The Street Nurse
Kara Cohen, Nu’08, GNu’13
Associate Site Director, Pathways Clinic at Project Home Healthcare Services, and Founder and President of Best Foot Forward Philly
As an Albert Schweitzer Fellow in 2012, Kara Cohen helped people experiencing homelessness with foot health by starting Best Foot Forward Philly. Nearly a decade later, the nonprofit holds a regular clinic at a shelter and has helped thousands. The all-volunteer service draws students from local nursing programs, including Penn’s. “We often have students tell us this is the most significant thing they did in nursing school,” Cohen says. “They use every single part of their nursing skills: patient interaction, patient education and advocacy, and wound care.”
Cohen also works with Project Home to treat chronically homeless patients at a clinic and a drop-in center located in a Philadelphia transit station, and through street outreach. In the last year, the nonprofit started offering Hepatitis C treatment to clients long denied care for the infection. “That has been so gratifying,” she says. “When they finish their treatment, we get them a cake, we sing, ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Patient,’ and we make them a T-shirt that says, ‘I Did It.’ We have a party because it’s such a big deal.”
3,700 and Counting
By the end of 2018, Best Foot Forward Philly had held 3,700 foot clinic sessions. Cohen counts providing clients with a positive health care experience among the successes. “We show people you can have a caring relationship with a health care provider,” she says. “We have a really good reputation in the streets, which is the thing I am proudest of.”
The Community Clinician
Jorge Roman, Nu’09, GNu’10
Clinical Manager at Magnet at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation
The magnet clinic in San Francisco focuses on LGBTQ health issues, specifically sexual health and HIV prevention, and connecting clients to long-term primary care. There, Jorge Roman can continue clinical work while building broader community connections. “Although it’s really gratifying to see and touch one person at a time, the way I’ve always approached health in general is more from a public health perspective. I like the challenge and the idea that by impacting groups of people, we can make entire communities healthier and stronger,” he says.
There’s a medical director supervising, but Roman loves that Magnet is a nurse-run clinic. “We’re a good example of how nurses really step up to the plate to influence and impact a community,” he says. In his leadership role, he helps to manage the staff, satellite clinics, and a mobile testing unit.
HIV Prevention Engagement
Roman saw a perfect match in the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, which runs the Magnet Clinic. “My career goals align a lot with where our strategic planning is,” he says, “focusing specifically in communities of color, injection drug users, older individuals who have HIV and have had HIV for a long time.” Looking to the future, Roman says he’s already brainstorming how the Magnet Clinic can more actively engage transgender individuals and younger gay men who identify as African American or Latinx.
Jasmine Perez, Nu’08
Certified Nurse Midwife at A Medical Center
Jasmine Perez grew up in a big family, and from a young age, she says, “I was witnessing lots of pregnant women, and I was always really curious as to all the different changes and things that were happening with the female body.”
A childhood in “the projects in the Bronx” meant seeing “a lot of sick people … in a resource-limited area.” The perspective she gained informs her work today. “My goal has always been to help bridge the health gaps for the underserved, especially Latin American women,” she explains. “By speaking their native language, I help them ask the questions they’ve never been able to ask before. I also help them become advocates for their own health and personal needs through education.”
Perez is a big believer in increasing patient education whenever possible at her medical center. She introduced birthing balls, as well as aromatherapy and nitrous oxide laboring alternatives. In 2019, Perez jumped at an opp- ortunity to work on a grant-funded county initiative aimed at decreasing maternal morbidity and mortality for African
American women and disadvantaged women in her region.
New Mom, New Skills
Having spent part of 2019 on maternity leave after having her first child, Perez is now working to become a Certified Lactation Consultant. “Being a mom now and having
experienced how difficult it can be to establish breastfeeding,” she says, “I decided I wanted to have as much information as possible and get the certification so that I can really champion women to breastfeed.”
