Top Nurse: Heather Royer translates science into practice

Royer was awarded the innovation award
Top Nurse: Heather Royer translates science into practice
Ruthie Hauge

At its core, nursing is a research- and science-based field, but Heather Royer knows how quickly technology and best practices change.

In her role as a nurse scientist, she works to execute new nursing practices based on research in the clinical setting. In the meantime, she also conducts research firsthand.

Royer is the only person with the nurse scientist title at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital. Many other health care settings have yet to include this staff position, an emerging role for nurses.

Royer, who has been a practicing nurse for 19 years, realized she wanted to pursue research and teaching after completing her doctorate in 2008. As a nurse scientist, she’s able to do both. Part of her job is to sort through research and translate it into impactful practice.

Royer says that it typically takes a decade to implement research into practice, but a nurse scientist acts as a conduit, speeding up the process.

One of Royer’s projects took less than two years to fully implement and sustain, resulting in improved patient care.

That project changed the peripheral IV system used at the VA hospital. Historically, Royer says, nurses would change patients’ IVs after 72 hours even if they were functioning properly.

It was once assumed that changing the IV would reduce the risk of infection, but studies found no difference when you leave in the IV throughout the patient’s hospital stay or until physicians found a clinical reason for removal.

Royer says she was motivated to change the process after seeing her mother’s experience as an inpatient with cancer. Some of her mom’s most traumatic experiences involved nurses changing functioning IVs and reinserting new ones — a practice that subjected her to multiple pokes.

“Having seen her [have] that experience, I felt even more motivated to say, ‘Well if there is research that says this is a safe thing to do, then we really need to try to get this out to more facilities so we can save patients these pokes,'” Royer says.

After a year and a half of discussions with stakeholders, the new process was implemented. Its impact was evaluated until the practice spread throughout the unit.

Because of her work on peripheral IVs, Royer was selected to present her work in August at the 2018 VHA Shark Tank Competition, which allows individuals to pitch projects to facility directors. The directors decide whether to institute the practices throughout all VA facilities. While her project was not chosen, other facilities have contacted her to learn more about her research.

When she’s not sorting through research of her own, Royer teaches others through the Evidence-Based Scholars Program. Throughout the yearlong program, the scholars, who come from various backgrounds, learn about evidence-based practices in hopes of implementing their own solution to a clinical problem by the end of the program.

“It’s really our way of helping create a culture in our facility of being able to really engage in evidence-based practice,” Royer says. “I think the most rewarding part for me is when I can sit back and watch others who I’ve mentored succeed in accomplishing projects.”