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Nurses Week Graduate Student Spotlight

Jennifer Shearer Miller is pursuing her PhD in nursing. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Tennessee and her Master of Science in Nursing from Tennessee State University. Shearer Miller is a registered nurse with experience in neonatal intensive care. She is completing her PhD with a dissertation focusing on examining the long-term effect of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) on neurodevelopmental health in children through the age of 10. Over the past two years, she has worked as a graduate teaching assistant for the College of Nursing as a clinical instructor for the undergraduate nursing students. Her long-term goals include pursuing a faculty position and continuing her research to explore and improve outcomes in newborns with NAS.

Why did you pursue a PhD in nursing? I had been considering going back for a few years, and then all of a sudden I was ready to be a student again. I love to learn. I had no lofty ideas or goals for obtaining a PhD. In fact, I had no plans to change careers. I just wanted to learn.

What are your plans after graduation? Once in the doctoral program at UT, I realized my love for research and my plans for the future veered a bit. My research focuses on the health of children affected by the opioid epidemic, specifically newborns of mothers with substance use disorders. Little is known about the effect of prenatal opioid exposure on these children once they reach adolescence and teenage years. I want to help to answer those questions. I am currently applying for postdoctoral fellowships in which I can continue to grow as a scientist in hopes of obtaining a position in a research-intensive university following the postdoctoral opportunity. Eventually, I hope to continue my research, as well as mentor students as they pursue their doctorate. I have been beyond fortunate to have a wonderful group of mentors spend their time helping me grow and I hope to one day be able to give back.

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a PhD in nursing? Go for it! The pursuit of a PhD has allowed me to grow more than I would have ever known. Remember that it will not be easy. You have to be motivated and have a thick skin, but if you want to obtain a PhD, you can do it. Give it everything you have and take the faculty up on their offers to help. They want to see you succeed.

Favorite memory of your time as a student at the UT College of Nursing? I have so many memories that it is hard to pick one. I honestly think my favorite memory was when my advisor and dissertation committee chair, Dr. Lisa Lindley, first approached me about working with her to develop my dissertation. It was that moment when I finally saw the direction I was meant to go as a doctoral student. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to work with her and for the valuable mentorship that she continues to provide.