Assistant Professor, Dr. Jennifer Hulett, recently presented research conducted with colleagues at the University of Missouri at the 40th Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions of the Society of Behavioral Medicine in Washington D.C.. Much of Dr. Hulett’s research centers on a spiritually-based psychoneuroimmunological model of health which focuses on the interaction between stress, thoughts, religious/ spiritual beliefs and practices, neuroimmune responses, and the health outcomes. Specifically, spiritually-based practices (e.g., mindfulness, meditation, yoga), also known as mind-body-spirit practices have shown to improve quality of life in chronically-ill individuals.
Dr. Hulett first discovered her passion for her work after serving as a nurse practitioner in northern Missouri where the population was widely rural. Her experiences as a nurse practitioner inspired her to seek a research doctorate in nursing science to study the effects of mind-body-spirit practices on physiological health outcomes. Following her Ph.D. training, she then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Utah’s College of Nursing, where she focused on cancer, aging and end-of-life care. Next, her passion led her and her family to the University of South Carolina’s College of Nursing where she conducts research and teaches today.
South Carolina is known for its vast swathes of rural areas. Dr. Hulett shared that she sympathizes with rural residents who experience a number of challenges in accessing health care services located in the urban areas. For this reason, she studies ways to adapt existing mind-body-spirit practices that are “portable” in that they can be delivered at a distance, used anytime, anywhere and that can be learned within one visit to a healthcare professional. Dr. Hulett stated, “We’re studying a type of meditation, Mantram Repetition, which is the silent practice of repeating a spiritual word or phrase.” Mantram Repetition, which is the pioneering work of nurse scientist, Dr. Jill Bormann, has been successfully used to help combat veterans with post-traumatic stress to calm and focus the mind. Dr. Hulett is recruiting SC women with breast cancer and teenagers recovering from cancer to participate in Mantram Repetition studies. She stated that the response has been positive and emotional. “Those kids have been through a lot, it would be wonderful to provide them a tool to help them cope with the stress of cancer,” she said.
Dr. Hulett was recently appointed the new chair for the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s Spirituality and Health Special Interest Group. This special interest group is comprised of persons in multidisciplinary fields. “The group is great for networking, collaborating in research, and for mentorship,” Dr. Hulett shared. At the recent SBM meeting, Dr. Hulett helped organize a panel of spirituality and health experts who shared their experiences and advice for advancing the science of spirituality research. Overall, Dr. Hulett has found many opportunities to collaborate with others, from across campus, to across the city of Columbia, to nation-wide. Regarding collaboration with other scientists, she values the diversity that different people bring to the table. She said, “It’s the era of team science and particularly, interdisciplinary teams in which scientists from different disciplines collaborate with each other to provide different perspectives and expertise.”
Moving forward, Dr. Hulett recognizes that she has a lifetime of work ahead of her. She plans to continue research to determine the effectiveness of mind-body-spirit practices, concentrating on breast cancer survivors and expanding to other chronic disease sufferers as well. She stated the importance of conducting longitudinal studies. “We still need to study the long-term benefits of mind-body-spirit. We have yet to figure out how often and how long patients need to practice these techniques to achieve a therapeutic benefit,” she shared in closing. “There are still so many questions we need to ask, but we are making progress in mind-body-spirit research and that’s exciting!”