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(Clockwise from top left) Nursing PhD student Jane Evered, Nursing professor Sarah Hope Kagan, Nursing junior Akin Adio, Nursing PhD student Clare Whitney, and Nursing junior Abi Ocholi (Photo Courtesy of Sarah Hope Kagan).

Two Penn undergraduates launched a project over the summer to examine the role caregivers play in helping cancer patients, Penn Today reported.

Nursing junior Abi Ocholi and College sophomore Akin Adio, under the mentorship of Gerontological Nursing professor Sarah Hope Kagan in the School of Nursing and doctoral students Jane Evered and Clare Whitney, worked on their summer project, Partners in Care. The students conducted qualitative research to gain a deeper understanding of the roles of cancer care partners by focusing on their identities, including gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, disability, age, and financial status. 

The study is supported by Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program, housed within the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF), where first and second-year students receive a $5,000 summer research award, and the Hillman Scholars Program in Nursing Innovation, a partnership between Penn Nursing and Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.

Both Ocholi and Adio had personal experiences that drew them to the research opportunity. Ocholi witnessed her mother and aunt caring for her grandfather when he had cancer. Adio’s best friend in high school died of cancer.

The project mainly relied on a close review of research articles and an analysis of the responses given by research participants. Adio and Ocholi took part in the recruitment of cancer patients, where they learned about the caregivers before reaching out to them to participate in a study.

“I don’t think people realize how much cancer care partners take on. You’re already emotional about the patient, but you can’t really show that because you’re needed to stay strong to be able to support them,” Ocholi told Penn Today.

Ocholi and Adio also learned about the importance of collaboration in their research, where they worked directly with Kagan, Evered, and Whitney, and had regular meetings with the academic clinical partnership team, nurses, cancer patients, social workers, and Abramson Cancer Center leaders.

“With Abi as a future nurse and Akin as a future doctor, exposing them to this kind of collaborative thinking, we hope, will imbue their careers with a different sensibility,” Kagan said.