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Pakistan’s first-ever doctorate in nursing has been awarded by the Aga Khan University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery to Dr Khairulnissa Ajani. 

Dr Ajani has been assistant dean of teaching, learning and undergraduate programmes at AKU SONAM since 2017. She was the first candidate to enroll in the school’s PhD programme launched in 2015.

As part of her PhD, Dr Ajani conducted research into hypertension (high blood pressure) – a condition that affects one in three adults in Pakistan. She developed an intervention to evaluate how behaviour change strategies could help patients better manage their health. 

Dr Ajani’s research found low levels of physical activity and poor adherence to a hypertension-friendly diet among people with high blood pressure. 

Women, in particular, tended to focus more on their family’s well being while neglecting their own. Her study also emphasises the importance of family support in encouraging patients to take care of their health.

“Developing family support is key to enhancing the health of patients,” Dr Ajani said. “Healthcare providers have to develop practices that raise awareness in both the patient and their families.”

Related: Eight Pakistani women among the world’s top 100 nurses, midwives

The study also found that nurses can play a key role in developing a positive relationship with patients which can help promote a deeper understanding of the need for self-care.

It highlighted the need for professionals to move away from traditional health education strategies designed for the public towards more personalised guidelines.

Before SONAM launched nursing bachelor’s, master’s and PhD programmes, nurses in the country could only study for diplomas which limited their careers.

“We are all so proud of Ms Ajani whose personal journey from a practicing nurse to a scholar in her field corresponds with the progress that the profession has made as a whole in Pakistan,” said SONAM Dean Professor Rozina Karamaliani.

Nursing in Pakistan can only be improved when nursing professionals can undertake and contribute to locally relevant, evidence-based research through their master’s and PhD studies, the SONAM dean said.

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