The Sex Educator
Brooke Faught, GNu’03
Director of Women’s Institute for Sexual Health (WISH)
Brooke Faught wants to bring more awareness about women’s sexual health to the world. She has lobbied Congress and testified before the FDA about the dearth of approved treatments for female sexual dysfunction, and serves as board secretary for the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. On speaking publicly to providers, she says: “If I can make them aware so that if they see a patient who has the guts to bring up these concerns, they might say, ‘Oh, you know what? I heard somebody speak on that. There are actually people out there who can help you with this.’ Then I’ve made that difference.”
Faught opened the Women’s Institute for Sexual Health (WISH) in 2005 as part of Urology Associates’ expansion of women’s services. “I literally was laughed at in Nashville for probably a good year with outside providers. They thought, ‘Who is this nurse practitioner who we don’t even know coming in and starting this quirky medicine practice for sex and women?’” she says. Now she gets referrals from those same people.
“How am I going to talk to her about sex?”
When her second daughter was born with Down syndrome, one of Faught’s first fears, she says, was, “Oh my God, how am I going to talk to her about sex?” That inspired her to focus her doctoral research on social boundaries in young women with Down syndrome. “My ultimate goal is to come up with a method for health care providers to appropriately screen for sexual concern as well as just basic education of sexuality in this population,” she says.
Cherry Leung, Nu’04, GN
Assistant Professor at Communi Systems at UCSF
With a desire to merge clinical experience, research, and teaching, Cherry Leung mapped a career path that includes a PhD in epidemiology from the University of Hong Kong and nurse practitioner certifications in pediatrics and psychiatric mental health. While sub-specializing in pediatric neurology, her area of focus on adolescent mental health crystallized, she says, after seeing many patients with depressive symptoms.
Leung is looking at the gut microbiome and its association with adolescent depression and wants to explore how “the gut is associated with the brain,” she says. She hopes her findings can fuel “innovative treatments and programs to reduce the prevalence of depression.” One day a week, she practices and precepts a student at Edgewood Center for Children and Families, which works with children who have behavioral and mental health issues.
“I never thought that I would still be in school after getting my PhD and doing a post-doc,” Leung says. But she appreciates the mentorship at UCSF, where she’s on the tenure track. “Without these mentors and these collaborations, I wouldn’t be able to do the type of research that I currently do,” she notes. She also values the chance to pay that all forward with teaching. “I’m able to pass on my knowledge to the students, from what I learn as a researcher and what I see in the clinical setting, the real day-to-day things that happen,” she says.
The Workflow Guru
Emilia Flores, Nu’14, GR’17
Clinical Pathways Program Manager at University of Pennsylvania Health System
With a BS in industrial engineering and management science and experience in business consulting, Emilia Flores chased her fascination with workflow into the health care field. Now her days are spent creating clinical pathways— blueprints for effectively changing hospital practices, one problem and one patient population at a time. The work is a marathon, not a sprint. “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the expression that it takes 17 years for evidence to make it into clinical practice,” Flores says. A simple project might take a few months, whereas she’s been working on a hysterectomy-related pathway for over a year.
To get valuable and necessary input from busy UPHS nurses and providers, the clinical pathways process must be efficient. “We will do a lot of legwork up front realizing that we have maybe an hour or two with the stakeholders,” Flores says. She appraises and summarizes existing guidelines and evidence and creates a prototype workflow diagram.
New Seats at the Table
As the Center for Evidence-Based Practice has proven its value across UPHS, Flores says, the group is being invited to the table for more initiatives. She’s looking forward to a new telehealth subcommittee and a project aimed at improving the transmission of patient data. “This also comes from nurses and providers who see problems and want to make things better,” she says. “My work wouldn’t be possible at all if I wasn’t able to partner with all of these really passionate clinicians.”
