de Tornyay Center for Healthy Aging

March 18, 2020

Scholar Spotlight: Kuan-Ching Wu

Kuan-Ching Wu, BSN, RN, is the de Tornyay Center for Healthy Aging’s pre-doctoral scholar. A first year PhD student from Taiwan, her research interests include older adults with dementia and their caregivers. Her faculty mentor is Tatiana Sadak.

All interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Find all scholar spotlight interviews here.

What interests you about the healthy aging field and research?

In my country, we have a countdown to becoming a super aged society. So in the next six years, when you walk down the street one out of five people will be over 65. We have low birth rates, so there will not be enough caregivers. The population with dementia cannot take care of themselves if their condition is really serious. This lack of caregivers, especially for people with dementia is the reason why I’m interested in caregivers and dementia.

Before you came to PhD program, did you have experience working with older adults or in aging research?

I worked for two and a half years in the emergency room in a medical center in Taiwan. I saw a lot of older adult patients every day. There are a lot of aging patients that need help, but there aren’t enough resources for caring for them, so that’s why I wanted to study gerontology. They are experienced, they have more stories than you. It’s pretty interesting working with them.

What research are you working on?

We’re doing research bringing together the literature on resilience from the caregivers’ perspective. We have a lot of literature about resilience for caregivers from the academic perspective, but we do not know how those caregivers think about resilience. Resilience is an important ability for caregivers to maintain their own health.

What is resilience?

Resilience is humans’ natural ability to bounce back and recover from negative events. It‘s associated with better health and well-being in caregivers so if we can improve resilience in caregivers, it will help them reduce their psychological symptoms and physiological symptoms.

I learned about resilience while I was in my first quarter of my PhD program. While the concept of caregiver resilience is highly discussed and studied across a variety of disciplines and countries including Taiwan, the most important piece of the puzzle is missing—the voices and the perceptions from the caregivers themselves. So I am interested in finding out how caregivers of patient with dementia think about this issue.

Why is this work important?

There aren’t a lot of perspectives on resilience from caregivers. There are a lot of papers about how we as nursing scholars think about resilience. Other academic disciplines also have different definitions on resilience in caregivers.

There’s one paper doing pilot research studies on caregivers’ perspective and they found that most of the caregivers didn’t have a clear definition of resilience, so that’s why I’m thinking of doing it from their perspective. If we have a more general view from the caregivers’ perspective we can know what they really think is important, not only from our scholar’s perspective. If we know what it is they consider important in resilience, we can do further interventions for them more specific to their needs.

Why did you choose nursing?

I like something practical where I can put all my knowledge into practice. I found nursing is the kind of discipline where I can put what I learn into practice. Nursing is really meaningful for me, because even when I’m working in the ER, I can see every day that what I do is helping other people to get better.

What has been an unforgettable experience during your time at the School of Nursing?

There are two. The first one is the event held by the de Tornyay Center for Healthy Aging fall quarter. The Ignite Aging symposium is really interesting because the center held a lecture for the community and they attended the lecture and learned something. And the musical interludes between lectures helped create a positive atmosphere.

I also think studying abroad is a really special experience. UW has offered us a lot of resources and everybody is really friendly here. In my class, there are only two international students, me and another Korean friend. It’s not our native language, so it’s pretty hard but we always tell each other, we can do it.

How has your experience helped you with your career?

I have a really special opportunity here in the de Tornyay Center as a pre-doctoral scholar. I have certain projects to do, like conducting a literature review with a team. It’s really tough, but it’s helped me to have more training. I think I’ll learn a lot.

What are your plans after you graduate?

I plan to stay here after I graduate, about five years, learn more about what I’m doing and publish. Maybe I will apply to post-doctoral researcher positions or to jobs in universities or medical centers. I hope to deliver research that can benefit aging populations and their caregivers, especially Chinese-Americans and Asian immigrants here — people who have similar cultural backgrounds — so I can help them with my bilingual experience. After that, I think I’m looking forward to going back to my country, promoting health care, building optimal health services for adult geriatric patients in Taiwan, and maybe working in the Ministry of Health and Welfare or finding a job at a large medical center.