When Aimee Milliken, PhD, RN, was a child, she suffered a complex arm fracture that required a two-plus week hospital stay. The incredible nurses who cared for her inspired her to eventually pursue a career in nursing, a profession that she says provides the opportunity to “combine scientific expertise with the care of people.”
Milliken, who joined the Brigham full-time last spring, has done exactly that over the course of her nursing career. She spoke with Heart & Science about her varied interests and current roles as nurse scientist, director of Research in the Center for Nursing Excellence and clinical ethicist.
Tell us about your work as a nurse scientist and director of research
AM: Through these roles, I’m able to work on my own program of research in addition to helping other nurses learn about and conduct research. It’s incredibly fulfilling and energizing to see the excitement for nursing research that exists at the Brigham, and I really enjoy helping nurses move their projects forward.
What research projects are you working on currently?
AM: My research focuses on ethics and ethical awareness. I have ongoing projects using the Ethical Awareness Scale I developed to measure ethical awareness in nurses, and I’m modifying the scale for use in other populations, including physicians. Additionally, I received funding through the American Nurses Foundation to conduct a longitudinal, retrospective analysis of ethics consultation requests at the Brigham. Our research team is in the final dissemination phases of that work. I recently presented findings at a national conference, and we have one paper under review for publication and another paper in the works.
When did you become interested in clinical ethics?
AM: As a new nurse, I encountered ethical challenges in the care of patients that left me feeling distressed. The desire to better address these issues inspired me to go back for my master’s degree at Yale University, where I took a course in ethics. I quickly discovered that I wanted to study the language and tools of ethics and eventually completed my PhD at Boston College in 2017.
You then joined the Brigham as a clinical ethics fellow. Why was this an important next step?
AM: I felt that immersive training in the clinical setting was the best way to apply the academic skills I had learned. I wanted to be in an environment where I could impact patient care and help clinicians at the bedside navigate ethical complexity.
How did your experience as a clinical nurse prepare you for your current roles?
AM: I was a critical care nurse for over a decade, working at the bedside through my PhD program and my fellowship until last spring. This time at the bedside provided me with an intimate familiarity with the issues that nurses face, including complex and critically ill patients, competing priorities and the emotional impact of our work. These experiences made me passionate about focusing my research and ethics work on issues that will benefit bedside nurses.
You also have experience teaching nurses about ethics.
AM: I taught Nursing Ethics and Research Methods at Boston College and worked as a research and teaching assistant during my doctoral studies. I currently teach Introduction to Clinical Ethics at Harvard Medical School in the Master in Bioethics program.
What advice do you have for nurses who want to get involved in research?
AM: Find out what projects are already underway in your practice area. There are often opportunities to get involved, and this is a great way to learn about the process. We also have weekly nurse scientist office hours and a series of nursing research and evidence-based practice seminars that are open to all nurses to learn more and receive guidance.
What do you most enjoy about working at the Brigham?
AM: The energy. It’s clear that people are passionate about their work, and there are so many opportunities to engage in projects that are aimed at providing the best patient care. I feel lucky to have a home in this environment.