Examining perceptions of human trafficking

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As one of two inaugural Davis scholars at the College, Elizabeth “Liz” Long explored the role of nursing in human trafficking (HT) at a Philadelphia academic medical center’s emergency department (ED) this summer.  Liz now has a greater appreciation for the amount of attention and detail that goes into applying for IRB approval and how diligently IRB Board members work to protect human rights. She felt fortunate to have an expedited IRB review at both Villanova and the clinical site for the summer and was pleasantly surprised by the fluidity of the entire process. Similarly, Liz gained tremendous respect for nurses who conduct research on a daily basis as she understands the challenge of subject recruitment and data collection.

Although recruitment became an unexpected challenge in the ED, as the nurses are extremely busy caring for a diverse patient population, she was very lucky to have such experienced and knowledgeable nurses who took time to share their stories. The nurses were very knowledgeable regarding places for victims of domestic violence to seek refuge, but were not aware of specific places that HT victims could be treated. Finally, Liz discovered that the ED did not provide any in-services or continuing education courses on how to care for or screen for victims of HT.

Liz’s experience with her study “Policies and Perceptions of Human Trafficking: Examining Nurses’ Views on Human Trafficking Victims in the Emergency Department” gave her insight into patient diversity and shed light on areas for future education in the nursing field. “Nurses are at the front lines of patient care and it is imperative that we educate ourselves on how to better identify and care for this unique population of human trafficking victims,” says Liz.

Liz worked with Professor Elizabeth Dowdell, PhD, RN, FAAN who explains the significance of Liz’s work, “Her qualitative study, supported by the Davis Family, suggests that a systemic approach is needed to help Emergency Department nurses, as well as other types of nurses, develop best practices when working with victims of human trafficking.  Her research will lead to professional conversations about what educational programs and policies are needed to help nurses identify then provide resources to these very vulnerable victims.”

After becoming more aware of human trafficking in America, Liz has realized the potential for students to advocate for the screening and care for these patients, noting, “At Villanova, we are encouraged and taught to be more than ‘just a student’ by advocating for our patients and communicating with the interprofessional team.” Liz is planning to disseminate her research findings at the Villanova University College of Nursing Annual Research Symposium, the College of Nursing Undergraduate Research Day and the National Student Nurses’ Association Convention in April 2015. She hopes to apply her findings into forming a hospital policy to screen for victims of human trafficking.