July 24, 2017

Forming attachments: Endowed research fund to benefit vulnerable infants and their families

Nurses understand that strong relationships improve the well-being of their patients. Wayne State University Associate Professor Emerita Judith Fry McComish illustrated this through researching pregnant women coping with substance abuse or perinatal depression.

“I remember seeing how support from others and therapy interventions really helped them heal from the traumatic experiences that led them to substance abuse,” she says. “Working with a different population of postpartum women, doulas formed relationships that improved outcomes for the mothers and their newborns — and even the doulas, too.”

Witnessing the power of research to improve lives throughout her career, Fry McComish and her husband, Philip, created the Dr. Judith Fry McComish and Philip A. McComish Endowed Research Fund at the College of Nursing to study socioemotional health and development of vulnerable infants and their families. The endowment will be used to fund research and evidence-based practice projects on infant mental health conducted by faculty members and nursing doctoral students.

“It’s paramount to have a secure attachment relationship between the infant and their caregiver,” says Fry McComish. “If people don’t have secure attachments from birth, it affects their whole social, emotional and cognitive development throughout life and their ability to form relationships as adults.”

Evidence-based interventions into infant and family development are especially needed in Detroit, which has a high infant mortality rate. Fry McComish has seen the commitment by the College of Nursing to this at-risk population.

“A lot of emphasis of the research at the College of Nursing is on ways to improve outcomes for vulnerable infants,” she says. “The college is very supportive of efforts to improve the health of our Detroit community.”

Because her husband had been such a support throughout her career, Fry McComish was proud to create the fund in partnership with him. Although an engineer by trade, Philip received his B.F.A. from Wayne State after retiring in 2008, and was at Judy’s side throughout her career.

“Most faculty in nursing have husbands who are very supportive,” she says. “As I finished my Ph.D., taught courses or wrote articles, he was my best editor. He knows an awful lot about nursing now.”

The creation of the endowed research fund is just the latest example of a career dedicated to helping others. Working as a researcher and faculty member in the College of Nursing until 2015, as well as holding a joint appointment in the School of Medicine from 1992 to 2007, Fry McComish understands the difficulty of obtaining research funding, and wanted to provide more opportunities to the nursing faculty and doctoral students.

“Some of those experiences of trying so hard to get funding to do the research were why we started this endowment,” she says. “I know how hard it is for faculty to get support, and Wayne State has been good to me, so I wanted to give back to my school.”

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