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Enjoy the latest stories from our Humans of Penn Nursing series, or read the latest news about nurses innovating solutions that impact health and healthcare.

Our people, our work

  • Shruti Iyer, NHCM Class of 2008

    Shruti Iyer

    The more Shruti Iyer learns, the more she understands that social justice and health equity go hand-in-hand. As a part of Kaiser Permanente’s Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity, she is committed to embedding principles of equity within the company’s workplace, care delivery systems, and community health efforts.

    She says, “With steady demographic and geographic transformation and increasing urgency of health disparities and social needs, this is yet another time in our country’s history to be the change we want to see.”

    Being the change is something that that has been part of Shruti’s mindset long before knew she wanted to be a nurse. “As a child I wanted to be a veterinarian,” she says, “As the child of an internist and chemical engineer, I grew up in a household heavily influenced by the STEM fields, and wanted to channel that energy towards veterinary sciences. No matter which field I chose, I wanted to make a positive difference among vulnerable populations.”

    It was Shruti’s own back and neck pain in middle and high schools that drove her toward health care, however—and resulted in her being featured as a 14-year-old public health activist in the American Journal of Public Health for her research findings on the correlation between back pain and backpacks. The feature notes:

    “Shruti turned her investigation into a science fair project and subsequently expanded the study, making it quantitative and international. She then went beyond science fairs, presenting her findings at professional society meetings and in publications, and she initiated a wide-ranging public health campaign. All this in less than 5 years: Shruti entered 10th grade in the fall of 2000.”[i]

    Shruti Iyer at 14 years old.Shruti Iyer at 14 years old.Shruti’s study started in her Houston high school but expanded to schoolchildren in Chennai, India, where she spent her summers. The final recommendation: students should carry no more than 10 percent of their body weight on their backs and that they should carry their backpacks properly. Her findings were published in Ergonomics, BackTalk, and the Journal of School Health, and she presented at the American Statistical Association meeting and the International Ergonomics Association and Human Factors and Engineering Society meeting. (In fact, India just passed a ruling that sets limits on the weight schoolchildren can carry).

    “That public health exposure was pivotal for me,” Shruti says, “and it informed my interest in the Nursing and Health Care Management dual degree program at Penn. It was an honor to be trained at top ranking schools of nursing and business. As dual degree students, we directly cared for patients with limited access to healthcare at a micro level, while observing market forces that affected them at a macro level. The program offered me fluency to speak two very unique languages, to build bridges across disciplines, and to serve diverse audiences.”

    “The community health experiences I had at Penn changed the way I saw my own future,” she continues. “We would drive out to West and South Philly communities through a home health agency to serve patients in their own spaces. I realized here that my clinical training and scope of practice would only allow me to go so far. Many of these patients needed food security, access to transportation, a social network, and a safety net to promote total health. It was my first exposure to the social determinants of health, health disparities, and the need for systems-based solutions that impact upstream influences on health.”

    But one clinical experience in particular solidified her thinking that health equity and social justice work were her ultimate career goals:

    “While working on the cardiac step-down unit at HUP, I cared for a man who was homeless—he had heart failure and was labeled a ‘frequent flyer.’ He’d come in, receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in services, and be discharged “to the street,” over and over again. The system spent so many downstream resources on this man but could not create an upstream solution to sustainable support and stable housing. It was at this moment I started thinking beyond treating one patient at a time and began focusing on creating healthy societies. As nurses, we are important change agents in facilitating that kind of change.”

    Since graduating from Penn Nursing and The Wharton School, Shruti has earned a Masters in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH), and is currently pursuing a DrPH in Health Equity & Social Justice from JHSPH on a part-time basis while working for Kaiser Permanente. “I will be beginning my doctoral dissertation shortly,” she says. “I plan to investigate race and ethnic differences in factors known to exacerbate hypertension, with the hope to use results to influence equitable care programs at Kaiser Permanente.”

    “After my DrPH,” she continues, “I will be committed to four major goals: first, denaturalizing health disparities and addressing them in a socially conscious and culturally humble way; promoting paradigm shifts through multi-sectoral collective impact models that address transportation, housing, food, livable wages, etc. as factors for health; third, emphasizing preventative measures for chronic disease, moving the dial from volume to value in healthcare service delivery, and maintaining the triple aim of quality, lower cost, and population health; and fourth, developing a new generation of educated, empowered, and accountable communities for health. I have the appetite and passion to apply research in real time and tackle issues with rigor and soul. I am eager to meld evidence, activism, and community values in addressing pervasive domestic health challenges of our day. In short, I hope to be a servant leader, creating equitable pathways for those who deserve a life of health.”

    Random fact about Shruti: She is a classically trained violinist and dancer.

