Nursing PhD student receives dissertation funding from nursing organizations

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Rebecca Bates attributes Mason’s interdisciplinary collaboration for elevating her research on adolescents and opioids.

Rebecca Bates, Nursing PhD student

As the opioid crisis continues, experts search for interdisciplinary solutions and ways to nurture the next generation of researchers. That is why Rebecca A. Bates, DNP, FNP-C, PMP, has received funding from two sources to support her PhD in Nursing dissertation research on adolescents and opioids. Though rare for a student to receive funding for her dissertation, Bates is one of 19 nurses selected to receive the international nursing honor society Sigma Theta Tau’s 2021 $5,000 Sigma Small Grants and is the 2022 Connie Henry Award ($750) recipient from the Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners, Northern Virginia Region.

Bates is grateful to Nursing faculty, Associate Professor Kyeung Mi Oh, for supporting her research interests and suggesting funding opportunities. She also credits the interdisciplinary opportunities she has had at Mason for expanding her understanding of research possibilities and exploring new ways of thinking about complex problems to create and test new solutions.

“We won’t solve the world’s complex problems in our silos,” Bates said. “I would not have had many of the opportunities I have had if I had gone to another school. Mason has robust support and interdisciplinary opportunities that I’ve enjoyed taking advantage of during my PhD journey.”

In addition to interdisciplinary research, Bates is a Justice Community Opioid Intervention Network (JCOIN) Learning Experiences to Advance Practice (LEAP) Scholar 2022-2023 through the Schar School of Policy and Government, and she is working toward a graduate certificate in Qualitative Research Methods from Mason’s College of Education and Human Development. In 2020, she was also selected for the first cohort of Mason's Center for Adaptive Systems of Brain-Body Interactions’ (CASBBI) National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) Program. Bates and her fellow interdisciplinary team members participated in community-engaged design project focused on risks and socio-ecological factors associated with opioid use treatment. NRT participants work across disciplines to create solutions to the world’s most challenging problems, including the opioid epidemic.

Bates already holds a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree and said her clinical practice background informs her current research and prompted her to pursue a PhD degree.

“I never thought I’d leave clinical practice,” she said. “So many issues that patients came in with were preventable. I’ve always been interested in what makes someone healthy and well, and what supports are missing. The only way to prevent people from getting sick is to go back to the research. And when I did, there were still so many questions—and many of those questions can be answered by more research, so I decided I needed to become a researcher.”

The adolescent population is where Bates thinks she can make a difference. Her dissertation research is focused on adolescents and opioids, the experiences of adolescent sub-cultures, and how the sub-cultures shape the adolescent experience with opioids. Her dissertation is titled, “Exploring Sub-Cultural Adolescent Population Experiences of Opioids [ESCAPE Opioids].”

“Adolescents are starting to make their own decisions, create their own social norms, and question what they know—this in-between space is what makes them the ideal population to engage with and to impact their lives before they may start using opioids or other drugs,” said Bates. She is conducting her research in a county with one of the highest opioid overdose mortality rates in the country, and she wants to hear directly from adolescents. She is exploring what sub-cultures have naturally formed and learning from teens about what is meaningful in their lives and what they think is important for decision-makers to know about factors in their community that may contribute to or prevent teens from using opioids and other drugs. This research could inform substance use prevention strategies in this county.

“As a nurse practitioner, I provided primary care services for many patients who experienced overdoses. I want to not only prevent adolescents from using substances, but also find or create opportunities to keep them healthy for the rest of their lives,” said Bates.

Bates currently works for the University of Baltimore, Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area’s (HIDTA) prevention program, A Division for Advancing Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) as the Technical Assistance (TA) Program Manager. In this role, she supports all TA requests from 33 HIDTAs throughout the United States.

Learn more about Mason’s Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing program.