A Multidisciplinary Approach to a Nursing PhD

With a background in both video game design and nursing, Matthew Lee has forged his own decidedly nontraditional path to a nursing PhD.

He has even coined a term to describe his work.

“‘Nurse designer’ is a title I like to use because it showcases how I am a bridge between these professions, and how I can be part of both at once. It’s not an either/or choice.”

As a Hillman Scholar in Nursing Innovation at Penn, Lee has combined his talents as an award-winning video game designer with his passion for nursing, which he calls “the most holistic of the health disciplines.”

Technology for Health

Along the way, he also spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Australia, studying how people’s motivations for participating in online communities shape the relationships they form and the emotional and knowledge benefits they gain from the experience.

That research is now the subject of his doctoral dissertation in Hillman’s accelerated nursing PhD program. Lee is working closely with George Demiris, PhD, who became his Hillman mentor after arriving at Penn in January 2018. Demiris, a nationally renowned expert in medical informatics, has conducted numerous federally funded studies and his work has been funded consistently over the years both by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Lee and his mentor share a passion for integrating technology solutions into people’s lives.

“My work deals more with online communities than wearable devices, but the same principles apply, since we’re both interested in meeting people where they are,” Lee says.

Meeting Patients Where They Are–Online 

Lee believes video games and online communities can help patients play a more active role in their own care.

In his role as nurse designer, Lee worked with an interdisciplinary team to design a mental health app — “AppHappy: Journey to the West” — to address a need identified by research showing that Chinese international students were more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and culture shock. With funding by the American Nurses’ Foundation, Lee then went on to develop a digital toolkit for nurses to aid in the diagnosis and management of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. He also has conducted more traditional research, working on a study tracking the physiological markers of mental illness, and another on the markers of stress.

Advocating for Prevention

“In the long-term, I really think that health care should not focus on the hospital,” says Lee. “We should be trying to keep people from getting to the hospital in the first place, keeping them healthy whether it’s mentally or physically. For that, I think it’s important to meet people where they are. And these days, online is a good place for that.”