Spotlight on Jingjing Shang
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Nurse, researcher, mother, immigrant, wife—those are just a few of the identities juggled on any given day by Jingjing Shang, PhD, RN, a professor in the School of Nursing. As a young girl growing up in southern China, Shang flourished in school, her interests in math and scientific research nurtured by parents who were teachers.
While she liked caring for people and was also interested in research, she never thought of becoming a nurse when growing up because nurses were considered assistants to physicians at that time. But in her high school senior year she learned at an information session for Peking Union Medical College (PUMC), her dream school, that she could combine nursing care with research. Shang earned a bachelor of science in nursing from PUMC and after graduation worked for three years as an hematology nurse.
She eventually sought more education in nursing and immigrated in 1999 to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in clinical nursing at the University of Delaware. She was working as an oncology nurse at the University of Maryland Cancer Center after graduation when a missing document jeopardized her green card application. For three months Shang struggled to fix the issue while taking a required psychiatric nursing course, finishing clinical hours, and working full time.
“I was depressed about the situation,” says Shang, “and it was my patients who taught me how to face difficulties. There was one old gentleman in my care, who always kept a positive attitude even when his prognosis was poor. One day I walked into his room seeing him put M&M candy in medication caps and playing like a kid. In that moment, I thought the challenge I’m facing is nothing in comparison. After that I always told myself that no matter how difficult things can be, I need to stay positive and carry on.”
Shang eventually got her green card and went on to earn a PhD in nursing at Johns Hopkins University. She joined Columbia in 2011, motivated by her passion for research in infection control and prevention in home care settings. She currently is the principal investigator for two large R01 projects from the National Institute of Nursing Research and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. She also teaches a course in advanced research design for the School of Nursing’s PhD program.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, she decided to assess how prepared home health care agencies in the United States were, which shed light on the problems this crucial sector experienced.
“Though most agencies had planned for an infectious disease outbreak,” Shang says, “this sector had not received the same attention that hospitals and nursing homes did and were having more difficulty procuring PPE. This is of great concern, because home health clinicians take care of the most vulnerable populations and are at high risk for self-exposure.”
Shang’s research involves large data set analysis, and she once believed statistics was the ultimate key to research. “I now find it fascinating to tell the stories behind the numbers by triangulating the narrative information obtained from interviews and results from statistical analysis,” she says.
In her spare time, she has helped the Long Island Chinese Association collect face masks for hospitals and for the Visiting Nurse Service of NY. She notes, “I learned from this volunteer work how hard it is for clinicians to get out there for their work, especially in home health care.”
Chinese identity is integral to Shang’s life. “I really value the Chinese way of thinking,” she says. “Our culture taught us that working hard is the best value you can have. I was taught to be humble, that no matter how successful you are, you can always learn from others. These are important values I keep in my life. “
Shang says her multicultural background has helped her to care for patients and conduct research in holistic ways. “When I look at the outcomes of infection control, I don’t just look at what makes a patient more likely to get an infection, I also look at their home environment, family support, and cultural background and how these impact infection control.”
Outside of her academic responsibilities, Shang is an avid runner. Since the start of the pandemic, she has been running 28 miles per week near her home on Long Island and has logged 1,100 miles and counting.
Shang can also be found spending time with her husband and two boys and often relaxes by cooking and baking. “After a grant submission, I spend a whole day making food for my family,” she says.
It is this same energy and thoughtfulness that fuels her professional work. “I love nursing and want to improve nursing practices through my research,” says Shang.