     

    [i]  Guyer, R. L., PhD. (2001). Backpack = back pain. American Journal of Public Health,91(1), 16-19. doi:10.2105/ajph.91.1.16

  • Julie Assis, Nu'13
  • Marta Simonetti

    Pioneering in South America

    How can nursing and quality-of-care affect patient outcomes? Sometimes, the answer depends on where you ask. Take Marta Simonetti—an RN and faculty member at Chile’s Universidad de los Andes School of Nursing for more than 20 years.
  • KC Miller Nu'22

    KC Miller Wants You to Talk About Sex

    KC Miller (Nu’22) wants you to talk about sex. Not steamily. Not flirtatiously. Not jokingly. Not guiltily. He wants you to talk about sex the way you talk about other aspects of daily life – like food or music. No shame or embarrassment; just regular, healthy talk. “What’s most important,” he said, “is that people talk about sex in an informed way.”
  • Showing off Text-911 swag.
  • Caitlin M. Abascál Hildebrand

    Caitlin Hildebrand is right where she planned: building a career at the Veterans Administration (VA). “My family is full of people in public service,” she says, “from lawyers to teachers to firefighters. I always knew I wanted to help the underserved, and to especially focus on those with complex mental and physical health needs. The VA, where my patients have also given so much themselves, is the place I always wanted to be.”

    As the Acting Nurse Manager for Integrative Health at the San Francisco Veterans Health Administration (SFVHA), Caitlin leads a variety projects for nursing service as well as provides advanced nursing and medical care, both in-person in the Medical Practice and via video Telehealth. She is also founding provider of the new Integrative Health and Wellness Clinic at the SFVHA, a critical option to military veterans for whole health.  

    “In 2016 the VA sent me and a group of colleagues for training with the Center for Mind Body Medicine,” Caitlin recalls. “The goal was to learn skills to teach other staff—and potentially veterans—that would help promote engagement and well-being, and prevent burn-out. Once I began that training, I got exposure to the science behind Complementary and Integrative Health interventions. That, combined with my training as a yoga teacher, made me realize that I wanted to practice Integrative Medicine, and that it is the future of holistic health care that actually promotes wellness and well-being.”

    Caitlin at work with a military veteran, Battlefield AccupunctureCaitlin at work with a military veteran, Battlefield Accupuncture“The VA is leading the world in Integrative Medicine,” she continues, “and I am thrilled to be in the center of that in San Francisco. In addition to the group medical visits I lead in Yoga, Mind Body Medicine, and Battlefield Accupuncture, I am also part of a holistic team at the Integrative Health and Wellness Clinic. Veterans who are referred in receive a co-visit with the psychologist and either me or my physician chief—both of us are Fellows in Integrative Medicine through the University of Arizona—followed by a physical therapist and registered dietician. There is no better way to be evaluated in terms of true Whole Health.”

    Caitlin, who is also an Assistant Clinical Professor at University of California San Francisco, spent a period in 2018 and 2019 as Acting Chief of Advanced Practice Nursing at the SFVHA during the roll-out of Full Practice Authority at the VA. “It was particularly exciting to be in that position as Full Practice Authority was approved and implemented,” she says. “It required difficult conversations sometimes with Medical Service Chiefs, but by stressing that we all benefit from being able to practice our full education and training, and reaching out when we reach our own limits, I was able to overcome people’s concerns.”

    Caitlin’s full education and training go beyond her BSN and MSN from Penn Nursing; she also earned a MSHAIL (Master of Science Health Administration and Inter-professional Leadership) from University of California San Francisco and a B.A. in Psychology from Swarthmore College. She credits her MSHAIL degree, the VA Leadership Development Institute training, and her Lean certifications for teaching her “how crucial it is to reflect on your own learning needs and weaknesses, develop teamwork and buy-in, and approach all conflicts with a humility and growth mindset.” Her MSHAIL degree, in particular, has been critical for her career development, allowing her to bypass the “major glass ceiling for NPs” and step directly into the role of Director of Patient Care for a home health and hospice. She also notes that her experiences at Penn Nursing were “truly formative,” particularly the exposure she got through her clinical placements and summer internships.

     

    Caitlin (front row, left) pictured with her fellow students in 2006 during her very first clinica... Caitlin (front row, left) pictured with her fellow students in 2006 during her very first clinical rotation at Beverly Nursing Home in Rosemont, Pennsylvania.

    Caitlin’s education, training, and experience have led her to the place she hoped—and she plans to stay. “I am hoping to do more and more in our Integrative Health Service at the VA in the next few years,” she says. “Right now I am a clinician, and I also hope to become a formal leader as well.”

    Random fact: Caitlin has visited 19 countries to date. “I cherish the experience I had in Botswana with Penn Nursing,” she says, “and I have returned to Africa three times since. I have now been to South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria as well, and I’m planning a trip to Namibia.”

    Caitlin (front row, right) in Botswana during her rotation in Community Health. Hildebrand and he... Caitlin (front row, right) in Botswana during her rotation in Community Health. Hildebrand and her colleagues arranged a fundraiser where they bought chickens for people with disabilities, so they could raise them and have a source of nutrition and income via the eggs.


Humans of Penn Nursing

This series features short, impactful stories from students, alumni, faculty, and staff showcasing the wonderful, transformative work nurses do. This series is an opportunity to embed new narratives about what it means to be a nurse and how nursing impacts everyone’s life.

To read more Humans of Penn Nursing stories, or submit your own story, visit www.nursing.upenn.edu/humans.