Jiepin Cao, MS, BSN

Nurse Researcher

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Meet Jiepin Cao, MS, BSN, a Sigma member and Duke University School of Nursing PhD student, who received the 2020 Sigma/Rosemary Berkel Crisp Research Grant. The funding she received will allow her to expand her research on intimate partner violence a (IPV) among Chinese women. We asked Jiepin to share a little bit about what she is doing today and her goals for her research.

What do you enjoy most about what you are doing professionally today?

The research itself excites me the most. As a PhD student in nursing at Duke, I have really enjoyed my research training a lot, from doing statistical analysis to presenting the work at conferences and from learning a new methodology to writing a grant proposal. I have been very blessed to be able to work on a topic I am passionate about and have been supported by a wonderful network of mentors and peers. I sincerely think that doing research itself is a reward to me. You can ask exciting research questions and find the best way to answer the research questions.

There are ups and downs in the research process but the passion for what I am doing always motivates me and keeps me moving forward. Sigma has played a crucial role in my journey to support my research and professional development as a future nurse scientist. I would like to talk about two unforgettable moments in my journey so far.

Last July, I was very honored to present my work on the experience of IPV among Chinese women using a text analysis of the posts from domestic violence forums at the 30th International Nursing Research Congress in Calgary, Alberta, Canada as part of the Rising Stars of Research and Scholarship invited student posters. While standing in front of my poster, I was told by a lady who went through every word on the poster about how much she appreciated the work I was doing as an IPV survivor herself and how heartbroken and connected she felt to these anonymous Chinese women who shared their stories. I was deeply touched by what she shared and amazed by the power of research—research connects people from different backgrounds together.

Another wonderful moment is the day I was notified my dissertation research got funded by the Sigma/Rosemary Berkel Crisp Research Award. It is such a wonderful news to learn that the research proposal, which my dissertation committee and I have put a lot of effort into, has also received very positive comments from peer reviewers. It is a real boost to my research journey that I am doing very important work. We can’t wait to learn the results from this study.

What led you to your research topic?

My research interests on IPV emerged when I was working as an interventionist in a program aiming at reducing the relapse rate for adults with substance use disorders (SUD) in compulsory rehabilitation centers in 2014 in China. Given that this program was sound in theory and supported by empirical evidence, the whole team was expecting a significant reduction in the relapse rate of the intervention group after they returned to communities. Unfortunately, this was not our finding. Prior to our six-month follow-up , we saw some familiar faces of the study participants coming back to the rehabilitation center due to the reuse of drugs. Discouraged and confused, I got the opportunity to talk to one of our previous female participants who she shared her story. She was a migrant in Wuhan, China. Without employment or income and heavily dependent on her husband, she was manipulated by her husband into using drugs. He would beat her, threaten to kill her and her kids unless she followed his instructions to sell drugs for him, and he also forced her to inject drugs. She even revealed to me, “to be honest with you, I feel safer here [rehabilitation center] compared to getting back to him. Even if I can return to my community, I experienced much discrimination and every family member is ashamed of me. They will think it [IPV] is an excuse I made up.”

The roots of her struggles were IPV. Substance abuse is only a small part of her story, which she used as her tool to get back to the compulsory rehabilitation center, a place only accessible for detention officers who could protect her from the violence. Later on, I found out that she was not the only woman faced with IPV and other health problems that stem from the multiple disadvantages embedded within social, cultural, and legal systems consistently putting women at higher risk in China. An intervention only focused on individual-level factors without adequate evaluation of other evidence can be limited in its effectiveness or even lead to unintentional harm. Surprisingly, these factors are embedded in broad social contexts in China and have a great impact, but they have rarely been considered relevant to interventions. These experiences have shifted my research interests towards the health of vulnerable and disadvantaged population from the theoretical lens of social determinants of health, intersectionality and a gendered framework with a special focus on IPV against women.

Do you have plans to expand this study?

My study funded by Sigma/Rosemary Berkel Crisp Research Award would be the fundamental step in understanding IPV against Chinese women. We are expecting to learn from our study what the social determinants of health are that significantly contribute to women’s risk for IPV, who are the subgroups of women at highest risk for IPV, and what the health consequences of IPV against Chinese women are. All the information will help to establish the empirical foundation for health providers and policy makers to prioritize the allocation of the limited resources as well as to develop future tailored intervention and prevention resources for Chinese women. Furthermore, this study will contribute to development of a conceptual framework for gender role attitudes and IPV. Gender role attitudes, as a modifiable factor, hold great potential in intervention and prevention efforts addressing IPV by developing programs changing gender role attitudes or even gender norms at the community or societal level.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

We need to raise public awareness of IPV as a public health challenge as well as improve the capacity of health professionals to collaborate with criminal justice system and other sectors to really make a difference.

Doctors and nurses working in emergency departments and in gynecology/obstetrics are rarely asking for IPV history, a highly recommended screening approach to identify IPV. Cultural factors, such as IPV being viewed as a private issue and women having to take responsibility for being abused, are barriers to the implementation of these evidence-based strategies. In an interview, a member of senior staff working at a local branch of All-China Women’s Federation, a governmental organization offering various resources to Chinese women, shared her struggles to offer help to women due to the reluctance of collaboration from police officers and legal workers and because women living in rural areas with a low socioeconomic status do not know who to turn to when being abused. All these activities have stressed and echoed my observations in fieldwork: efforts from various levels need to be made in order to effectively address IPV against Chinese women.

Similar situations exist in the professional realm. When my Chinese colleagues learn that I am doing research on IPV, it is not unusual for me to get questions such as, “What do you see the connection between IPV and nursing” and comments like, “IPV is a public health problem or a problem for the police officers, we [nurse scientists] are not at the right position to address IPV.”

One of the aims of my study is to examine the health effects of IPV. As nurse scientists, we should recognize that the unique holistic focus of nursing would greatly contribute to the research on IPV.

Research grants like the one Jiepin has received are funded by donations to the Sigma Foundation for Nursing. Make a donation today.