A new center in USF’s College of Nursing should better prepare nurses to pursue the overall well-being of patients, and promises to attract federal dollars for frontier research.
The Center for Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is among a handful in the nation evaluating alternative therapies to determine if they are safe and effective.
“This is an opportunity for nurses to make a huge impact on people’s lives,” said USF Professor of Nursing Maureen Groer, who is directing the work of several graduate students at the Center.
Nurses trained at the Center, the only one in the nation in a College of Nursing, will be more attuned to the needs of patients and better prepared to field questions about alternative therapies, said Nick Hall, the Center’s director.
Several prominent universities that host PNI centers include the University of Miami, Ohio State University and University of California at Los Angeles.
According to the PNI Research Society’s Web site, the field convenes researchers from various disciplines to study how emotions and stress impact health, specifically the immune system.
Groer said there is a public misperception of PNI as alternative medicine, some practices of which may not be validated by scientific research.
But unconventional approaches to illness such as herbal supplements, acupuncture and energy field therapy are the focus of some PNI studies.
Working with the Center, Lois Gonzales, Associate Professor of Nursing, is testing the effects of Reiki, an energy-field therapy of Japanese origin, on children with sickle-cell anemia and leukemia.
Though Reiki cannot substitute for conventional medical treatment, she wants to see if the potentially relaxing effects of the therapy lessen the stress and pain for ailing children.
Her research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is part of a pilot study on Reiki sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of NIH created to evaluate remedies not endorsed by conventional medicine.
The Center’s goal is to conduct research in the field of PNI to improve clinical practice, something of benefit to nursing students, said Nick Hall, the Center’s director.
Hall, formerly a USF professor, said nurses have the most contact with patients in hospitals and are in the best position to mitigate a patient’s fears and concerns, thereby minimizing the negative impact stress can have on the immune system.
Nurses trained in PNI can caution patients to avoid alternative treatments not supported by evidence-based research, which could be ineffective or even harmful, Hall said.
Hall hopes to use findings in PNI to develop programs for corporations and athletic organizations that will emphasize the prevention of illness so people remain healthy and productive. Funding for these projects will be sought from corporate sources, Hall said.
“We want to make sure we’re not just bogged down with theory,” Hall said. “But (research), as far as I’m concerned, will not be finished when it’s published. It’s not over until every effort has been made to translate it into a practical application.”
According to Groer, the Center at this time is little more than a handful of faculty and graduate students interested in PNI and its practical application. The direction of the Center and its sources of funding are still under discussion.
“It’s more of a concept than a thing right now,” Groer said.
Hall said there are no plans to construct a separate building for the Center, which uses existing facilities within USF Health to pursue its work. Now the focus is attracting grants and developing a high quality of research and education there, he said.