Apr 25, 2012, 1:00 PM, Posted by Kathleen Hickey
By Kathleen Hickey, EdD, FNP-BC, ANP-BC, FAAN, assistant professor, Columbia University School of Nursing and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar. Hickey is president-elect of the International Society of Nurses in Genetics.
Every April, people around the world celebrate “DNA Day,” a commemoration of the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 and the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. It’s an important day in scientific history, and its influence has spread far beyond the laboratory.
Genetics and nursing are closely linked, and many nurses—myself, included—have seen this connection firsthand. Long before we knew the full scope of the human genome, I worked as a nurse practitioner with cardiac patients. As I worked directly with many young patients, I learned that many of them had suffered a cardiac arrest, or lost a loved one to a cardiac arrhythmia. As more information became known about genetics, what I had seen in the clinical setting was confirmed—these patients were predisposed to these conditions by virtue of their DNA. Now I work in cardiogenetics, using my knowledge of genetics in combination with my skills as a nurse practitioner, to improve the outcomes for high-risk patients and prevent sudden cardiac death.
In 2009, I had the honor of being selected to attend the National Institute of Nursing Research’s Summer Genetic Institute. The two-month program, held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), brought together nurses who were graduate students, faculty members, researchers, clinicians, and educators for intensive genetics training. There we were immersed in didactic lectures from NIH experts, engaged in hands-on bench experiments, and had the opportunity to develop a research proposal related to our own individual interests. This was critical to laying the foundation for my subsequent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar research in the area of cardiogenetics.