Released on January 21, 2022

UCF Presidential Doctoral Fellow Aislinn Woody and a DNP student at the University of Virginia recently earned a national excellence award for their research project.

“Taking opportunities to bear witness to the lives of people for whom the healthcare system is failing, and being able to help my fellow healthcare workers know better and do better is how I continue to practice nursing,” says Aislinn Woody, who worked as a registered nurse in Tampa before becoming a full-time student in the BSN to PhD graduate program at the UCF College of Nursing.

When the U.S. Coast Guard veteran and military wife saw a request for creative assistance on a research project from Habibah Williams in a Blue Star Nurses (nurses married to someone in the military) Facebook group, she knew she couldn’t turn it down.

Aislinn Woody, BSN to PhD student at UCF College of Nursing
Aislinn Woody, BSN, RN,
UCF College of Nursing PhD student

Williams, a nurse practitioner and DNP student at the University of Virginia, was seeking to affect awareness and change on weight bias. Her doctoral scholarly project was to create an eight-week intervention to educate healthcare staff — and that’s where Woody could help. “Having the opportunity to use my research experience in a creative way to help improve patient experiences was too exciting to turn down,” says Woody.

The two nursing students, who have never met in person, collaborated online and on Zoom to create a unique fictional narrative told from the perspective of Eva. Eva is an obese woman experiencing a series of worsening health issues, and the story follows her as she engages with a range of healthcare providers from dismissive and stigmatizing to respectful and patient-centered. The story, which is delivered in three parts, allows providers to see how weight-based bias impacts an individual’s experience of healthcare and why those experiences may lead to care avoidance.

Williams and Woody received the prestigious American Academy of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Graduate Nursing Student Academy Collaboration Excellence Award for their intervention, which included provider assessment and evaluation in addition to education. The two are presenting the project, “Evaluation of an Educational Intervention to Effect Obesity Bias,” at this week’s AACN Doctoral Education Conference.

“All it takes is a small deviation from a privileged position to radically alter your experience with healthcare,” comments Woody. “Improving the delivery of healthcare means reimagining our field and amplifying more diverse voices. We need interventions to build empathy because we haven’t created environments that build it naturally.”

For her own research, Woody is also focused on addressing stigmas in healthcare. Woody is interested in how healthcare providers can expand their ideas about harm reduction to reduce stigmas experienced by people who use drugs, and decrease overdoses and infectious disease transmission while improving the quality of life for people who use drugs.

“I’ve seen how changing provider biases, even in small ways, can be life-changing, or in some cases, life-saving for people.”

As a nurse, she cared for a young woman with endocarditis (an inflammation inside the lining of the heart) related to injection drug use. “While she was not the first person that had used drugs that I had cared for, she was the first to be open with me about her use,” recalls Woody. By the time the woman was discharged from the hospital, she was abstaining from even prescription opioids and expressed an interest in maintaining her sobriety. Less than 48 hours after her discharge, she died from an overdose.

“We knew her history, her life experiences and her risk, and we sent her home without any practical resource. I decided that day that I wanted to be part of the solution and started looking for PhD programs that would support this.”

Woody chose UCF for her Nursing PhD for the support and culture it offered. “I felt that I would be more than just a student, but a partner in my education.” That decision was further confirmed after meeting with Associate Professor Christa Cook, whose research uses creative approaches to combat HIV stigma in healthcare providers. “Her passion for qualitative methods brought the piece I didn’t know was missing – the ability to tell humans stories in scientific literature,” says Woody. “She has been an incredible mentor and I am so grateful to have her on my team.”

Woody began the BSN to PhD program in Summer 2019 and was awarded the UCF Presidential Doctoral Fellowship. The fellowship recognizes outstanding doctoral students who have demonstrated excellent professional development and scholarly achievement as well as strong potential for successful graduate study.

“Nursing is so much more than many realize,” she says. “I’m not working in patient care anymore, but this type of work gives me the chance to continue to advocate for patients who are marginalized and abused by systemic failures.”

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