G.J. Melendez-Torres, Nu’11, W’11
Professor of Clinical and Social Epidemiology at the University of Exeter in England and Director of Peninsula Technology Assessment Group (PenTAG)
When G.J. Melendez-Torres was pursuing his dual degree, he says, “I would go from starting my day at 5 a.m. and helping deliver babies to a marketing recitation in scrubs. Two births into the day, I am thinking about product placement and pricing.” The doubled effort underpins his work today in England, where he helps the British government with decision-making about the value of new drugs, considering everything from efficacy to cost. His team at Peninsula Technology Assessment Group looks at seven to nine new drugs a year.
With PenTAG, Melendez-Torres is at the intersection of many competing perspectives. Pharmaceutical companies don’t want to lose research investment. Health system managers want to control costs. Patient groups want all possible treatments available to them. “It’s not my role to advocate one way or another, but it is my role to defend our work to justify the quality and plausibility of a new drug to support decision-makers,” he says. “We don’t prescribe or direct, but we speak our truth to power.”
Melendez-Torres is most drawn to research where he sees a need and people “who will use the evidence.” In his academic work, he applies social epidemiology and health economics methods to child and adolescent development, including mental health and domestic violence. “Domestic violence is an area that affects individuals, families, and communities,” he says. “How can you quantify how improved advocacy about domestic violence awareness benefits a community?”
Kennedy Gachiri, Nu’06, W’06
CEO of The NewNow and CEO and Founder of Superstar Agenda
Though Kennedy Gachiri’s dual degree in nursing and economics initially led him to the world of corporate law and investment banking, he now spends his days leading The NewNow, a nonprofit which supports rising global leaders dedicated to addressing some of humanity’s thorniest problems. His nursing background helps him connect with a diverse group of people. “I can tell when folks are reacting from a place of stress,” he says. “I think with a basis in nursing, once you’ve done it, you just have no choice but to be an empathetic, compassionate individual. That crosses over [into my] leadership style.”
The NewNow supports high-profile, action-oriented people working to address issues such as gender inequality, climate justice, and peace and security. “Some of these folks have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. One of them was a Time 100 most influential person,” Gachiri says.
In His Spare Time
During college and after, Gachiri found himself measuring his success by external parameters and eventually, he says, “I felt like if I continued living my life looking to the outside for what it means to be excellent, then I just wasted my time here on Earth.” He took time off and developed the Superstar Agenda, a business that helps people tap into their creative potential to achieve their goals. Given his nonlinear career path, Gachiri says he’d tell today’s nursing students, “Don’t define yourself by a profession or a label, because that’s just a story. The truth is there are so many aspects to us as individuals. Each of us creates in different ways.”
The Multi-Tasking Mentor
Ruthlyn Greenfield-Webster, Nu’92
Senior Nurse Clinician at NYU
With a resume that includes stints as an assistant nurse manager and group practice leader, starting her own legal nurse consulting business, and competing around the world in track and field, Ruthlyn Greenfield-Webster is a natural teacher inside and outside the hospital. “I really do enjoy sharing my knowledge,” she says. “I love helping others to learn and grow, because that’s something that’s important to me in my own life. I do a lot of preceptorship.” She has also served as an alumni interviewer for Penn and a volunteer track coach at her daughter’s high school. “My personal motto is, ‘Live Life with PASSION, passion is capitalized,’” she notes. “I don’t think things are impossible. You just have to figure out how to make them possible.”
Over nearly 30 years in at NYU Langone, she’s worked all over the hospital—in rehab, med-surg, geriatrics, hematology, oncology—and is currently in the interventional radiology unit. “I love that I can be a resource for my colleagues,” Greenfield- Webster says.
Going for Gold
Co-captain of Penn’s women’s track and field team her senior year, Greenfield-Webster returned to competition in her mid-30s, and she travels the world for meets. In 2013, she took the triple jump top prize at the Masters Track and Field World Championship in Brazil. Every year, she hits Franklin Field for the Penn Relays. “That’s a tradition for me, and I brought my family into it,” she says. “That’s a mecca trip for us every April.”
