UArizona Nursing PhD Student Shines at Medical Conference, Advocates for Nursing's Vital Role

Oct. 2, 2023

Emerald Bell, a driven and passionate University of Arizona College of Nursing student, has embarked on a remarkable journey in the field of healthcare. In a recent interview, Bell shared insights into her career choice, her path to pursuing PhD at UArizona Nursing, and her focus on groundbreaking microbiome research.

She also discussed her experience at the Infectious Diseases Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology (IDSOG) Conference in Denver, which promotes scientific exchange, cross-disciplinary collaboration, education, and leadership in gynecologic, sexual, maternal, and neonatal infectious diseases. At the conference, Bell was in a unique position to advocate for the importance of nurses having a seat at the table for discussions.

Bell's fascination with nursing began around the age of 12. She vividly recalls hearing about neonatal intensive care (NICU) nurses and being captivated by the idea. “I’m sure it helped that my mom was a nurse,” she says. “She ended up talking to Phoenix Children’s Hospital and asked them if I could do a job shadow with a NICU nurse.”

Determined to explore this path further, Bell spent an entire 12-hour shift learning the ropes of the profession. She was exposed to the full spectrum of childbirth, witnessing both C-sections and vaginal births. Holding a fragile 3-pound baby and caring for another weighing just 1 pound left an indelible mark on her. From that day forward, she was unwavering in her resolve: "This is what I want to do with my life."

My coworkers often suggested that I become an educator, because I was the person people approached with questions. I started looking for PhD programs and lo and behold I found a fantastic program at UArizona Nursing. I considered other schools, but I honestly thought the UArizona program was the best," ~ Emerald Bell, UArizona Nursing PhD Student

Bell’s mentor, UArizona Nursing Associate Professor Helena Morrison, PhD, RN, has seen that passion in action and has nothing but good things to say about her dedicated mentee. “As a mentor, Emerald is the type of student/mentee that every mentor dreams of having,” Dr. Morrison says. “She is a self-driven, intelligent, creative, and capable student. In addition to being the foundation of Emerald’s future as a scientist, her research focus and progress has helped our college engage with woman’s health investigators between UArizona Tucson and Phoenix.”

Tell us more about your background.

I did my nursing prerequisites and became a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) when I was still in high school. I took two years of college courses during my junior and senior year. I went to college for half the day and go to high school for the other half, so I was a CNA as soon as I graduated. I moved to the valley and started working at Banner University Medical Center, Phoenix, in women’s health. Later, I got an associate degree in nursing (ADA) and worked in med-surge. I was there about two-and-a-half years before one of the surgeons poached me for the Operating Room, which is where I’ve been for about 10 years now.

What led you to pursue your PhD at UArizona Nursing?

I was always the person who read the newest scientific articles and kept up to date on the latest information. My coworkers often suggested that I become an educator, because I was the person people approached with questions. I started looking for PhD programs and lo and behold I found a fantastic program at UArizona Nursing. I considered other schools, but I honestly thought the UArizona program was the best.

What is the focus of your studies/research?

Microbiome research. I’ve been working at a lab in the College of Medicine for the last two years that has a focus on women’s health. My dissertation will be on the vaginal and gut microbiome in women with endometriosis and co-morbid anxiety. I’m currently recruiting for that study.

Can you tell us about your experience at the recent IDSOG Conference in Denver?

I presented a study that I’ve been working on for the last couple years with the lab group that focuses on the microbiome and chronic pelvic pain. It’s an interesting conference because it has so many different areas. It’s heavily attended by physicians, specifically obstetrics, gynecology, and infectious diseases, but also scientists from across the world. There were also members from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as industry professionals.

I quickly realized that nurses weren’t represented. There was a speaker session where they asked prominent members of the society, ‘What do you think that we should do as an organization moving forward?’ Most of the members didn’t have much input, so I got up and gave some. There had been a session earlier about breastfeeding for patients that are HIV positive, so I explained that the recommendations have now changed. It used to be recommended that they not breastfeed, but if they’re on medication the morbidity and mortality for infants is higher if they’re not breastfed.

I talked about how the society is pushing physicians to have these conversations with patients, and I said, ‘You can have those conversations throughout the entire pregnancy, but if I’m the nurse for that patient after delivery and I don’t know the newest recommendations, or I have some preconceived notion about breastfeeding for patients that are HIV positive, in one day I could completely destroy all the work that you’ve done on educating this patient. You must make sure nurses are included in these conversations. I’m here at this conference where I’m learning all these great things, but if I’m the only nurse, you’re missing out on a huge demographic that is vital to this process.’

What are your thoughts on bringing nurses and midwifery to the conversation to ensure best practices going forward?

The sitting president at the time approached me afterward and told me they would love to have me provide input. They asked me if I would become a member so I could become more involved and give that perspective. Those are aspects that we’re looking at, not only bringing other members of UArizona Nursing to the conference, but also being a collaborative person with the group as a member to expand nursing’s input.