Wanted: 100,000 Nurses

February 23rd, 2012

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By , BSN, RN

Wanted: 100,000 female nurses and nursing students to be part of the largest, longest running women’s health study in the United States. The Nurses’ Health Study has been the most definitive study of women’s health running since the 1970s. So far, more than 230,000 nurses have participated in the largest investigations ever conducted into risk factors for major chronic diseases in women, like cancer and cardiovascular disease. And now, they need you too.

Dr. Frank Speizer first started The Nurses’ Health Study in 1976. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), RNs were sought out for the original study because researchers thought their nursing educations would increase their ability to respond with a high degree of accuracy to brief, technically worded questionnaires. Researchers also hoped that nurses’ commitment to health would help motivate them to participate in a long-term study. The study still focuses on nurses so the researchers can most accurately track changes over time. Remarkably 90 percent of those original nurses are still enrolled in and taking part in the study.

Today, the Nurses’ Health Study 3 (NHS3) is recruiting RNs, LPNs, and nursing students between the ages of 20 and 46 who live in the U.S. or Canada. It is the first time nursing students have been asked to enroll.

In 1976, only married RNs were accepted into the study. They came from the 11 most populous states and were recruited using contact information provided by local nursing boards. The states were: California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Letters were sent out to 170,000 nurses and a total of 122,000 responded.

In 1989 the program was expanded to form the Women’s Health Study 2 (NHS2), led by Dr. Walter Willett. Again funded by the NIH, the purpose of NHS2 was to study diet and lifestyle risk factors in women who were younger than the NHS1 participants.

This time around the nurses recruited were between 25 and 42 years old (the youngest nurses in NHS1 at the time were 43). Investigators with NHS2 hoped to have as many volunteers as with NHS1 and they came very close. Of more than half-a-million invitations sent to female nurses in California, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas (the most populous states), 116,686 nurses joined. Many members of NHS2 were daughters or nieces of NHS1 participants. Ninety percent of NHS2 nurses still participate.

In 1996 and 2004, participants in NHS2 were invited to enroll their children between the ages of 9-14 in a similar long term study to investigate factors that influence weight change. This study was called Growing Up Today Study (GUTS) and it is ongoing.

More than 25,000 nurses and nursing students have signed up already, and recruitment will stay open until the goal of 100,000 participants is reached. Researchers hope to engage a highly diverse group of women in the "next generation" of the study. “The new group, NHS3, will allow us understand how today's lifestyle and environment affect a woman's health in the future,” said Willett, who is also leading the NHS3 study.

Nurses enrolled in the earlier studies are encouraging their daughters and younger colleagues to join. "My mom started filling out surveys when the study began," one nurse recently commented on the NHS3 Facebook page (www.facebook.com/NHS3.org). "I am so proud to be part of this study and see what it has done."

For the first time ever, the study is entirely web-based. Participants can join online and complete the study's surveys through a secure website, at http://www.nhs3.org/index.php/joinpage.

NHS3 aims to be more representative of nurses’ diverse backgrounds. It will closely look at health issues related to lifestyle, fertility/pregnancy, environment, and nursing exposures.

Past studies have resulted in information about the dangers of tobacco and the benefits of the right kind of nutrition. It seems like the importance of being physically active has always been known but that isn’t the case. The Nurses’ Health Studies have forged roads to understanding just how important physical activity is for everyone. Other studies looked at oral contraceptive use, alcohol consumption, and the connections between diet and disease risk. Hundred of peer-reviewed papers have resulted from the Nurses’ Health Studies.

Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, conduct the study. It is supported by such diverse nursing organizations as the American Nurses Association, the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses, National Black Nurses Association, the Institute for Nursing Healthcare Leadership, the National League for Nursing, and the National Student Nurses Association.

So my nurse friends out there please sign up. Your participation can actually change the world, change science, and potentially save lives. These studies are the basis of much of what we know today and you can have an impact on what we know tomorrow. And, tell your coworkers, friends, and classmates, it takes a lot of nurses to reach 100,000.

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