Eva Domotorffy, Nu’95
Senior Nurse Executive, Naval Health Clinic Annapolis
The navy has taken Eva Domotorffy—who won an ROTC scholarship her freshman year at Penn— around the world, from a U.S. base in Italy to Papua New Guinea. She has spent time on a hospital ship, and established educational exchanges and partnered with providers such as midwives while abroad. “There’s so much to learn from our counterparts in other countries who make do, and succeed, with much more limited resources and options,” says Domotorffy, whose rank is Captain.
Part of the Military Health System, which is separate from the VA, Domotorffy’s ambulatory care facility in Annapolis comprehensively serves active duty and retired military and their families, plus the people who work on the base as well as some foreign military. In 2019, Domotorffy championed a shared governance initiative designed to “emphasize nurses at every level having a voice in their practice,” she says. In the Nurse Corps, new assignments typically come every two to four years. Domotorffy did a stint at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and was once branch head for the Office of Women’s Health in policy and program development.
While in grad school part-time in New York City, Domotorffy was a Navy medical recruiter. She never anticipated long-term service, but plans for civilian life were no match for her own sales pitch. “I was recruiting nursing students, medical students, nurses, physicians,” she says, “and in convincing my students and all of these professionals what a great opportunity and a great deal Navy medicine is, I think I talked myself back into it.”
Steven Cabrera, Nu’13
Assistant Nurse Manager at NYU Langone Medical Center
After a few years in neurointensive care at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia, Steven Cabrera moved to NYU Langone in late 2018. He was promoted to nurse manager in late 2019. “For me, being a minority, being Hispanic, representation truly does matter,” Cabrera says. “When people realize that people like them have been in these positions, like nurse manager, it gives people the confidence to move forward and say ‘Hey, I can go places with this degree.’”
When Cabrera enters the room of a Spanish- speaking patient, he often senses an air of nervousness. “It’s very encouraging to see them turn it upside down when they realize ‘Oh my gosh, this person speaks Spanish … I can say what I need to say.’ There’s a more intimate opportunity to connect,” he says.
Cabrera wants to get his master’s and become a family health nurse practitioner—and plans to one day open a community clinic for vulnerable populations. In Philadelphia, he volunteered at Puentes de Salud, which provides medical services to immigrants and people without medical insurance. He appreciated how he was able to apply his skills and make an impact. “Puentes opened the door and validated why I needed to be a nurse,” he says. “It was a unique feeling, to be able to give people the access.
Jake Bevilacqua, Nu’09, GNu’13
CRNA Team Leader at Massachusetts General Hospital, North Shore Medical Center
In a career as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Jake Bevilacqua saw the chance to dedicate himself to one patient at a time while also contributing to the evolution of the field. “You have the opportunity to care for someone when they’re completely vulnerable,” he says. “They have no ability to advocate for themselves, and I think that the responsibility in that is tremendous and something that is a privilege to have.”
Bevilacqua was working at Mass General in down- town Boston when a job opened up at North Shore Medical Center, closer to the home he shares with his wife (a fellow Penn Nursing alum). In his cur- rent dual role, clinical duties take him to every corner of the medical center, from labor and de- livery to the emergency room. He manages about 23 nurses, and he’s part of a team tackling disaster preparedness. “I realized that the hospital had di- saster plans on paper, but the actual execution of those plans in a disaster was a bit more nebulous,” Bevilacqua says. “So I got together a multidisci- plinary group to translate the plans the hospital has into practical application. It’s a work in progress, but the ball is rolling.”
Bevilacqua stretches his entrepreneurial skills with a CRNA-only practice that provides anesthesia in physicians’ offices. With anesthesia being used for an expanding number of procedures, he says, “there’s a growing demand for the specialty while at the same time the number of people graduating with the certification is limited.”
