lorraine evangelista
Mar. 17, 2022

By Joseph Gaccione (UNLV School of Nursing Associate Director of Communications)

Lorraine Evangelista brings a distinguished list of credentials to UNLV School of Nursing, including more than 125 publications, more than $10 million worth of funded research; and numerous recognitions from esteemed organizations like the American Heart Association, the American Association of Nursing, and the Western Institute of Nursing. 

And to think, this was all possible because of song and dance as a toddler.

Dr. Evangelista joins UNLV Nursing as its new Associate Dean of Research. She's enhancing a career that developed during memorable moments as a toddler.  As she settles into her new role, Dr. Evangelista is ready to lead the charge to elevate nurse researchers and scientists into new breakthroughs and accomplishments.

Q: What inspired you to become a nurse?

A: I always wanted to become a nurse since I was three years old. My dad was a doctor, and I followed him around as a three-year-old kid, because my parents couldn't afford daycare at that time. So, when he made his rounds in the intensive care units, I would follow him around. The nurses would ask me to sing and dance for the patients. The nurses would whisper to me, ‘Look how happy they look; you made them feel better.’ As a three-year old, I was like, ‘Wow, I did something miraculous today. Since then, I wanted to become a nurse. Obviously, I learned a couple years later that it wasn't my singing and dancing, but I was already in love with that opportunity to try to make others happy and feel better.

Q: Describe your experience in nursing school.

A: By the time I was in nursing school, nursing was very controversial because I went back to the Philippines to get my degree. But this was in the 1980s, when they had the big case of two Filipino nurses in Ann Arbor that were guilty of euthanasia of four patients, so nursing enrollment dropped significantly in the Philippines because of that. We kind of got labeled for our bad image, so when I went to school, instead of like 150 in the cohort - which is what the normal is - there were only 10 of us. It was difficult to go through because all we really had was the passion. There were no job securities, no promises that they would even start giving visas again to nurses to come to the States, which is normally what attracts Filipinas to becoming mercy nurses.

I think because my passion was deep rooted, I never wavered. From being three years old to grade school to high school, I consistently said I would be a nurse. I went to the university of the Philippines and attrition was always high. But we just had to find a way to overcome the challenges on top of the major challenge that we had to prove ourselves.

Q: After you got your degree, where did you go?

A: I came to the California in June of 1985, but next board exams weren’t until February 1986. So, I worked as a nursing assistant and that was helpful because I think seeing the culture and what was expected of nursing assistants versus nurses helped me pass the board exams on my first take.

Q: As your nursing career took off, when did the research side play into it?

A: I started out as a psychiatric nurse because I love talking with people. I'm trying to understand them better, but then on the psychiatric units, there's a tendency [to be] very full or very empty, so when the units would drop census, they would float me to oncology or med surg. I was in total panic. I was like, ‘I don't know how to insert a Foley catheter. I just know how to talk to the patients.’ So, I made a 180 degree turn and became a critical care nurse.

At that time, hospitals offered residency programs where you would be in a critical care class offered by the hospital, and then you'd be offered mentorship for at least six months, but you had to stay for two years. You had to sign a contract that you'd stay for two years, so I did that. Then it gets to the point where critical care started becoming the same thing day in, day out. I could do my work even in my sleep. I knew what to do with patients in order to stabilize them in the critical care unit. It's less compassionate care because we can't really talk to the patients as much because we sedate them to get them to recover faster. But it got to the point where I thought it was getting boring for me. So that's what I went back to my master's at UCLA.

Q: One of your research foci is health literacy. Now with so much information at our fingertips, do you think it's easier to learn about our own health, or do you think it's tougher?

A: I think it's tougher. One of the challenges I have as a nurse researcher in this area is trying to find digital health technologies that are appropriate for different cultures for different age groups, because what works for adolescents may not work for the elderly. I think that's the biggest challenge because the digital health technology side of everything is working faster, evolving faster than we can keep up. It's difficult for researchers like myself to examine if one type of technology works because before we even have the data for testing it, they've moved on to another technology. It's like we started with Apple Watch, and then it became more advanced.

Q: How did COVID-19 impact your research?

A: We did a pilot study in nursing homes because elderly patients in nursing homes were just totally cut off from the world. Their families couldn't visit. They were isolated in their own rooms, So, there was a big concern about their mental health affecting their physical health. We tried to get their perspective of how quarantine and social isolation affected them. That was a preliminary step for us to know how to handle future quarantines. But obviously, the pandemic moves on and now, you're no longer dealing with the quarantine. You're dealing with the aftermath.  I know that looking still at digital health technology is relevant. It's just keeping up with a pace of how fast technology evolves.

During the pandemic, we put so much emphasis on treating and preventing COVID that patients with chronic disease were put in the corner, and they were in fear of their lives because they're like, ‘We can't even get a doctor's appointment for a checkup because of COVID.’ A lot of our healthcare system, I think, suffered in terms of consistency and what patients could expect, especially those with chronic illnesses.

Q: What drew you to UNLV?

A: I'm pretty much at the tail end of my career. At this point, I still want to see changes and advancements in the science of digital health technology, as it relates to elderly and ethnic minorities, but I'm also ready to pass the baton on. I think having the position of Associate Dean for Research puts you in a position where you can inspire and guide younger faculty to achieve what I've achieved, to move their research along. I'm from Southern California, so Las Vegas is not too far, and that's why it worked out.

Q: Please explain your role as Associate Dean for Research.

A: I think the associate dean for research helps move the research and scholarship along that often gets lost, because nursing faculty gets so tied up in teaching. I'm there to really ignite the fire. Whenever I see even just one faculty member being successful in publishing a manuscript or speaking at a professional conference, it’s like the pat on the back I need. It's what makes me happy in life.

Q: Is there something about nurse research that people don't realize?      

A: I think common people or sometimes people in the medical field have a problem distinguishing between clinical trials where they're testing new medications, new devices against clinical trials that look at patient behaviors and patient social determinants of health, like quality of life and the things that I'm very interested in. It's a complex thing to understand. Sometimes funding can be easily attained from pharmaceutical companies, but you're so limited with what you can publish afterwards, because you signed a contract to say they need to review everything. I feel as an independent nurse researcher, we don't have any ties or connections that will stop us from publishing what we think will help move health among in globally.

Q: What do you hope to bring to UNLV?   

A: I think my experience is going to be very helpful. I have three decades of experience. I know where everyone is or where they're going. My passion is also something that helps inspire other people. I think those two things are going to be the main ingredients to my success. Like I said, my first love was psychiatric nursing, so I have that tendency to also see and easily understand or relate to different personalities and different styles, so that comes in handy.

Visit our "Rebel Nursing Notes" library for more great stories.  You can also learn more about Dr. Evangelista's research in our story on nurse scientists.