Prof Portia Jordan, Executive Head of the Department of Nursing and Midwifery in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University, delivered her inaugural lecture on Tuesday 25 July 2023. The title of her address was “To err is human: Developing evidence-based approaches for safer healthcare”.
Jordan spoke to the Corporate Communication and Marketing Division about how her research helps to advance the implementation of evidence-based healthcare in nursing education and clinical practice to ensure the safety of patients.
Tell us more about your research and why you became interested in this specific field.
My journey as a clinician started in the critical care unit caring for the most vulnerable patients who are critically ill and often intubated and connected to mechanical ventilators for respiratory support.
The management of the mechanically ventilated patient is multi-layered, requiring highly technical psychomotor skills, advanced pathophysiological (how a disease affects a patient, including both physical and functional changes) knowledge, expertise in invasive monitoring, and the implementation of evidence-based interventions through clinical decision-making.
Due to physiological derangements (physiological disturbances caused by trauma), critical illness, the critical care environment, and the complications related to mechanical ventilation and airway management, patient safety is often compromised. It became my quest as a researcher to search for ways to ensure patient safety and provide the best available care.
Working in a fast-paced and complex environment, it was acknowledged that to err is human but that errors can be prevented. Humans may make mistakes, but they can also come up with solutions, find alternatives and meet the challenges ahead. Evidence-based practices and the application thereof as a patient safety competency became the underpinning for our research work.
Furthermore, patient safety is a global burden of disease in all healthcare settings and needs to be prioritised to ensure universal health coverage, quality of care, patient satisfaction and safe care. It is our responsibility to provide safe care to all entrusted to our care as health professionals, and that responsibility became the stimulus for my work.
How would you describe the relevance of your work?
Patient safety is a global concern and has been prioritized by many professional organisations, including the World Health Organization, in a quest to achieve universal health coverage. Evidence-based practice has been identified as a patient safety competency.
Our research focuses on providing the best available evidence for healthcare professionals, in particular nurses, to aid their decision-making in caring for vulnerable groups of patients. It aims to teach nurses about the evidence-based practice steps, how to generate evidence, synthesis, transfer, and ultimately have adequate strategies for implementing the evidence. In providing the best available evidence, cost-effective, efficient, and quality care is delivered, which will ensure patient safety. We have conducted the majority of our research in critical care units, but have expanded our work to emergency centres, peri-operative (when the patient is admitted, and undergoes anaesthesia and surgery), primary care units, and nursing education.
In ensuring that care is evidence-based, we can provide cost-effective, quality, and safe care to patients in all healthcare settings.
How does your research help ensure that patients don’t suffer injuries when they receive treatment?
Using different evidence-based interventions in advancing scholarship to determine best practices in education, nursing practice, research, and system applications ensures that patient safety practices are implemented in providing care to patients. By teaching students, professional nurses, and other healthcare professionals about the educational content, strategies, and evidence-based practices regarding patient safety, greater awareness is created for patient safety and preventing patient harm. A part of the research focuses on developing evidence-based educational interventions for nurses to enhance patient safety practices. By being more knowledgeable and evidence-informed, nurses can prevent mistakes such as medication errors, falls, infections, and airway complications to name a few.
You have spent many years in the challenging environment of higher education. What keeps you motivated when things get tough?
Being a knowledge broker and having the opportunity to transfer knowledge to others is motivating. No matter what the challenges, it is to keep the focus on the goal and our core purpose as educators. We are in a position, whether it is by means of our teaching and learning, research or social impact, to enrich the knowledge economy through our work, contributions, skill sets, and presence. I thus would like to encourage every educator to fulfil the significant role of educating people in whatever sphere and place, and to live out that purpose.
Before you entered the world of academia, you were a professional nurse. What would your message be to young people who may aspire to a career in nursing?
Nursing is a profession that provides us with a profound opportunity to care for individuals, families, and communities entrusted to our care from birth to a successful recovery or a peaceful death. Studying nursing will not only equip you with scientific knowledge and the art of caring but will also prepare you to care for individuals across all lifespans and with different social determinants of health.
I want to encourage young people to consider nursing as a profession because being a nurse is a privilege and an investment into human life, by giving of yourself to others.
Tell us something exciting about yourself that people would not expect.
I love interior decorating and browsing through shops, art galleries, and extraordinary places for ideas.
How do you spend your free time?
Reflective practice is important to me, so I spend my free time either in the health spa, journaling, or enjoying nature.