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Better Lives for Stroke Survivors: Student Spotlight on Gabrielle Harris

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Raised in Madison, North Carolina, PhD student Gabrielle Harris, MSN, BSN, always knew she wanted a career that allowed her to interact with and help people. She was first made aware of nursing by an older cousin who is now a nurse anesthetist.

“My dad encouraged me to look into nursing, and I was amazed at the endless and diverse career opportunities available,” Harris said. “I began taking courses in high school to become a certified nursing assistant and eventually majored in nursing at Winston-Salem State University.”

It was during her undergraduate time that Harris participated in a summer research fellowship program that sparked her interest in a doctoral degree. “Prior to the summer research program, obtaining a doctorate degree was nowhere on my radar,” said Harris. “However, I fell in love with research in that program. I was especially excited that a nurse scientist could truly change the world using research.”

After completing her undergraduate degree Harris pursued her Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Family Practice Nurse Practitioner as a Bridge to Doctorate scholar.

The Bridge to Doctorate program is a partnership between Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) and Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) Division of Nursing. Scholars are high achieving MSN students at WSSU, a historically black university, interested in earning a PhD.

Scholars also participate in a research honors track consisting of 16 research/research-related credits and work alongside world-class research mentors from WSSU and Duke as they engage in the research process and acquire knowledge, gain hands-on experience, collaborate with interdisciplinary teams and cultivate the skills and knowledge necessary to advance their research proposals.

Harris’ research focuses on helping stroke survivors have the best quality of life possible — an issue that touches her personally. “My nana, Frances Dalton, died suddenly in November of 2012 after suffering a stroke,” she said. “Nana was the rock of our family, and we were all devastated. It was at that point that I decided to focus on stroke prevention so that other families would not experience that pain my family had to endure from a preventable disease.”

Her research deals in particular with stroke survivors who are actively parenting young children. She has found that stroke survivors with children are an overlooked population with many needs that aren’t currently being met or assessed by the health care system.

“Using mixed methods, I plan to explore how stress related to parenting after having a stroke contributes to the health of parent stroke survivors with an attention to the role of race and gender,” said Harris. “My goal is to assist young stroke survivors in returning to meaningful life roles.”

Harris believes earning her doctoral degree will provide her with the knowledge and skills necessary to initiate change in clinical practice and research for young stroke survivors. She will expand her focus of young stroke rehabilitation services to include relevant practical issues that affect young adult survivors' daily lives, such as parenting post-stroke, helping them to lead more productive lives.

DUSON’s PhD program celebrated 10 years in 2016. Visit to learn more about the program.