Nancy G. Buccola, MSN, APRN, PMHCNS-BC
2009 Award for Excellence in Research

Written by Mary Marks

The same night Nancy Buccola was in South Carolina to receive APNA’s award for Excellence in Research, a contingent of LSU administrators was in Texas for NurseWeek’s south central regional awards banquet.

“I work all the time, I’m really engrossed in the work I do,” insists Buccola, who teaches at LSU and has been principal investigator for eight years on a massive genome project. “The kids are grown. So as far as social life, nothing’s going on. Who would think two things were going on in the same night?”

In Dallas, her fellow finalists for the Nursing Excellence award in Advancing and Leading the Profession were “heavy hitters,” so Buccola had no qualms about heading to Charleston for a sure thing.

“I didn’t think for a moment that I’d win,” she recalled recently. But the folks who went to Dallas to represent her school called her and said, “You’re not going to believe this—you won, you won!

“The other award was a big deal for the school,” she said. “This one was personal.” She knew she’d won the APNA award: “Otherwise, I would’ve been really torn, where to go. It didn’t occur to me that that would be an issue.

“It’s not that I lead such an interesting life, so to have two things going on on the same night…,” she trailed off.

Life’s unfair—and ironic: Buccola’s area of investigation, her mission, her longtime obsession is schizophrenia.

At the time of the APNA nominations, “The articles [in Nature and professional journals] had just come out, articles on finding the gene for schizophrenia. [APNA member Dr.] Diane Gardner said, ‘This is your year.’

“We had a really good year,” Buccola affirmed. “Nurses usually don’t have the opportunity to do this kind of work.”

This kind of work is interdisciplinary, international and huge in scope. “We were looking for genes that predispose for schizophrenia,” Buccola said. “I got a lot of support as a P.I., a lot of support from physicians and statisticians. I had a lot of catch-up to do [on the science], to work on this project.

“A lot of times there’s a sense that this isn’t nursing research. So it’s nice not to limit ourselves to some kind of research that is only applicable to nursing. I’ve dealt with that in the past—was it nursing or was it not nursing? So it was nice to have the response at the conference—the response was very positive. People expressed the need to know what’s happening in patient care, patient outcomes and nursing practice from the perspective of genetics.”

With the project’s funding over, Buccola will have time to work on APNA’s Research Council, while continuing to teach full time.

In her office at LSU, the APNA clock sits on her shelf amid mementos from the Dallas conference she did get to attend—so much swag that her friends griped at having to tote it home with the airline’s weight and extra-baggage restrictions.

“I’m really a bedside nurse at heart,” she said. “For all the years I’ve picked lice out of people’s hair, like what all psych nurses do, this has been a reward.”