Nursing alumna’s research will assist at-risk Latina immigrants
Tiffany Dovydaitis ’04, who is in the fourth year of a doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, has begun to stake out new ground in her research, which focuses on the shadowy, often turbulent world of undocumented Latina immigrants.
Many nurses say it was a humanitarian instinct—a strong desire to help others—that drew them to the profession. While Tiffany Dovydaitis ’04, shares their compassion, her reasons were both more specific—and more numerous.
“I wanted to be a clinician, to work with women on health issues, and I had a strong desire to do international work. I also wanted to teach and have a practice. I found it all in nursing,” Dovydaitis explains.
Now in the fourth year of a doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, she has begun to stake out new ground in her research, which focuses on the shadowy, often turbulent world of undocumented Latina immigrants.
These women have limited access to health care in part because they move from place to place in search of work, but also because many fear they will be turned over to immigration officials if they access social services. An emergency, such as a late-term pregnancy, may mean they show up at the hospital without prenatal care or medical records.
For her dissertation, Dovydaitis has taken on what may be the most hidden, anguished aspect of these women’s lives—the sexual violence they experience, often in the work place.
“The incidence increases when these women move to the U.S. The level is high, particularly with migrant farm workers. It can be a precondition of work,” she said, adding, “These are strong women in terrible situations. Their vulnerability is horrifying, and no one wants to talk about it.”
Her dissertation will take the form of a narrative analysis compiled from the stories of several women she has met at the Philadelphia-based Women Organized Against Rape, the country’s first rape crisis center. She is finding commonalities and piecing together a chronicle of experiences that will illuminate the connection between their lives as immigrants, within a particular culture, and sexual violence.
While they often live in an insular subculture, Dovydaitis sees broader implications in the women’s ordeals.
“I feel this is not just about the immigrant experience, but about the American experience,” she said. “As Americans, we all understand that the food we buy at the store comes from somewhere. There is a human cost to it as well, and we have a responsibility to know it.”
Her own brand of compassion drew her to the most vulnerable people.
“As a nurse, I have always wanted to work with the most at-risk populations, because I have the skills to do it,” she notes, recalling that she first became aware of the grueling lives of migrant workers while visiting grandparents who live in a border town in New Mexico.
She began focusing more intensively on research after taking a class in nursing research her junior year.
“I was skeptical at first. I thought it would be boring—all about statistics. But I discovered qualitative research, which draws on interpersonal skills and is all about hearing peoples’ stories and getting at the lived experience,” said Dovydaitis, who hopes to spend a post-doc year turning her dissertation into a book—published in both English and Spanish—that will be read by a wide audience, including the women whose stories she tells.
She has already dived into teaching, among other classes, the nursing research course at TCNJ.
“I’ve come full circle,” she laughs. “I really wanted to impress on these students that research does not have to be boring. I tell them, ‘You’re helping to come up with cures for diseases.’ ”
Her career will likely take her outside of the classroom as well.
“I want to work in an interdisciplinary setting, where I bring nursing to the table as an expertise, including my ability to work with physicians, social scientists and advocacy groups,” says Dovydaitis, who recalls how nursing professor Susan Boughn, who taught a professional role development class at TCNJ, instructed her students to think big—”to change the world.”
“As nurses, we do bring something special to the table,” she says. ” We have such a holistic view of health. We look at disease, but we also look at wellness and how a person’s environment affects how they live.”
Posted on August 19, 2010