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Scholar Spotlight: Tao Zheng

Tao Zheng is a PhD in Nursing Science student, studying sleep and cognition in individuals with advanced heart failure after receiving a left ventricular assist device. In 2020, he published an editorial in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing, titled “Who Cares? An Existential Perspective of Caregiving for Individuals with a Left Ventricular Assist Device.” His faculty mentor is Cynthia Dougherty.

How did you first get involved in nursing?

I started my nursing education by becoming a nursing assistant. At the time, I wanted to try it out to see if I enjoyed health care because I was making the transition from a business major to nursing. I fell in love with being with people. I enjoy that aspect of nursing. I started with an associate degree in nursing program at North Seattle College: I became a licensed practical nurse then a registered nurse. I progressed to a bachelor’s degree while working as a registered nurse, then got my master’s degree in nursing education, and now I’m doing my PhD.

What made you decide you wanted to move from clinical work into research?

I did not know at the beginning that I wanted to move out of clinical work because my passion has always been at the bedside, and with teaching and education. I appreciate learning about the most updated evidence and incorporate that into my teaching. I wanted to be able to generate that knowledge. I consider myself a lifetime learner, and I’m always trying to figure out what my next step will be. For me, research would keep me on the path where I can always ask new research questions.

What research projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on multiple different projects. I participate in a biweekly cardiovascular nursing research group led by my dissertation chair Dr. Cynthia Dougherty. I’m involved with writing papers and publishing a secondary data analysis based on her data set. In addition to that, I’m working with Dr. Jonathan Auld. We’re looking at using a new technology to enable better symptom reporting in people with cardiovascular disease. I am also working as a research assistant for Dr. Elizabeth Bridges in her pressure injury prevention project. Lastly, I am preparing my dissertation research, which will be looking at sleep and cognition in individuals with advanced heart failure after they receive a left ventricle assist device.

What are you looking at for cognition?

Cognitive performance in terms of their memory, executive functions, and verbal fluency. Cognitive decline may be related to aging. However, there are multiple different components that contribute to cognitive changes.

What interested you about that topic for your dissertation?

My clinical background is in cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery, so I have been taking care of critically ill patients for over a decade now. Most of my time was in critical care, particularly in people with heart failure. I have seen people with heart failure coming in and out of the hospital due to their chronic conditions. I’m really interested in promoting better patient outcomes. I’m focusing on people who receive mechanical circulatory support devices because this is a high-risk procedure that has a huge impact on both patients and their family. It’s important to look into the factors that help an individual have a better outcome.

I did quite a bit of literature review when I started the program here because I knew the patient population that I wanted to focus on, but I did not know what areas I wanted to focus on. I recognized that there’s quite a knowledge gap in this patient population in terms of sleep. I feel like sleep is an understudied study area and it’s very understudied in people with heart failure, particularly in people living with a left ventricular assist device.

Why is this work important to do?

Receiving a left ventricular assist device is a high-risk procedure, and it is really important to understand the underlying mechanisms for why some patients do well and some do not. While innovative technology can prolong individuals’ life, we also need to understand how a device implant might influence other aspects of the patients’ life. We need to assess if a device implant is the right thing for patients, and are there other strategies that we can implement to better patient outcomes.

You wrote an editorial for the Journal of Gerontological Nursing. Can you talk a little bit about that?

During my first year, I wrote the editorial to talk about the caregiver aspect of this patient population (Zheng, 2020). I can see my future research program including caregivers. Patients that receive a left ventricle assist device oftentimes require long-term unofficial family caregivers, particularly in immediate recovery. However, caregivers are an unstudied area. In the United States, we have family caregivers caring for individuals with dementia and other conditions, but we are not really looking at those caregiver outcomes – the literature is quite limited. Those caregivers oftentimes are not paying attention to their own health because they’re focusing on caregiving.

My editorial tried to shed some light on what we’re really asking of the caregiver, particularly when the individuals are significantly ill. Sometimes we ask caregivers and/or family members to make critical decisions at the bedside. We need to think about when we ask them to make decisions and perhaps we need some advanced care planning for this patient population.

How did you get involved in cardiology?

The heart is a fascinating organ, and I was interested in how the heart may impact in the rest of the body. In nursing school, I always had a special interest in cardiovascular disease and since then, my clinical practice has been focused on cardiology. So, it’s a very natural transition from practice to my research, I was interested in the patients’ stories and experiences, and I want to know what motivated them and what made them have better outcomes. And that’s why I wanted to get involved, I want to see more of my patients do well.

Is there anything else that you want to share?

