CON Alumna Abby Hanson ’20 Combines Love of Research and Bedside Nursing

woman standing with UCF diploma
Abby Hanson graduated from UCF during the pandemic, at a time when the university did not hold in-person graduation ceremonies. She commemorated the occasion with family, and is seen above proudly displaying her diploma.

Abby Hanson ’20 doesn’t remember exactly when she became interested in math and science, but she does remember that, growing up in Jacksonville, her idea of a perfect day would be working on something math or science related while watching a football game on TV.

Before she came to UCF’s College of Nursing,  she earned a degree in molecular biology at the University of North Florida.

Although Hanson was initially undecided about her career path, she knew that it would involve science, and likely something in the medical field. She also knew that having a strong background in biology would be an asset to her future studies.

Her time at UNF was marked by a variety of extracurricular activities that not only deepened her clinical understanding of research and its applicability to patient care, but also enhanced her skills as an educator.

Hanson was a UNF Presidential Undergraduate Genetics Researcher, where she conducted experiments to analyze the expression of various genes in muscle atrophy and collaborated with graduate students in the genetic department laboratory. Her research laid the foundation for a paper explaining how the gene Fam83d modulates enzymes leading to skeletal muscle atrophy. If this gene can be inhibited, it can slow the rate of skeletal muscle atrophy as demonstrated through genetic experiments.

She was also a supplemental instructor at UNF, where she was selected to educate students on the subject of organic chemistry, a traditionally challenging course for many students.

“This was one of the highlights of my time at UNF,” Hanson says. “I like organic chemistry a lot; it’s a very visual science and drawing reaction mechanisms can help a student understand some of the more difficult concepts.”

Hanson, who had already completed organic chemistry I and II, would sit in the live classes to see where the students were, and then she would make worksheets and host three review sessions each week.

“Tutoring science major students also helped prepare me for the kind of public speaking and education role that you have as a nurse. In both realms there are frequently times when you must break down complex concepts into terms that people can understand.”

group of people in halloween costumes
Abby Hanson credits Toastmasters for helping her hone her public speaking skills – and they have a lot of fun, too. Above, the group at a recent Halloween gathering.


That communication technique is something Hanson has continued to hone through participation in Toastmasters International, a nonprofit educational organization that builds confidence and teaches public speaking skills through a worldwide network of clubs that meet online and in person.

“I’m definitely not the most talented person,” Hanson says, “But I do take every day as a learning opportunity to continually challenge myself out of my comfort zone and be my best.”

Her decision to continue her nursing education at UCF was made through a careful examination of other nursing programs.

Because of her previous degree, Hanson qualified for the accelerated BSN program.

“I started in May 2019 (less than a month after graduating from UNF), and then I finished in August 2020,” Hanson says.

“I  think UCF’s program is the best one in Florida. The education was so comprehensive and organized. Even during the beginning of the pandemic, I was so impressed with the strong leadership of Dean Mary Lou Sole and the rest of the team who navigated us through the uncharted times.

“The world shut down during my third semester of the program and I missed out on a bit of in-person clinical. However, Drs. Brian Peach and Paul Desmarais continued to pique my interest in critical care and the eventual path to anesthesia. Throughout the pandemic they instilled in me the imperativeness of critical care nursing along with the importance of research.”

two clinical individuals in masks
Abby Hanson, at right) with one of her colleagues during an internship while at UCF.

As part of her practicum, Hanson was matched with a nurse in the neuro ICU at AdventHealth, where she got to “live the nurse life” with a clinician for 12 days. She says the experience was like an orientation before beginning work in the “real world.”

After moving back to Jacksonville, Hanson worked at Memorial Hospital in the cardiovascular intensive-care, trauma and medical-surgical ICU units. “It was a little bit of a push into the deep end,” Hanson says. “Right off the bat, I had very sick patients on multiple vasopressors that required complex management. I had incredibly sick patients right off the bat; this is something that UCF had prepared me for, but it was different to experience it in real life.”

She then took a position at Mayo Clinic as a transplant ICU nurse, where she recovered organ transplant patients directly from the operating rooms and applied appropriate interventions. She also served as a preceptor for new graduate nurses.

In her free time, Hanson works under Dr. Devang Sanghavi and team on a variety of prospective and retrospective research studies achieving dozens of publications.  Hanson’s current projects include a retrospective study of the effectiveness of inhaled nitric oxide on ARDS and a prospective investigation of using ketamine for depression in the ICU setting. is working The FDA has approved usage of ketamine in an outpatient setting, but it has not yet been approved for patients in the ICU.

“We hope to launch a study in the next month or two,” Hanson says. “It’s a long process, but eventually we hope to get an even bigger study and try to build a case for FDA approval for ketamine use for ICU patients. We already know, at least anecdotally, that there are some ways that it can help patients, and hopefully in the future it will be able to help more patients on a larger scale through FDA approval instead of off-label usage.”

Hanson is also excited by other research projects, including a study on verticalization of patients with ARDS to improve ventilation to determine if it helps lessen respiratory stress syndrome.

The ability to see, in real life, how the scientific and research process can impact actual people continues to fuel Hanson’s pursuits. She also has tried her hand at book chapter writing and has expounded upon her nursing mentor Dr. Brian Peach’s work about post-intensive care syndrome in her next chapter set to be published in the fall of 2024.


group of people in restaurant
One of Abby Hanson’s favorite things to do is enjoy a good meal with friends. Above are Hanson and some of her research colleagues in Jacksonville.




“As a bedside nurse, providing the best, evidence-based care for my patients is the most important thing I can do,” Hanson says. “And as a researcher, knowing that I have a part in helping determine their best care is so gratifying to me.”

Hanson says she is constantly researching to determine current best practices; she is a voracious reader and joined the Society of Critical Care Medicine where she receives newsletters and journal articles; and she joined the local chapter of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, where she serves on its board of directors.

She volunteers at the Jacksonville Beach Mission House where she triages patients, many of whom are uninsured and new to the US, to assess their needs and get them seen by a nurse practitioner or physician. In her free time, she also regularly attends jiu jitsu classes and is working towards her blue belt. She is also mindful of keeping connections with her family and friends and is involved with a local Bible study. Hanson is also working toward becoming fluent in Spanish.

In addition to her job and extracurricular activities, Hanson is in her first year of online studies through Wake Forest University’s nurse anesthetist program. She will move up to Winston-Salem this August to complete the program, where she will be on track to graduate in 2026.

Despite her list of accolades and accomplishments, Hanson says she is constantly working to grow both professionally and personally. She knows the impact that her work can have in people’s lives; sometimes, the cases in which she is involved do not have positive outcomes, but what uplifts her is when she sees patients with whom she has interacted before, and they are making progress towards returning to regular life.

“I’m just a regular person, looking to continually challenge and better myself in all aspects of my life, so that I can become stronger, more well-rounded and help others. I am looking to be the best me that I can be and live on the edge of my comfort zone so that I work hard to overcome challenges, increase my sphere of influence, and achieve my goals.”

Featured Image for the Contact Us Bar
Contact Us