Joanne Marie Mantilla, Nu’14, GNu’19
Registered Nurse at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
This year, Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania’s 2nd District, in Philadelphia, will have the chance to mark their ballots for Joanne Marie Mantilla. As an elected representative in Washington, she says, she would have the power to direct federal funding to states and cities, to address what she considers society’s most pressing issues: lack of access to health care, and improving support for formerly incarcerated individuals and people struggling with addiction or chronic homelessness. “So much research comes out of Penn Nursing, and I want to take all of that knowledge and put it into practice at the legislative level,” she says.
“Structured chaos” is the two-word description Mantilla uses to capture her days on an inpatient general surgery floor at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “I didn’t want a 9-to-5 office job. I wanted to constantly be innovating and doing something different,” she says.
The Second Generation
Mantilla dreamed about becoming an opera singer as a child, but she couldn’t help but be influenced by family vacations that revolved around nursing. “My mom is a nurse. She still works at the bedside. She would take me with her to all these national nursing conferences,” Mantilla says. “I got to see all the cool things that she did. She got to meet people from all over the country.”
The Hospital Planner
Augastin Kozhimala, Nu’10, W’10
Assistant Nurse Manager of the Neurosurgery Operating Room at the Kimmel Pavilion at NYU Langone Health
Not many nurses get a chance to design a multibillion-dollar hospital, but Augastin Kozhimala sees his influence on the Kimmel Pavilion every day. The opportunity to be on a team planning workflows and space in the facility, which opened in July 2018, drew Kozhimala to the job at NYU Langone Health. He sees the impact of their consideration of the gap between hospital bed and OR when patients often wait in noisy hallways. At Kimmel, there’s a connected, private space. “That’s been a nice design that has helped with patient satisfaction and to help them feel way more calm before they go in for surgery,” he says.
As a leader, Kozhimala says, “Having a mindset or mantra where you look at the job as ‘you working for the staff’ is key.” He avoids falling on the status quo. “[Staff] feedback is most important to make things better for the patients. They’ll keep giving it if you keep trying to change and innovate with them,” he says. Kozhimala is enrolled in the NYU Stern MBA program too, with a plan to finish this summer.
Shark Tank Star
When the hospital held a Shark Tank-style pitch challenge in 2019, Kozhimala presented his idea for an operating room “shot clock.” Collaborating with the IT department, he created the tool to help teams get closer to the institution’s goal of 30-minute turnovers between patients. Preliminary data since implementation in September already show an improvement. “When the nurse charts in Epic that the patient left the room, the clock will start running, and everyone in the room can see it,” he says. “It’s really helped in starting surgeries on time.”
The Pelivic Floor Provider
Jenna Rae (Lewis) PerkinsNu’11, GNu’14
Pelvic Floor Nurse Practitioner at George Washington University’s Medical Faculty Associates
Sometimes it’s easier for Jenna Rae Perkins to say she’s a women’s health nurse practitioner. Many people haven’t even heard of a pelvic floor nurse practitioner. “The bladder, the bowels, the vagina, and sexual function—I have incorporated all those things into my practice,” she says. “When I started working in urology, I quickly realized that women who were having bladder issues were also having sexual dysfunction. Women with UTIs were also having constipation issues … It was clear that in order to treat the whole woman, I would have to treat all these conditions.”
Perkins’ patients find comfort when she connects the dots. “When [health problems] are disconnected, it feels like a lot of little issues, but when you can holistically look at it and it makes sense, then patients are empowered by that,” she says.
“Putting it out in the universe”
Having a baby girl in 2019 meant pressing pause on launching a venture focused on women’s health education but, Perkins says, “The more I keep putting it out in the universe … the more there’s going to be charge to it and I have to do it!” She’s dipped a toe in with an Instagram account; followers get a mix of women’s health news, pop culture, and Perkins’ personal life. “It allows patients to be more open with you if they have an understanding of who you are as a person,” she says. “It gives people space to be themselves if you are yourself.”
The Bedside Innovator
Mark Weber, GNu’02
Nurse Practitioner in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Mark Weber was working in a pediatric ICU when a nurse practitioner inspired him to get his master’s degree. “She was doing a bedside study on the best way to insert the nasojejunal tubes,” he says. They assessed three different techniques—and Weber started shaping a career in research and innovation.