I published another paper during my second year as the PhD programs (Zheng, 2021). My second paper was a concept analysis paper that focused on sleep in individuals with heart failure. It dipped into that area that I’m interested in and looked into that knowledge gap. I’m hoping to fill that gap with my dissertation.

Engaging with Aging Blog Reaches 200 Posts

Doris Carnevali, UW School of Nursing faculty emerita, recently hit 200 posts on her blog, Engaging with Aging, where she talks about her experience of aging as a nurse and elder. Carnevali has been featured for her work on King5 news, and her ideas have provided the basis for research on an Engaging with Aging framework. This framework has been written about in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing, including featured in an Engaging with Aging special issue of the journal. The Engaging with Aging framework is currently being studied by UW School of Nursing researchers.

Want to learn more about the Engaging with Aging blog? You can read the EWA blog here.


Apply to our 2021-2022 Healthy Aging Scholarships

Applications for the de Tornyay Center’s Healthy Aging Scholarships are open until October 20th! The center funds undergraduate and graduate nursing students at all three UW campuses. Learn more and find the applications here.

World Alzheimer’s Day

In honor of World Alzheimer’s Day, the de Tornyay Center would like to share a selection of the innovative Alzheimer’s research spearheaded by faculty at the UW School of Nursing:

  • Drs. Azita Emami, Gabriella Engstrom, and Hyejin Kim are working on a multidisciplinary music intervention project to develop an innovative, reliable method to assess stress collecting salivary cortisol and DHEA-S among persons with dementia and their family caregivers living at home in Sweden.
  • Dr. Sue McCurry is collaborating with colleagues at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute and the University of California, San Diego examining relationships between brain aging, dementia, and device-measured physical activity and sleep over the 24-hour day. The study is part of the newly funded Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) longitudinal study which has been collecting data continuously since 1994.
  • Drs. Linda Teri and Sue McCurry are collaborating with colleagues at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute on a pragmatic trial testing the impact of a virtual training program for care partners of persons living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (STAR-VTF).
  • Dr. Tatiana Sadak is leading local, national and international initiatives in developing a dementia capable healthcare workforce
  • Drs. Oleg Zaslavsky and Annie Chen from Biomedical Informatics are working on evaluating web-based intervention to support caregivers of people with Lewy body dementia. Oleg Zaslavsky is also working on developing a mobile intervention to support healthy eating among people with early dementia.
  • Dr. Basia Belza and Boeun Kim, PhD and MPH student, are collaborating with the Alzheimer’s Association on evaluating the feasibility of a coaching model to implement Dementia Care Practice Recommendations in assisted living communities in Washington and Montana.

de Tornyay Healthy Aging Scholars’ Virtual Symposium

On Thursday, May 20th, our 2020-2021 de Tornyay Healthy Aging Scholars presented their projects at the center’s Virtual Symposium. Thank you to everyone who joined us! Topics ranged from dementia caregivers’ self-care to social integration after injury and preparing for age-related changes. Dr. Grethe Cammermeyer provided a musical interlude preforming a song she wrote, “Know me”, inspired by Doris Carnevali.

PhD Scholars
Susie Cho, Myrene C. McAninch Doctoral Scholar
Wonkyung Jung, Healthy Aging Doctoral Scholar
Wendy Wilson, Healthy Aging Doctoral Scholar
Kuan-Ching Wu, Healthy Aging Pre-doctoral Scholar

DNP Scholars
Claire Han, Germaine Krysan Doctoral Scholar
Lisa Neisinger, Healthy Aging Doctoral Scholar
Olga Yudich, Healthy Aging Doctoral Scholar

Undergraduate Scholars
Hillary Frey, Myrene C. McAninch Undergraduate Scholar
Derick Welsh, Germaine Krysan Undergraduate Scholar

View the recording of the event for a limited time here.

2021 Pathways to Healthy Aging Awardees

Olga Yudich (DNP) – Improving Coordination of Care of Highly Complex Geriatric Patients in Primary Care

How does your DNP project advance healthy aging? Healthy aging is the ability to age well and to age in place within one’s community. To do so, older adults will often require social services. My research has found that older adults with unmet social needs have a higher risk of morbidity and mortality. My project focuses on integrating social services into healthcare delivery, as primary care is well situated to be the hub of care coordination.

Liam Malpass (DNP) – Improving Utilization of Telehealth among Clinicians Caring for Older Adults

How does your DNP project advance healthy aging? This project supports healthy aging by facilitating increased care access for older adults by improving clinician use of telehealth. It examines experiences of geriatric care providers and harnesses evidence-based practice to develop guidance to overcome barriers. This project provides a foundation for strategic development of telehealth to enhance geriatric care.

