Excellence in Nursing – Researcher: Jill Demirci
Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing
As a nursing student at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, Jill Demirci saw firsthand how beneficial breastfeeding can be for both parent and child. She also saw that for many mothers and babies, breastfeeding does not come easily.
Her interest in learning more about breastfeeding barriers and solutions inspired Demirci’s doctoral studies and has fueled her research since.
“There’s always something new to study in this area,” says Demirci, who has served on several committees for the national Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses and on the editorial board of multiple journals. “When I became a mom myself and had my own difficulties with breastfeeding, it heightened my commitment. I’m a lactation consultant. If I’m having trouble, then people who don’t have the same training as me definitely need all the support they can get.”
Knowing new parents don’t always have the availability to meet with lactation consultants, Demirci has focused her research on how to make information accessible to people wherever they are. She helped develop a study in which pregnant mothers received text messages offering education and targeting some of the concerns common among new parents.
She’s also part of a team studying telelactation, in which lactation support is offered 24/7 over video calls through an app, as well as a team studying parents in pregnancy who are taught to hand express milk, for which she is principal investigator.
Her message to mothers struggling to breastfeed is simple: you’re not alone. However, she does feel society has a lot of work to do in terms of supporting new parents.
“It can’t all be on parents. It has to be the health care system. It has to be employers,” she says. “When it comes right down to it, society is just not super supportive. There’s always this worry in the back of your mind of, ‘How are people going to react to this?’”
Demirci also integrated lactation education into Pitt’s undergraduate nursing curriculum as she knows her responsibility as a researcher extends beyond her own work.
“There has to be other people continuing the work and building on it,” she says. “I am a researcher, but I identify as an educator and as a mentor, because those things go really hand in hand.”