UTEP professor researches effects of childhood trauma on Hispanic nursing students

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Illustration by Hugo Hinojosa

UTEP professor said the stress nursing students typically face is already significant, so traumatic experiences can potentially make education even more difficult.

Sven Kline, Contributor

Dr. Karen Fowler, assistant professor of nursing at UTEP, is researching the effects of childhood trauma on Hispanic nursing students during their years of study with the help of a $5,000 grant she received this year. Funding from the grant began in early August and will continue until the end of July 2021.

Fowler said the purpose of the study is to understand if teachings should be better tailored to meet Hispanic students’ needs by examining the correlation between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and its possible impediment on nursing education.

Inspired by a conference that discussed traumatic childhood events, Fowler found interest due to the events of the Aug. 3 mass shooting that took place at the Cielo Vista Walmart in 2019.

“The event that occurred in August last year emphasizes that our students have already been exposed to violence and other traumatic stresses,”  Fowler said.  “In addition, students who cross the border to attend UTEP have also witnessed unique stressful events.

“It has been proven that students who have experienced trauma have adaptive processes that are different from traditional college students. Educators can mitigate factors that may lead to re-traumatization of these students and optimize the student’s adaptive skills, thus promoting success in a high-stress career such as nursing.”

With a focus on ACE and the stress it hampers upon students, especially nursing students, Fowler said this research hopes to find a correlation between the two factors as “no research on ACE has been conducted on this specific population.”

Although Hispanics make up just a fraction of the health care workforce in the United States, according to the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, Fowler said the population of Hispanic nurses is expected to grow in years to come.

She notes that ACE not only affects the development of nursing students, but also for students of all majors, but Fowler said the stress nursing students typically face is already significant in and of itself, so traumatic experiences can potentially make the education experience even more difficult.

Fowler stated that “exposure to child abuse, family violence, sexual trauma, or alcoholism as a child has been linked to unfavorable physical and social outcomes as an adult.”

She added that “much research exists that indicates children who are exposed to trauma do not do well in school and how trauma continues to inform their life is an area of concern for faculty in higher education.”

With that being said, Fowler said the research can especially useful for nursing professors at UTEP given the uniqueness of El Paso’s border region and it being predominantly Hispanic, also taking into consideration the fact that many students crossed the border every day to attend UTEP before the pandemic.

The study aims to benefit such students if whether teaching strategies can be tailored in way that can help Hispanic nursing students become successful.

“Baseline ACE scores have been determined for college students in prior research,” Fowler states, “However, we postulate that our student population, based border location and unique experiences, may have elevated trauma exposures. This can highlight then need for changes or modification of teaching/learning strategies.”

Fowler spoke on some of the goals she has for this study, the first being to find correlations if any and the frequencies of such among the Hispanic population which can be used to inform other nursing communities.

Another goal Fowler mentioned is increase in patient care performance which can provide “evidence that lends insights to ensure the success of the Hispanic nursing student will ultimately benefit nursing as a whole and consequently, patient care.”

Sven Kline can be reached at [email protected]; @SvenKline on Twitter.