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Professor Debra Jackson AO hopes being named Australia’s leading nurse researcher will help foster opportunities for the field’s emerging practitioners in a year where her key area of focus – healthcare equity – has never been more integral.

Professor Jackson was recognised by The Australian last month as part of the national broadsheet’s analysis of tertiary research, which highlights the country’s key researchers across more than 250 fields, including health and medical sciences.

The honour is significant because it acknowledges local researchers with the most citations over a five year period from work they’ve published in the top 20 journals in their given area of study. Given the strength of Australian nursing research, Professor Jackson says it is a title she is proud to be bestowed with.

“I feel very honoured and delighted with the recognition because it’s a very strong field,” she says, describing Australian nurse researchers as “world-leaders” before paying tribute to those she has worked with and learnt from.

“I’ve had some wonderful colleagues and mentors, and I’d like to acknowledge them as well because all of these things aren’t one person.”

A researcher with a global footprint, Professor Jackson holds numerous Adjunct and Visiting Professorships both locally and abroad. She is currently the Professor of Nursing at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and holds honorary posts in a number of universities internationally. She will also take up a new post as Professor of Nursing at the University of Sydney early in 2021.

On top of this, she is the current Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Clinical Nursing, and currently focused on several projects, including addressing the recognition of early pressure injury in non-Caucasian people; and, in collaboration with First Nations nurses, working with a team to improve primary healthcare for First Nations people.

While Professor Jackson received an Order of Australia in 2019 for her contributions to the field, she is keen to leverage her most recent honour from The Australian to create opportunities for emerging practitioners to publish their work.

“I’m hoping it [the recognition] is a beacon for talented nurses who are interested in research and interested in uncovering the knowledge that can enhance patient care and that can help propel our discipline forward.”

Professor Jackson adds that inquiry into treating the diverse needs of patients will be, as it always has, a paramount area of research. But she says questions of workforce sustainability, a matter she considers nursing’s “social obligation”, must also be addressed in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.

“In times of crisis, nations depend on their nurses,” she says.

“We need to know a lot more about what can help attract people to nursing, how do we make people want to stay in nursing and have a satisfying and rewarding career, because we know that we do lose a lot of nurses [from nursing].”

The need to consider nursing’s utility and its effects on its practitioners takes on greater importance when Professor Jackson reflects on the greater role that nurses can play in responding to the social and health issues created by the pandemic, if  enabled by government and nursing leadership.

“In the post-COVID environment, we already are starting to see mental health challenges, increases in family violence, people experiencing severe economic difficulties and all of the health ramifications of that,” she says.

“I’m hoping that we see some specific research that looks at how we can mobilise our nursing workforce to better meet the needs of the community in the post-pandemic context.

“Whether they’re rural, remote or metropolitan, nurses have got that ability [and] the skill set to support people that are doing it tough.”

Yet despite her hopes for an expanded clinical remit, Professor Jackson also acknowledges that the pandemic will likely pose significant funding challenges for researchers like herself, who conduct nursing research that isn’t directly connected to disease-focused studies.

“COVID has really affected the economy very badly… We’ve already got quite a challenging funding environment [and] I think it’s going to get worse for the next couple of years,” she says.

Nevertheless, in a year where healthcare has taken its toll on frontline workers — Professor Jackson is especially eager for more COVID related-research on PPE, and the vulnerabilities faced by frontline workers — and the general public, the nurse researcher remains steadfast in her commitment to health equity.

“There’s particular groups in the community, and again, I think COVID has also highlighted this to us, that have equity issues… What I want to see is that everyone has the same equity [of access] to excellent care.”

Professor Debra Jackson AO and her published work can be found online at the UTS website, while she also engages in public discussion on Twitter (@debraejackson).