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Biochemistry for Nurses

biochemAt some point in college most students ask the question, “Why do I have to take this class?” UNC doctoral student Corina Brown has posed that question about biochemistry coursework for prospective nurses. 

On the one hand, the answer is obvious. Prospective nurses need to understand fundamental principles of biochemistry. Physical health and growth depend on biochemical processes in the body. Life-saving medications work through physiological reactions, and prescription doses must be calculated carefully so as to yield therapeutic results and reduce potentially dangerous side effects. On the other hand, the question suggests the need to assess what prospective students already understand about biochemistry and their ability to make the necessary translations of biochemical concepts into the real world of clinical practice.

Corina knows the academic requirements of pre-nursing students and appreciates the anxieties surrounding their course load. She is interested in identifying the main chemistry concepts that are relevant for pre-nursing students. Based on these concepts, she has developed an inventory in order to inform instructors about pre-nursing students’ existing knowledge and also their difficulties in understanding concepts during clinical practice.

Being a Teaching Assistant for several years inspired Corina’s research.  She explained, “I have noticed the high cognitive load in the Fundamentals of Biochemistry course. I’ve seen that students understand a concept much more easily in an applied context because they recognize its relevance to nursing practice. I believe that teaching concepts with application to clinical practice increases motivation and offers students a good experience in learning.”

Corina used a diverse methodology including qualitative analysis, quantitative analysis, survey methods, statistical procedures, and psychometric analysis, in which the properties of a psychological measurement are systematically examined. Based on interviews and a national survey of General, Organic, and Biological (GOB) chemistry instructors, nurse educators, and nurses, she was able to identify chemistry concepts deemed relevant to nursing clinical practice and develop a Chemistry Concept Inventory (GOB-CCI) for pre-nursing students. Converging evidence revealed the usefulness and necessity of GOB Chemistry for pre-nursing students.

Corina is earning her Ph.D. in Chemical Education under the advisement of Drs. Richard Hyslop and Jack Barbera. 

Corina’s educational goals include continuing her work in assessment and instruction in biochemistry and in so doing developing effective methods of teaching chemistry to health science students and non-chemistry-major students.  Corina summarized her learning experience thus far: “

Often we assume students understand material in a course but it is very revealing to talk with them about how, what, and the way they understand. There is a wealth of information received from interviews with students. The tools provided by statistics and psychometrics make the research even more exciting. The type of research you do is a reflection of your own creativity and search for understanding.”

Corina continues to be inspired in her quest to understand the educational needs of prospective nurses and other chemistry students. She anticipates that the

GOB-CCI and other assessment strategies will illuminate pre-nursing students’ chemistry knowledge—information that can help science educators to be clear, relevant, informative, and motivating.


1. Brown, C. E., Henry, M., Barbera, J., & Hyslop, R. M. (2012). A Bridge Between Two Cultures: Uncovering the Chemistry Concepts Relevant to the Nursing Clinical Practice. J. Chem. Educ., 89, 1114−1121

2. Brown, C. E., Hyslop, R. M., & Jack Barbera. (in preparation). The Design and Psychometric Analysis of a GOB Chemistry Concept Inventory.