Top 10 scholar

University of New England (UNE) Professor Kim Usher has just been named in the top 10 nursing academics in Australia and New Zealand, but her eyes remain firmly on “the end goal” – to improve health care for all Australians, especially those in rural and regional areas.

At a time when a scarcity of funding threatens educational research, Professor Usher has maintained a strong research focus – on mental health, adolescent substance abuse, Indigenous health and health workforce issues. She also currently supervises 16 PhD students researching everything from compassion fatigue in critical care nurses to the impact of ICE on emergency departments.

“For me, any research that I am involved in must be relevant to clinical practice and help to improve the health experiences of Australians, whether they are in a hospital or the community,” Professor Usher said. “Everything we do as academics and researchers should be about preparing better students and clinicians that can make a difference to the lives of others, especially those in rural and regional Australia, who are often disadvantaged in terms of the health services available.”

To have been ranked 8th in Australia among 156 of the country’s finest nursing and midwifery scholars while serving in an academic role at UNE underlines the importance Professor Usher places on  research. “It’s very hard these days to get any research funded; most of what I do is self-funded or possible only through much scrimping and saving,” she said. “This recognition is a nice endorsement of the importance of educational research and how it can enhance rather than limit an academic’s career.”

The leading scholars were named in an article published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, with rankings based on recent Excellence in Research for Australia assessments of publication citation impact, research income, and collaboration, outreach and engagement impact.

Professor Usher said supervising student research is one of the most rewarding aspects of her role. “I get a great thrill in seeing students achieve their first publication or give their first conference presentation; to see them become leaders in their field and maybe even return to clinical practice,” she said. “Whether it’s Australian students or international students from Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan or China, it’s very humbling to share in their journey. Perhaps most pleasing of all are the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students that I have supervised who have gone on to conduct research in their own communities.”

As part of an ARC Discovery grant, Professor Usher is currently researching resilience in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents across the country. A second project is exploring drug use and its implications within the Coledale community in Tamworth.

“Any research is about trying to find an answer, and to do something to improve a situation,” she said. “In the case of the Coledale project, we want to find out what can be done to help people stay strong and away from drugs and petty crime, so that we can redirect resources to other critical areas.”