November 28, 2012

New faculty: Jie Deng’s care for patients inspires lymphedema research

Jie Deng (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt)

For Jie Deng, the desire to further nursing research and education began with the SARS outbreak in China in 2003. At the time, she was the associate chief nursing officer at Peking University Health Science Center in Beijing.

“Our nurses were incredible—the sacrifices they made for their patients,” Deng remembered. “We had very limited knowledge at the beginning. That made me see the need for nursing research as the foundation for providing the best health care to patients.”

About six years later, she left her home in China after a dozen years in various nursing positions to pursue a Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. She earned her degree in 2010, followed by postdoctorate work completed earlier this year.

An interest in symptom management led Deng to work with cancer patients throughout her doctoral education. She gained experience and satisfied her intellectual curiosity by collaborating with strong mentors, including VUSN’s Sheila Ridner, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s Barbara Murphy and Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Nancy Wells. But it was listening to patients that inspired her to study secondary lymphedema—the swelling of soft tissue caused by a compromised lymphatic system—and postcancer treatment in head and neck cancer patients.

“Some breast cancer patients told me their lymphedema was even worse than their cancer. It affected their daily lives and relationships with family—things like grandparents who couldn’t hold their grandbabies because of swelling in their arms,” Deng said.

She recalls seeing her first patient at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s Head and Neck Cancer Clinic who asked for advice on how to handle neck swelling. Deng promised to look for information in the medical literature and was surprised to find so few research articles on the subject.

As a VUSN faculty member, Deng is working on several projects, including a validation instrument for rating external lymphedema in head and neck cancer patients—groundbreaking work that opens up the field to future interventional studies.

“[lquote]I want to dedicate myself to lymphedema research, teaching and service,” Deng said.[/lquote] “Teaching is an important part of that because it really feeds the research environment. I’ve had exceptional mentors, and I am very interested in mentoring predoctoral students, residents and fellows and eventually postdocs.”

While Deng is proud of her work as a nurse, researcher and assistant professor, she’s also a proud mom. She and her husband have three children, ages 11, 3 and 3 months.

View the complete list of new medical faculty for 2012.

View the complete list of new university faculty for 2012-13.