de Tornyay Center for Healthy Aging

December 7, 2020

Scholar Spotlight: Hillary Frey

Hillary Frey is the de Tornyay Center’s Myrene C. McAninch Undergraduate Scholar. A BSN student, her project is ‘Identification of Triggers that Alert Older Adults to Prepare for Age-related Changes’. Her faculty mentor is Shaoqing Ge.

All interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 

Find more scholar spotlight interviews here


Why did you choose nursing?

I landed on nursing mostly from bits and pieces that I liked from previous jobs. It’s a good fit for my skills and interests. I like the hands-on care, the focus on disease management from a social and a scientific perspective. I like to have a role in community and public health. Especially with advanced degrees, there’s opportunities and training to participate in leadership and systems change.

What were those things in other jobs that you found that you liked?

I worked as an anesthesia technician in a hospital which was hands on and fast paced, and I liked that. After that I worked as a research coordinator in a neurology clinic with patients with multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s, so I was mostly working with an older population. I saw how chronic conditions can make it difficult for people to age with health and dignity. I became interested in the systems that were preventing them from aging how they wanted to or weren’t supporting them in aging how they wanted to. I realized that there’s a lot more to helping people achieve health than hands on care. Nursing seemed it would incorporate both of those things.

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

My ambulatory care clinicals this year have been really memorable. I’ve seen a lot of nurse-led visits for managing chronic conditions. The visits are pretty long and interesting because the patients open up to the nurses about their medical conditions and a lot of other social, economic, and lifestyle concerns.  I used to think that the nursing role in outpatient care was simple and straightforward, but my clinical showed me that nurses get involved in so many different aspects of a patient’s life. These visits incorporated all the aspects of nursing care that I’m interested in.

How has your experience at the School of Nursing helped you with your career trajectory?

A big reason that I picked the School of Nursing at UW was because they had an honors research program and the healthy aging center. Those are two things that I knew that I wanted mentored experience in. I am participating in the honors program and I’m doing a project on healthy aging. I’m happy that the honors program worked out because that was something that I had to apply to. Having a research mentor in that field, I can see that it’s going to help guide my career path.

What interested you about the healthy aging field?

I’ve always preferred communicating with older and aging populations. I think they have a lot of wisdom to share and not necessarily the support that they need to age in a healthy way. That’s where healthy aging research comes in!

What made you realize you wanted to get involved in research?

I was transitioning from working as an anesthesia technician where I had a very clinical role, and I was searching for a role that was distinctly different. I wasn’t ready to commit to a certain career path yet and I was just looking for a job that would help inform my future career choices. I landed in research and I enjoyed it. Once I started doing research, I realized that there was so much knowledge and conversation happening behind the scenes of clinical care. We need people doing this research to change and inform how care is provided. I like thinking of the big picture and that’s the biggest driving factor for why I like to engage in research. The day to day work also taps into my detail-oriented side that likes to make lists and keep things organized.

What is your research project and your role in the project?

My project will look at what prompts people to prepare for age related changes, which are the normal developments and changes associated with aging. It’s in the really early stages right now, but it’s a satellite project of my research mentor’s larger study that explores a concept called Engaging with Aging. The concept comes from an interesting blog written by a woman who is 97, was previously a nurse, and currently publishes a lot of thought pieces on her own aging process.

I think there are six people working on the main project and my mentor is involving all of us each step of the way. We are all currently conducting interviews with study participants. I’m learning a lot. I’ll be able to use data from the interviews for my own satellite project as well.

Why is this work important?

I think the studies that work within the Engaging with Aging framework are promoting a proactive involvement in the aging process. Hopefully, a proactive approach will help older adults remain more independent even when age-related changes happen.

There’s a lack of research to define the aging process and therefore have some evidence-based interventions that promote healthy aging. There’s a lot of work to be done in the field of healthy aging.  If there’s one thing that I personally learned from working in research, it’s that it takes a really long time to conduct research and then translate that research into evidence-based practice.

What are your plans after graduation?

I want to apply to work on an intensive care unit that has a population that is generally older. Hopefully working with patients with neurological conditions. I want to do that for a couple of years, and then apply to a doctorate program for acute care gerontology. I see research coming into my career more after I pursue the doctorate, where I can participate in studies as a doctorate level nurse.