she relishes the challenge of research. “I like thinking about things and creating new knowledge in different areas,” Dr. Petrinec shared. “I like teaching students about research and finding ways to make it applicable to their clinical experience. This not only makes the information more interesting, but also helps our profession grow stronger by encouraging others to collaborate.”


Dr. Petrinec finds Kent State University an exciting place to work because of the diversity in the people and programs available. “There are many opportunities for collaboration, and yet the university still maintains a small community feel,” she said. “I enjoy challenging my students to think about things they do not routinely think about and teaching them to look at situations in new ways. As nurses, we are strongest when we invest in evidence-based practices and develop new knowledge.”


She hopes that one day more nurses will be motivated to participate in research. “We need to continue inspiring undergraduate nursing students. As younger nurses obtain Ph.D.’s or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), it will enhance our research,” explained Dr. Petrinec, adding that younger scholars will have more time to devote to and thoroughly investigate their area of research specialty. Additionally, she believes nurses working at the bedside need to be encouraged to embrace research. “These individuals come up with the best questions. They see what's happening and have good ideas. Bedside nurses see and hear things that would be fascinating to investigate deeper.”

POSTED: Monday, June 15, 2020 - 4:36pm
UPDATED: Monday, June 15, 2020 - 4:38pm
Mariah Gibbons