Michael Mercier | UAH
The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System, announced UAH has partnered with Castner Incorporated and consortia partners Emory University and Washington State University to receive a $1 million National Institute of Health’s National Institute Environmental Health Sciences grant to provide environmental health research training.
The five-year grant covers a train-the-trainer program called EHRI-NCS, which stands for Environmental Health Research Institute for Nurse and Clinician Scientists. The program will encompass 144 faculty, scientists and educators who aim to shape the next generation of environmental health nurse scientists.
UAH became involved with this project primarily through the efforts of UAH Associate Professor in the College of Nursing, Dr. Azita Amiri.
“I have been working on environmental health research areas for the past decade,” Dr. Amiri says. “I have studied the effect of indoor air pollution on pregnancy outcomes, such as low birthweight and the impact of outdoor air pollution, precisely particulate matter 2.5, on asthma, cardiovascular diseases and mortality rates. Although the environment plays a vital role in human health, few nurses focus on environmental health research and practices. For this reason, a group of environmental health-oriented nurses in the nation is connected through the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) to inform nurses about this topic. I served as co-chair of the research forum in ANHE, and now I am a board member.”
The grant-winning project was developed within ANHE to meet the vital goal of training nurses and clinicians about environmental health.
“Environmental health plays a vital role in our health, but our understanding of its role is minimal,” Dr. Amiri explains. “So, nurses and other clinicians must investigate those relationships and consider the evidence in their practices. Although all partners in this project are working together, each has a particular module to develop based on their expertise. My role is to provide training and information about health disparities and at-risk populations because of my previous work on pregnant women, children and environmental justice communities in Alabama as high-risk populations. Also, training nurses on the direct and indirect measurement of indoor air pollution is part of my responsibilities. I have a positive pressure cleanroom and indoor air measurement tools in my lab at the College of Nursing. It is a great place to conduct relevant studies and train others.”
The EHRI-NCS will enroll a new cohort each year. The program includes self-paced online courses, a one-week intensive workshop and mentorship support.
“This is a five-year grant,” Dr. Amiri says. “The first cohort will be completely online due to pandemics; however, we hope to have it in-person at Emory and Washington State University in the following years.”
The location for the intensive workshop will rotate over the years among online-only; Atlanta, GA.; Niagara Falls, NY.; and Spokane, WA. The program is recruiting clinician scientist participants who have completed at least six academic credits of graduate research and who educate, train and mentor registered nurses in research trajectories.
“The EHRI-NCS is completely participant-centered by using a flipped classroom approach,” explains Jessica Castner, President of Castner Incorporated and PI for the project. “This means everyone has online access to the course basics to finish at their own pace. Then, the program focuses entirely on supporting the participant’s goal – whether that’s designing a new center, a new course, a new academic program, a new research project, a new policy or adding a new environmental health variable to their work. Picture it as if each participant is given the keys to open whatever door they want, and the program is designed to offer a great deal of depth and expertise to support whatever the new learning choices the participant decides to invest their time and energy into. The biggest requirement is curiosity.”
“UAH is one of the several institutes that are partnered in this project,” notes Dr. Amiri. “All institutes involved have at least one nurse faculty who is a well-known nurse scientist in the nation in environmental health. I serve as the faculty expert for UAH. Dr. Jessica Castner is the PI for this project. She and I served as co-chairs of the research forum for ANHE a few years ago, and that is how we got connected. Dr. Castner has taken the lead and brought several nurse experts in environmental health together for this project. I am so grateful to be recognized as one of the nurse experts in environmental health, to connect with amazing nurses in the nation on behalf of UAH and to be part of this project.”
The EHRI-NCS grew out of successful projects and collaborations in the ANHE’s Research Workgroup. The program brings innovations and scientific information to nursing leaders around the country in rural, urban, suburban and other settings.
Dr. Amiri is especially hopeful when considering the potential for this new training when it comes to impacting the healthcare field as a whole.
“These days, people are paying more attention to environmental exposures and chronic diseases, especially in children’s health,” she says. “But studying environmental factors and their role in chronic diseases is tricky. One study will not take us anywhere; we need to replicate studies to accomplish robust conclusions. Environmental factors usually have chronic and silent effects on our health. Unfortunately, most of the time, we don’t notice them.
“For example, cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism, diabetes, Parkinson’s, you name it, are all related to various environmental exposure, based on the current evidence. A growing area of research focuses on the interaction of genetic and environmental factors.”