Honors nursing major researched knowledge and use of oral contraceptives among college-aged women
When Honors College nursing major Emily Brawley ’23 realized that her peers felt they did not have enough information about oral contraceptives and how to take them effectively, she wondered if other college-aged women were having the same experience.
She chose to research “Oral Contraceptive Knowledge and Use Among College-Age Women” for her Honors College APEX Project and the results were surprising. Eighty percent of all study participants wished they had received more education prior to receiving their prescriptions.
The College of Nursing & Health Sciences faculty selected Brawley to present her research at the Eastern Nursing Research Society (ENRS) Conference this semester. Her research project will be published in the May/June issue of the Nursing Research journal, one of the top-ranked journals in nursing.
UMass Dartmouth experience
Why do you want to be a nurse?
“I’ve always wanted to be a nurse. From a young age, I enjoyed helping and taking care of others. My first patients were my dolls. I was always nursing them back to health after having ‘life-saving procedures.’ From that time on, it was clear to my family and me that nursing is what I was meant to do.”
Why did you decide to attend UMass Dartmouth?
“I heard a lot of good things about the nursing program. I wanted to go to school in Massachusetts, which is where I want to practice. I’m very happy that I chose UMass Dartmouth.”
How was your experience here?
“I can’t say enough about the professors. The faculty are very approachable and intelligent and so eager to teach. We have great professors; everyone is super nice and likes to help. I like the curriculum. All of my classes were helpful, and I really liked the clinicals.”
Brawley completed her clinicals at Charlton Memorial Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, St. Anne’s Hospital, and Emma Pendleton Bradley Hospital. Her mentorship—a real-world experience in nursing—was held at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston on a thoracic surgery floor. The mentorship involves following a nurse’s schedule for six weeks; Brawley worked two 12-hour shifts/week. “I enjoyed the one-on-one learning. I learned a lot from this experience and became more confident in my nursing skills,” she said.
Honors College APEX Project found that more knowledge is needed with prescriptions
Brawley finished her Honors classes in English and nursing during her junior year and was the top CNHS graduate of the Honors College. “It’s nice having a smaller class,” she said. “I was hesitant to join the Honors College my freshman year but I’m so glad that I did. The Honors College has opened doors for me that I didn’t think were possible, such as the ENRS Conference. It was challenging and taught me a lot about myself as a student and as a person. I am forever grateful for my family for believing in me and encouraging me to be part of the Honors College.”
All Honors College seniors must complete the APEX (Academic Project or Experience), which culminates their Honors education. The APEX is an original, independent project or experience that builds on everything students have learned and can consist of one of three tracks; traditional research, performance/expression, or applied/service.
Why did you choose this topic for your APEX Project?
“I chose this topic from personal experience,” said Brawley. “I found that it was difficult for myself and my friends to get enough education, so I decided to test their oral contraceptive knowledge. You could be in a group of girls and everyone will say something different.
“It’s important to know how to take medication effectively. For example, if you take an antibiotic with birth control, it’s less effective. There are also side effects and risks that are really important and could be life threatening.”
Brawley sent a Qualtrics survey and asked respondents who met the inclusion criteria to rate their knowledge of oral contraceptives, their awareness of side effects and the interaction with other medication, and whether they felt they received enough education with their prescription as well as their experience using it.
“The feedback was very interesting. While college-age students have some knowledge, they are not completely effective in taking their medication,” Brawley found. “Pediatricians are the most common prescribers (41%). While oral contraceptives are the most common form of birth control, respondents felt that was the only option, but it isn’t. Feeling comfortable is very important. Respondents felt like they were learning a lot on social media. Their lack of knowledge was consistent across all majors.
“The data acquired in this study shows that college-aged women have some knowledge but are not receiving the proper education from providers to practice the safest and most effective behaviors surrounding oral contraceptive use,” Brawley concluded in her research poster.
Last month’s unanimous recommendation by an advisory committee for the Food & Drug Administration may pave the way for contraceptives to be sold without a prescription. “I think it’s important that patients talk to their doctor before taking a new medication and hopefully do some research on their own,” Brawley said.
As for college-aged women using contraceptives for medical reasons other than preventing pregnancy, “the education still needs to be the same regardless of the reason they are taking the medication,” Brawley said.
Undergraduate research presented at major nursing conference
Dr. Kristen Sethares, who teaches Honors nursing, was Brawley’s mentor. Brawley was the only UMass Dartmouth nursing student selected to present her research at the Eastern Nursing Research Society Conference (ENRS) in Philadelphia over spring break.
“Each college is invited by ENRS to submit one student,” Sethares explained. “We want to choose a student who will represent us well. It is quite an honor. Nominees are presented, discussed, and voted on at a full faculty meeting. When Emily’s name was presented, several faculty members who have had her in class thought she was a good choice based on her poise, professionalism, and the stellar quality of her work as a UMass Dartmouth student.
“It was a delight to work with her,” Sethares added. “She met all deadlines, was open to constructive feedback, and always had questions for me based on the work she was doing. Her questions always stimulated discussion about the best way to tackle a problem.”
Undergraduate research provides valuable experiences and opportunities outside the classroom
“Nurses are encouraged to use evidence in their nursing careers. While evidence can include many sources, research evidence is mostly commonly used because every healthcare discipline understands research,” Sethares added. “Emily also had the chance to submit for Institutional Review Board approval which required ethics training and certification. She collected her data using an online Qualtrics platform which required more training and, finally, we analyzed the data together. In sum, she has had some nice in-depth exposure to a number of topics and additional training that not all students have.”
Brawley enjoyed her research experience. “ENRS was an eye-opening experience. I learned a lot about nursing research and the PhD program. I enjoyed sharing my research and appreciated all the kind feedback.
“This project taught me the importance of patient education and the importance of being able to properly teach a patient about their medication, and perhaps a new way of life. This will be helpful in treating college-age students.”
Develop good study habits early, advises Brawley
What advice do you have for future UMassD nursing students?
“Develop good study habits early on. Focus hard in your first and second year of classes and your third and fourth years will be much easier. I refer back to my pathophysiology class a lot that I took sophomore year.
“What really helped me was to expose myself to the material every day. I looked at lectures ahead of time, reviewed notes, and did the practice questions.”
Were there any challenges?
“Having confidence in myself. Figuring out how to study. Telling myself I am smart and meant to be here. I gained confidence by studying very hard and reviewing the material often. I remember getting that first test score back and saying, ‘Wow, this is what I am meant to do.’”
Future plans include possible advanced degree and cardiac care
Do you feel prepared for your future?
“I am definitely prepared for the NCLEX examination and I feel more prepared to be a nurse. You learn a lot when you get into the field and I learned to be a safe nurse. It’s very rewarding.”
Brawley plans to start her career on a med/surg floor. She is interested in cardiac care and currently works as a nursing assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital in a cardiac step-down unit, drawing blood and assisting nurses in caring for patients.
Brawley is considering pursuing a PhD in nursing and, according to Sethares, undergraduate research projects help prepare students for graduate school. “The skills of undertaking the project include searching the literature, synthesizing the literature, and designing and implementing the research method, which are all important thinking and organizational skills used in graduate school,” she said.
“The abstract of Emily’s presentation will be published in the Nursing Research journal, one of the top-ranked journals in nursing,” Sethares added. “It is unusual for an undergraduate student in nursing to have any type of publication because this is not typical of our education like other disciplines where students are part of research labs. It is quite an honor and hopefully her attendance at the conference exposed her to the possibilities beyond her BS in nursing.”