Untreatable bacteria are on the rise and the cause? Overusing antibiotics. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
By Quincey Taylor
Every year, a member of the BYU College of Nursing faculty is awarded the Mary Ellen Edmunds “Learning the Healer’s art” Fellowship. The awardee receives funding for three years to put towards their research in progressing the Healer’s art. Receiving this fellowship is a great honor, and this year’s honoree is associate dean and associate professor Dr. Katreena Merrill.
Merrill’s current research, which emphasizes quality and improvement in patient safety, revolves around the education of nurses about the appropriate use of antibiotics. In America’s current healthcare system, antibiotics are extremely overused. Everything from a cold, a sore throat, or a virus is usually treated with a dosage of antibiotics.
However, overprescribing this useful tool in treating sickness has resulted in the development of resistant bacteria. These “superbugs” do not respond to the antibiotics that were successfully used in the past. Essentially, there is no treatment strong enough to be effective against them. In fact, reducing superbugs’ resistance to antibiotics is one of the primary focuses of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the CDC, each year in the U.S. at least 2 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and at least 23,000 people die.
The ultimate goal of Merrill’s research is to improve the knowledge and attitude of student nurses towards “antibiotic stewardship.” This term implies that nurses have a responsibility to control the usage of antibiotics and even withhold them when necessary. This way, nurses can be the first line of defense against superbugs.
Merrill has worked with Intermountain Medical Center to research what nurses know about antibiotics and their role in healthcare. In their research, they identified some gaps in nurses’ knowledge, including students’ knowledge as they prepare to go into a workplace where antibiotic resistance is an issue.
To curb this lack of knowledge, Merrill is using her Edmunds fund to collaborate with students and develop education modules for nursing students. Preparing these nurses for the hospital or clinic setting will assure them how to proceed in certain situations and combat superbugs.
For example, Merrill hopes to implement training to help nurses dig deeper and not rule out less extreme drugs like penicillin when a patient says they are allergic to it. By asking questions like ‘When did you last have penicillin?’ or ‘What happened to you when you took it?’ or ‘Have you tried penicillin since then?,’ nurses can avoid using harsher antibiotics more often.
Merrill has really enjoyed using implementation science to truly see if nurses’ knowledge has been improved in this area and progressing the Healer’s art.
She comments, “For me, quality improvement and patient safety really align itself to the Healer’s art, because the Savior was an exemplar of how you could always be better or do better. When he talked about the widow’s mite, he said that she was doing a great job giving her one little portion. He’s not saying that the other people giving more money were doing bad, but rather it is one example saying that we can do better. Even though I’ve been a nurse for a very long time, I can always do better, right? To me, that’s what the Healer’s art is about in nursing, not only being compassionate but doing the best we can with the evidence that we have and continuing to grow and learn and become.”