 Boeun Kim (PhD)

How does  your PhD project or dissertation advance healthy aging? As of 2021, 6.2 million older adults are estimated to have Alzheimer’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease Related Dementias (AD/ADRD) in the United States. In the absence of available pharmacologic treatments for stopping the progression of AD/ADRD, it is important to identify factors that prevent and delay cognitive decline. My dissertation evaluated if neighborhood attributes can provide a favorable environment for cognitive health among older adults. The study findings would provide foundational evidence of developing strategies to improve cognitive function through modifying neighborhood environments in older adults.

Engaging with Aging Book

Faculty emeritus Doris Carnevali recently published an ebook based on her Engaging with Aging blog, titled “Engaging With Aging: Gems from Doris Carnevali’s blog”.

“Growing old can be a lonely process because your family and care-givers have no experience of what you’re going through. In Doris Carnevali, 99 at publication time, emerita professor of nursing, we find a companion and an inspiring guide for the ultimate developmental tasks, those of very old age. She discusses the realities of her own daily life and explains her ingenious system for dealing with the inevitable problems. She tackles formidable barriers with courage, humour, warmth and ingenuity. Engaging With Aging was adapted from Mrs Carnevali’s blog by Rachel McAlpine. Invaluable for caregivers, health practitioners, and everyone facing their own future frailty. Comments from readers show they regard the original blog as an encouraging example of positive aging and creative aging, with practical tips and insights about caring for the elderly. The book is intended to expand the reach of this brilliant and compassionate writer.”

Find the ebook here.

Congratulations to the 2020-2021 dTC Scholars

The de Tornyay Center for Healthy Aging is pleased to announce the 2020-2021 Healthy Aging Scholarship recipients.

We extend our thanks and high regard to all who applied. Scholarship recipients receive funds and support for research projects related to healthy aging and older adults.

Please join us in congratulating these exceptional scholars and their faculty mentors!

The 2020-2021 doctoral scholars and their mentors


Susie Cho, Myrene C. McAninch Doctoral Scholar

Topic:  A Qualitative Thematic Analysis of the Facilitators and Barriers to Self-care Practices in Care Partners of People Living with Dementia

Faculty Mentor:  Tatiana Sadak PhD, PMHNP, RN, FAAN


Wonkyung Jung, Healthy Aging Doctoral Scholar

Topic:  Social Integration after Traumatic Brain Injury in Older Adults

Faculty Mentor:  Hilaire Thompson, PhD, RN, CNRN, ACNP-BC, FAAN


Wendy Wilson, Healthy Aging Doctoral Scholar

Topic:  Significance of Dignity in End-of-Life

Faculty Mentor:  Donna Berry, PhD, RN, AOCN, FAAN-DF/HCC



Claire Han, Germaine Krysan Doctoral Scholar

Topic:  Tailoring Chronic Disease Management Care Pathways to Older Adults and their Caregivers in Adults Family Homes

Faculty Mentor:  Hilaire Thompson, PhD, RN, CNRN, ACNP-BC, FAAN


Lisa Neisinger, Healthy Aging Doctoral Scholar

Topic:  Home ZIP Code Outcomes in Older Burn and Trauma Patients

Faculty Mentor:  Hilaire Thompson, PhD, RN, CNRN, ACNP-BC, FAAN


Olga Yudich, Healthy Aging Doctoral Scholarship

Topic:  Improving Coordination of Care of Highly Complex Geriatric Patients

Faculty Mentor:  Hilaire Thompson, PhD, RN, CNRN, ACNP-BC, FAAN



Hillary Frey, Myrene C. McAninch Undergraduate Scholar

Topic:  Identification of Triggers that Alert Older Adults to Prepare for Age-related Changes

Faculty Mentor:  Shaoqing Ge PhD, MPH


Derick Welsh, Germaine Krysan Undergraduate Scholar

Topic:  Learning about the Engaging with Aging (EWA) Experience among Older Adults

Faculty Mentor:  Basia Belza PhD, RN, FAAN, FGSA

Apply to our Healthy Aging Scholarships Today!

The de Tornyay Center for Healthy Aging is pleased to provide scholarships to both undergraduate and graduate nursing students to pursue research or investigative projects related to healthy aging or gerontology. Funds are unrestricted and are intended to support students while doing their research. Faculty mentors offer individual guidance and serve as valuable resources for beginning researchers. Learn more here