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The Power of Research: Dr. Nancy Allen's Commitment to Health Care Understanding and Access

Nancy Allen

Dr. Nancy Allen has come a long way from her humble beginnings in rural Iowa. “I grew up around a lot of poverty, a lot of health disparities, but not a lot of ethnic diversity,” she said. Her desire to help others led her to pursue a career in nursing. “I have always had a passion to work with vulnerable populations. Even when I lived in Seattle, I would drive an hour outside the city to work at a hospital where I could make the biggest difference.”  

In December of 2023, the University of Utah recognized Dr. Allen as a Presidential Scholar for being “a distinguished leader in the field of chronic diseases in vulnerable populations.” A recognition given up to only four faculty members a year at the University. Reflecting on her role as a professor, she highlights three core characteristics of the U: an exceptional research environment, premier research support teams, and unmatched mentorship opportunities.

Accessing Opportunity

During her time as a Ph.D. student at the University of Massachusetts and later as a postdoctoral student at Yale, Dr. Allen immersed herself in analysis and academic opportunities. Higher education helped her understand complex and unique aspects of those who are vulnerable. In those years, she received two National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants and worked with incredible, highly funded faculty members. Her passion for research and helping others became even more personal after her mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  

“I was fortunate to have such amazing research experiences, yet I needed more to launch my career,” said Dr. Allen. “I was thrilled to see an opportunity to return to the University of Utah. It is a phenomenal place that has so many resources for students and researchers.” The University of Utah Health houses the only academic health sciences center in the state of Utah and the broader Mountain West region. This environment helped propel Dr. Allen into her strong program of research. Where at other institutions she had to figure out how to access needed resources, at the University of Utah, “there is a plethora of research opportunities, and everyone is welcoming and willing to work together,” she said.  

Nancy Allen

Advancing Research

The college leads in nursing research and offers an exceptional training ground for the next generation of nursing scientists. It ranks as the #21 school in NIH research funding and holds a total grant portfolio of $43 million. Dr. Allen’s work focuses on Hispanic populations with Type 2 Diabetes and older adults with diabetes, illustrating the significant impact that higher education can have on addressing complex health issues. Other researchers in the college lead programs that impact fields like gerontology, informatics science, women’s health, nursing simulation, social determinants of health, self-management of chronic diseases, health equity science, and more. 

Along with an enabling environment, Dr. Allen says that “it takes a strong research staff that can help you figure out all the grant instructions and then make sure that we have the best application possible.” The college holds a team of administrative professionals who aid in grant preparation, management, and general administration. Additionally, the statistical team provides research design support, ongoing data management, statistical analyses, and more. “It is not easy to get a research grant these days. That is why these teams are so crucial. Their help enables us to continue our research and educate our students. The college would not be where we are without them.”

Enabling Discovery

As an accomplished professor, Dr. Allen still remembers what it was like to be a student. “When I was in school, I had some exceptional mentors, and I also had some that were less-than exceptional you could say,” she said. “I have experienced first-hand the frustration of being a student when the experience was challenging. Regardless of the situation, there are always resources to help you along the way, especially here.”  

“It’s just so rewarding to be there when you’re working with a student who sees the lights go on and really understands what’s being taught,” says Dr. Allen. Her advice for all students is, “There is so much good that can happen by just being involved. I am always looking for opportunities to bring students on board, to get involved, and to learn the research process. The faculty here are passionate about the student experience, and we strive for it to be meaningful for everyone.” 

Leading Change

Dr. Allen’s work has enhanced health care among vulnerable and diverse populations. Within the Hispanic community, she is working to increase the use of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) for the management of type 1 diabetes at Federally Qualified Health Care Centers. In the older adult population with type 1 diabetes, she has developed and is testing an intervention called Share plus to facilitate CGM with care partner data sharing to improve diabetes management. This work attracted a leading industry producer of CGM. Dr. Allen then developed a clinical tool for this company to guide healthcare clinicians in discussing care partner data sharing when starting patients on continuous glucose monitoring with care partners. This clinical tool is now being widely used throughout the United States.   

Dr. Allen is one of many phenomenal faculty members at the College of Nursing. Her work in aiding vulnerable populations is an example of how the college is continually testing new models of care for all individuals and populations. The college plays an essential role in preparing the next generation of nurses and gerontologists to lead in an ever-changing world.  

Gabriel Mayberry | Communications Manager, College of Nursing

Feb 28, 2024 1:29 PM