Fear Factor: Kent State Nursing Professor’s Research Explores Nursing Student Fears Through AI-Generated Images

Kent State University’s College of Nursing Assistant Professor Janet Reed, Ph.D., RN, CMSRN, wanted to know how nursing students’ biggest fears about going into the nursing profession would translate into artificial intelligence (AI)-generated art. The resulting images that portray a physical representation of the students’ worries about their future profession are prompting discussions.

Twelve undergraduate nursing students from Kent State University at Stark were recruited to participate in the research through email. Most of the student participants, regardless of academic year, shared similar fears pertaining to unintentionally making a medical error that would hurt a patient. They were also afraid of legal repercussions, lack of time management skills, being short-staffed on the unit, not being good enough and being physically harmed by a patient. Reed noted these fears did not go away as students progressed closer to graduation.

“The students described their experiences so far in the nursing profession,” said Reed of Kent State, a top-tier, R1 research university. “I turned their words into prompts for Midjourney, an AI-generator that converts text to image. I then showed the images back to the students and qualitatively analyzed what they captured and what the students said were their biggest fears.” 

Reed was introduced to AI-generative images by her colleagues from Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human ServicesRichard Ferdig, Ph.D., Summit Professor of Learning Technologies, and Enrico Gandolfi, Ph.D., associate professor of educational technology. They shared their work using AI-generative images to portray the fears of students studying to become future teachers. They encouraged Reed to follow a similar model to explore the fears of nursing students.

The image results were exaggerated portrayals of AI-generated nurses screaming. Through this process, Reed learned a lot about what the technology was and was not capable of picturing.

“Whenever we put the word ‘fear’ into the AI-generator, we would get a picture of someone screaming with exaggerated facial expressions every time,” Reed said. “There are known racial and gender biases within generative AI that are well-documented in the literature, and I talk about that in my publications. If you want a male nurse or a Black nurse, you must specifically ask for that in the prompt.”

Additionally, Reed pointed out that the AI generator rarely pictured medical equipment correctly and many times produced images that were warped. Another interesting observation Reed made was the reference to long-ago nursing uniform caps. A few of the AI-generated images missed the mark by using a chef hat instead.  

“As a whole, the images are interesting because they show nurses rushing around, caring for many patients,” Reed said. “Analyzing these images can help us address why students are fearful in the first place and open discussions about how we can create a healthier culture to support new nurses. However, it’s important to note that a little bit of fear is okay because sometimes that can drive nurses to safer practices too.” 

Reed’s abstract titled “Students’ Fears of the Nursing Profession Through AI-Generated Artistic Images” has been selected as a Distinguished Abstract for the Midwest Nursing Research Society (MNRS) 2024 Annual Research Conference that takes place Feb. 28-March 2, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Selected from among all abstracts submitted to the conference, Reed is one of 14 individuals to receive this recognition this year.

“I am honored MNRS selected my abstract as an innovative and interesting research project to highlight at the conference,” said Reed, who will be a first-time attendee. “I’ve been asked to give a 20x20 presentation of my research during the conference. I will have 20 PowerPoint slides that automatically advance every 20 seconds. It’s going to be very concise.”

Reed is excited to dig deeper into AI technology, both in the classroom and for research.

“While AI-generated images are still very new and constantly changing, I think they can help promote visual learning,” Reed said. “We haven’t been able to bring pictures of patients into the classroom because of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), but now we can create pictures of AI-generated patients to show our students and prompt discussions. It’s so incredible.”

Reed also serves on the College of Nursing AI workforce team.

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About Kent State University’s College of Nursing

In existence for more than 50 years, the College of Nursing at Kent State University is one of the largest and most comprehensive nursing programs in the nation with more than 16,000 alumni worldwide. As part of Kent State’s eight-campus system, the college provides more than 2,000 nursing students courses of study at the baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral levels. To learn more about nursing programs at Kent State, please visit www.kent.edu/nursing.

Image Caption:
AI-generated images of exaggeratedly screaming male and female gender nurses portray nursing students’ fears of entering the profession.

Media Contact:
Mariah Gibbons, mgibbon2@kent.edu, 330-672-8756

POSTED: Thursday, February 29, 2024 12:35 PM
Updated: Thursday, February 29, 2024 02:27 PM
Mariah Gibbons
AI-generated images Janet Reed created using Midjourney