Would you like to be part of the longest running research study in the world devoted to women’s health? Would you like to make a meaningful and long-term contribution to an internationally recognized women’s health research program that has endured since 1976? Do you have a personal and professional commitment to women’s health that would enable you to join more than 238000 US nurses who continue to provide data for a study with an unprecedented participation rate of 90%? If so, and if you meet the study sample inclusion criteria, you have a rare opportunity to contribute to something that matters to your own health and that of future generations by enrolling as a participant in Nurses’ Health Study-III.

Frank Speizer, md, originated the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) in 1976 with financial support from the National Institutes of Health to prospectively identify the long-term health effects associated with use of oral contraceptives. Registered nurses (RNs) were designated for the study sample not only for the profession’s predominantly female membership, but also because researchers anticipated that their nursing education would facilitate accuracy in replies to technically worded questionnaire items and that nurses would be highly motivated to maintain long-term participation in the study. As a result, the target sample consisted of married RNs, aged 30 to 55 years, residing in the then 11 most populous states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas). Of the 170000 questionnaires mailed out, approximately 122000 RNs responded (response rate, 72%).1  Since the initial questionnaire mailed in 1976, this cohort’s members have completed follow-up questionnaires every 2 years and periodically submitted requested laboratory samples used for identification of potential biomarkers as well as case/control analyses. In addition to items related to oral contraceptives, survey items over the past 35 years have related to a wide variety of diseases, disorders, therapies, and health habits, including smoking, diet, hormone use, menopause, and quality-of-life issues.

Nurses’ Health Study-II was launched in 1989 to continue the study of oral contraceptives, diet, and other lifestyle risk factors in a population younger than the cohort used in NHS-I. The intent was to include women who had used oral contraceptives since adolescence and were therefore exposed to these agents since their early reproductive life to determine whether extended exposure was associated with increased risk of breast cancer. In addition, the second study would identify the specific type of oral contraceptive used, a variable not included in NHS-I.

The target population for NHS-II was women between 25 and 42 years. RNs from 14 states participated in this study: California, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. A total of 517000 baseline questionnaires were initially mailed with 123000 returned (response rate, 24%).1  After incomplete forms and ineligible submissions were excluded, 116686 women remained in NHS-II. As with their colleagues in NHS-I, the NHS-II nurses complete follow-up questionnaires every 2 years that include items inquiring about health-related topics such as smoking, chronic diseases and disorders, hormone use, pregnancy, menopause, diet, and quality-of-life issues.

As the largest and most enduring examination of risk factors in women’s health, NHS-I and NHS-II have generated more than 1550 papers published in the nursing, medical, and health care literature and have revealed “…key information on literally hundreds of important topics, including results that have altered medical practice and national dietary guidelines.”3  A brief synopsis of these findings is provided in the Table.

NHS-III will consider the influence of changing lifestyles and environmental factors on women, specifically on the effects of nutritional patterns, physical activity, medication use—including newer hormone preparations and occupational influences. Some areas of particular interest in this long-term study include fertility issues, events related to pregnancy, as well as the female adolescent diet and breast cancer risk.1 

NHS-III is recruiting participants from diverse ethnic backgrounds across the United States.4  Two of the criteria for participants in NHS-III are female and age 22 to 42 years old. To find out if you can join NHS-III, go to www.nhs3.org/index.php/info/who-can-join. If you are not eligible to participate in NHS-III but would like to support this research program, get more information at www.nhs3.org.

It isn’t every day that you have an opportunity to participate in the longest running research study in the world related to women’s health or in an internationally heralded research program in which 100% of participants are nurses and 90% have continued to participate decades later. If you meet the NHS-III inclusion criteria, this is one ring you need to grab. For all of the findings unique to women’s health, do it for yourself, your mother, daughters, granddaughters, great granddaughters, your female nurse colleagues, friends, and neighbors. For all of the findings from this study that apply to both genders, do it for your spouse, your father, sons, grandsons, great grandsons, your male nurse colleagues, friends, and neighbors. Pass it forward so that all of us may benefit from your participation for generations to come.

The Nurses’ Health Study-History
Original cohort
. . Accessed October 2, 2011.
The Nurses’ Health Study-NHS 3
. . Accessed October 1, 2011.
Nurses’ Health Study
. . Accessed October 1, 2011.
The Nurses’ Health Study-Who can join?
. Accessed October 1, 2011.


PS: On behalf of all of the staff of Critical Care Nurse, we wish you and your family Happy Holidays, safe travels, and best wishes for the new year. May 2012 be kind to you and those you love.