University of Arizona College of Nursing Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) student Kerry Chou, who will receive his degree at the December 15 Fall Convocation Ceremony, was first inspired to pursue a career in nursing while still in high school.
“Growing up, my family really pushed me to pursue the sciences in general,” he says. Realizing early on that math-related disciplines were not his forte, he focused on chemistry, biology, and physics for most of high school.
During that time, his experience with classmates who overdosed or missed school because of substance abuse bloomed what would become his research passion: finding ways to mitigate pain brought on by the opioid crisis. Additionally, his participation in his school’s philosophy club helped him narrow his interest in pain management from a moral perspective. “In my opinion, that really opened up the importance of health care for me,” he explains.
“I was up for a challenge and also I just wanted to really solidify my preexisting knowledge, especially since, when I’m going into the hospital, when I’m taking care of someone, I want to make sure that I’m actually up for the task and that I’m not messing anything up in terms of quality of care," ~ Kerry Chou, Fall 2022 BSN Graduate
Chou chose to pursue a career in nursing because he saw it as his fastest and most effective pathway to provide quality patient care. A consummate striver, he chose UArizona’s nursing program because of its reputation as being more rigorous than other programs. “I was up for a challenge and also I just wanted to really solidify my preexisting knowledge,” he says. “Especially since, when I’m going into the hospital, when I’m taking care of someone, I want to make sure that I’m actually up for the task and that I’m not messing anything up in terms of quality of care.”
During his time in the BSN program, Chou’s pivot to research has become his passion project. “My only critique in nursing is that unfortunately our health care system seems a bit reactionary, especially with our opioid epidemic,” he says, explaining that his experience treating overdoses in the hospital showed him how much of a drain of resources and manpower the issue can be from other patients.
In pursuit of the goal of promoting effective patient care while producing cutting edge research to combat unnecessary suffering in the clinical setting, Chou has been fortunate enough to connect with several professors who have been involved in helping him pursue a more in-depth inquiry into his field of interest.
He has worked with UArizona Nursing’s Jessica Rainbow, PhD on a project investigating nursing pain and practical prevention strategies in the clinical setting. He also worked with the UArizona Department of Pharmacology’s John Streicher, PhD in developing and testing a protein inhibitor that would be able to amplify the pain relief of opioids without changing side effects, which became the focus of his final thesis. “The goal of dose reduction is to give less opioids and therefore cause less respiratory depression while not compromising pain relief,” he says. “Hopefully this will help stop certain addictions from moving from the beside to the community.”
“Working with Kerry Chou has been an incredible honor,” Dr. Rainbow says. “Kerry is hardworking, organized, and brilliant. Kerry is always motivating teams to complete projects even when momentum for the project is lagging. He is willing to jump in to help with wherever tasks are needed. I am so proud of Kerry and thankful for all his dedication to our project on nurse pain.”
As for the future, Chou has secured a post-graduation position at the Minnesota Mayo Clinic, working in the neuro-intensive care unit. He’s also busy building connections and scouting for additional future research lab work that fits his interests. He says pursuing a PhD is likely on the table, although he’s not yet certain in it will be in nursing.
Asked about the advice he’d give to students considering following in his academic footsteps, Chou stresses the need to be proactive when pursuing research disciplines. “There are a lot of professors out there that are really kind and that really want you to succeed,” he says, noting that it’s important to reach out to instructors to receive as much training as possible.
As far as nursing in general, he advocates for the importance of taking care of one’s own mental health. “In order to produce the best care, we have to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves before we can take care of others,” he says.
Thinking back on his three and a half years at UArizona Nursing, Chou is grateful for all the opportunities and support he has had to delve into topics that he’s most passionate about. “There’s a lot more than just the surface-level knowledge,” he says. “If we want to know more about a topic, there’s an unbelievable number of things to continue looking into, reading, and researching up on. It’s OK to not know all there is to know. We just have to keep learning – that’s the fun of it."