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The Catalyst

Nursing advocate receives Presidential Career Award

By Mikie Hayes
Public Relations

Ida Spruill, Ph.D., R.N., was named a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers by U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 23.

The PECASE awards are the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

“The impressive achievements of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead,” President Obama said in a White House statement. “We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America’s global leadership for many years to come.”

Interim MUSC president and provost Mark Sothmann, echoed that praise. “On behalf of the faculty and staff of MUSC, I am pleased to offer the warmest congratulations to Dr. Ida Spruill for being named a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers,” he said. “This prestigious award recognizes Dr. Spruill’s outstanding work in the area of ethno-cultural barriers to health literacy and disease management among African–Americans, as well as the tremendous potential she shows for future leadership and research impact. Her project holds great promise for the state and beyond, and we salute her dedication to excellence and intellectual discovery. Dr. Spruill brings great pride to the College of Nursing, the Medical University, and the state of South Carolina.”

When Spruill first received the letter apprising her of the honor, she thought it was an invitation to have her name listed in a book of who’s–who for a price. So, she put it to the side. It wasn’t until her son called and said, “Mom, this is real, you’re being honored by the president,” that she fully grasped the magnitude of the award.

“I’m still in amazement,” Spruill said. “I’m humbled to be recognized by such esteemed experts for this honor and thankful to be able to work with Sea Islanders, a population I truly respect and love. To be honored for doing something I love, with people who put their trust in me, is an emotionally–charged experience. I am elated to bring positive recognition to MUSC, especially the College of Nursing, and to South Carolina.”

Spruill believes all people have something to give to the advancement of science. She is especially concerned about the health literacy of vulnerable populations: How people understand and process health information, how they respond and act on that information, as well as how other related factors affect them. Spruill is interested in exploring the important relationship between health literacy, cultural beliefs and diabetes self–management. Understanding this relationship, she explained, is pivotal to the design of tailored interventions to improve self–management and health status in populations disproportionately affected with the burden of diabetes.

“Most research on health literacy doesn’t take into account the impact of culture and beliefs. South Carolina is divided into four distinct demographic regions. I want to understand how the social determinants of health (where people are born, socialized, and raised) affect health literacy — and their beliefs about health. We anticipate that the health behaviors of groups will differ due to genesis of the population in the regions, as well as the variability in social determinants of health affecting health literacy within and between regions. People with poor health literacy tend to have poorer health outcomes and that typically includes the elderly, uninsured, under-educated, and minorities,” Spruill said.

Spruill is driven by the good in the people she serves. One example that stands out was the day an elderly woman came to MUSC to participate in a research study. While it was a hardship, she and her sister drove in from a little town near Florence. “She was 75 and had been fasting all night,” shared Spruill. “She got terribly lost at MUSC and was running very late. All she could remember was the word sugar and a kind public safety officer finally got them to the right place. When they walked in, I said, ‘I thought maybe you weren’t coming.’ I will never forget what she said to me. ‘I had to come, I couldn’t let you down.’ When I think of that, it brings tears to my eyes and warms my soul. The trust people place in me makes it all worthwhile.”

Spruill joins 101 other recipients from across the nation in receiving this honor. She was one of only two National Institute of Nursing Research scientists to receive the presidential honor and South Carolina’s only recipient. The awards are conferred annually at the White House following recommendations from the participating federal agencies. Spruill does not know who submitted her research project for consideration, but believes it likely came from the NINR.

“Dr. Spruill has distinguished herself as an exceptional nurse researcher and advocate for the highest quality of patient care for diverse populations,” said Gail Stuart, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the College of Nursing. The College of Nursing is so very proud to have one of our stellar faculty recognized with this outstanding award.”

People often ask Spruill what fuels her research and her immense love for the people involved. She refers to her favorite quote by Marianne Williamson: “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

January 16, 2014

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