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Scholar Spotlight: Claire Kane

Claire Kane is the de Tornyay Center for Healthy Aging’s 2021-2022 Myrene C. McAninch Undergraduate Scholar. Kane’s areas of interest are nurse-midwifery, women veterans, perinatal substance use disorder. Her de Tornyay Center project is, “Exploring Women Veteran’s Experiences of Substance Use Disorder Treatment in the Puget Sound Veterans Affairs Healthcare System: A Mixed Methods Approach”, and her faculty mentor is Dr. Ira Kantrowitz-Gordon.

Why did you choose nursing?

My background is in perinatal substance use disorder treatment, so the treatment of pregnant and postpartum folks who have substance use disorders or addictions. I saw how the nursing model of care can provide holistic and comprehensive care to that population, which not only needs outstanding clinical and medical care, but also needs an array of social services and advocacy. I felt like nursing and particularly nurse-midwifery would prepare me well to work with those populations and provide the holistic type of care that they need.

What’s been an unforgettable experience during your time at the school of nursing?

This is the first quarter that we were in the hospital. We had two days a week where we’re on medical-surgery floors at Harborview or Virginia Mason or other hospitals. It’s been really valuable to apply skills that we learned in the classroom to the in-person care of patients, and learning collaboratively with my classmates in small groups. We debrief each day and talk through our cases. It’s been awesome to learn from each other and also have each other’s support in learning how to provide in-person care.

How has your experience at the school of nursing helped you with your career trajectory?

I was interested in the de Tornyay Center scholarship and working with the center. Being in the nursing program afforded me that opportunity. I am hoping that my involvement with this program and the center will help provide me a little bit more knowledge and experience with women identified veterans that I can then use to inform my future practice.

Could you briefly describe your project with the de Tornyay Center?

I am working with researchers at the VA to explore women veterans’ experiences accessing substance use disorder treatment through the VA.

Women fare significantly worse than men when using web-based alcohol interventions. These findings in the civilian population are mirrored among US veterans, as evidenced by women veterans experiencing worse outcomes compared to their male counterparts after the completion of the VA’s web-based alcohol intervention, VetChange. Research is needed to inform changes to VetChange that could improve outcomes for women veterans. So, we are designing a study protocol to collect data from women veterans with alcohol use disorder and clinicians treating women veterans with alcohol use disorder about their opinions of the current VetChange program. The protocol explores the ways in which the web-based intervention can improve recovery-related coping behaviors in order to adequately address women veterans’ alcohol use disorder.

How did you first get involved with the project?

I was interested in this topic and saw that there were research funds available. I contacted my mentor, Ira, and asked if he’d be willing to support me. Then, I connected with a researcher at the VA, who has focused a lot of her work on women veterans’ substance use disorder treatment and gave me the opportunity to assist with this project

What interested you about working with women who are veterans?

I mentioned my background is in perinatal substance use disorder treatment. I became increasingly interested in the growing rates of substance use disorders among women identified veterans. Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are now seeking care from VA facilities and we have more women veterans than we ever have before. I was interested in whether or not the VA system at large was meeting these patients’ needs, because it originally was not designed to provide women focused care.

Why is this research and project important to do?

Women are the fastest growing segment of the US military. We do have data from the VA showing that more and more of them are accessing substance use disorder treatment. And we have studies among the general population that show gender-specific substance use disorder treatment improves outcomes and is valued by patients. So it’s important to assess whether or not gender-specific care is also valued by women veterans and whether or not it plays a role in improving their outcomes.

Another thing is that there are very few VA facilities throughout the country that offer gender-specific care. So we need more research to understand women veterans’ feelings and their experiences with it to inform whether or not more substance use disorder treatment interventions should include it.

Why might gender-specific care be helpful over general care?

There are a variety of reasons, one being that some women tend to feel safer in those environments, both in-person and virtually. Also if you’re having a women only or a gender-specific group, you can cater the content a little more. The facilitators can design modules around topics that may be more relevant. Sexual harassment is a prevalent issue in the military and we know it’s disproportionately experienced by women compared to men in the military, although it affects men as well. So, for example, some gender-specific women VA programs do incorporate content around trauma, sexual harassment, and coping when that might be a factor that’s affecting your substance use. There also might be content on motherhood or other reproductive health topics.

What interests you about healthy aging?

I am especially interested in the perspectives of older adult women veterans who have participated in VetChange, because we know that this population tends to experience more difficulties accessing online treatment interventions.

Beyond that I’m also interested in how age effects women’s experiences seeking care and whether or not they feel like their individual needs associated with their stage of life are being met with the services available to them. We know that veterans and folks with substance use disorders tend to have higher morbidity and mortality rates. Ensuring that they have access to treatment that meets their needs promotes healthy aging.

What are your plans after graduation?

I’m in the ABSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice, Nurse-Midwifery program. I’m hoping to work as an RN during at least the first year of the DNP. Then long term I plan to work as a nurse-midwife. I would love to provide care to veterans who need those services. I think the cool thing about midwifery is that you not only provide perinatal and postpartum care, but you can also be somebody’s primary care provider, so I could see patients across the lifespan.