At CHOP, Weber is working with nurse practitioners on the use of bedside ultrasound to make quick assessments with a five-minute scan. “If you have a patient who is acutely hypotensive, and you don’t know why, it can give you a quick interpretation of the heart to get more data to put all these puzzle pieces together,” he explains. “Sometimes, the child is acutely ill, and you need answers right away. Bedside ultrasound allows you to get those answers promptly.” He says proficiency comes with about 10 or so scans.
Upping the Skill Set
“I’m trying to encourage people to push the quality of their practice higher,” Weber says of his training work at CHOP, which also includes vascular access and minimizing infections related to central lines. He’s thrilled to see nurse practitioners being sought out at critical moments. They’re excited to be asked for help with vascular access; Weber recalls one person saying, “‘Holy cow, this colleague with 20 years of experience is coming to me, a newer nurse practitioner, asking me for help.’ It’s been fun, seeing people like that progress.”
The Policy Brain
Erin Hartman, Nu’18
Registered Nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
along with her nursing studies at Penn, Erin Hartman took classes in economics, statistics, and political science and interned with the U.S. Senate committee on health and the World Health Organization (WHO). “I’ve always been a political buff, and wanting to do international work and health and policy—it all comes into play in sexual violence,” she says of her choice of career focus. While at WHO’s Geneva headquarters, she worked on a curriculum for health care providers treating women who have experienced sexual violence.
For her first job, Hartman zeroed in on a hospital where she could get certified and work as a sexual assault nurse examiner. At NewYork-Presbyterian, while serving first in the emergency department and then oncology, she estimates she’s spent about 20 to 25 percent of her hours helping patients as an on-call sexual assault examiner. “This is the work I’m supposed to do,” she says.
In late 2019, Hartman was named a Marshall Scholar. She’ll pursue a master’s degree in international human rights law and practice at the University of York, and possibly follow that with a master’s degree in gender, peace, and security at the London School of Economics. She sought out these programs to prepare for international work in conflict and emergency settings, and to broaden her policy chops. “Nurses treat the human response to disease and illness and not just disease and illness,” she says. “And when you’re looking at policy … it’s the human touch that makes policies work or not work.”
Rakiyah Jones, GNu’18
Family Nurse Practitioner at Co Nurse Practitioner Group, Clinic Director of Transgender Montefiore Health System, and Assistant Professor of Nursing at Columbia University School of Nursing
“My main passion is forgotten communities.” When friends ask Rakiyah Jones’ mom what he’s up to, she throws up her hands. She’s proud of him—but she’s not sure where to begin. There’s nursing in Washington Heights. The private prac- tice in New Jersey focusing on transgender care. Duties as a Captain in the Army Reserves. All that, and he’s recently taken on a few new jobs.
When he started at the Transgender Montefiore Health System in November 2019, Jones dove into a literature review that disappointed. “Being a person of color, being black, being trans- identifying, being part of the LGBT community, and a veteran, my main passion is forgotten communities. That includes older adults,” he says. “No one has focused on what it looks like as trans-identifying people age and it’s not being discussed.” He’s forming a team to expand education and patient care.
He’s Got an App for That
Jones created a “mobile concierge application and model of care” for advanced care planning in underserved communities dubbed UTRUST (Understanding the patient’s meaning of illness; Trust vs. mistrust; Role of religion in health; Understanding family dynamics; Sensitivity to health inequities; Talk about wishes). “I want our students to be comfortable with having discussions about end of life in advance, not just at the bedside when it is too late, when the patient and family are in distress,” Jones says of teaching the approach. “We need to be having these conversations in the primary care setting and in the community.
The Startup Founder and Adviser
Katherine (Kate) Gregory, GNu’98
Associate Chief Nursing Officer of Women’s and Newborn Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and Scientific Co-founder of Astarte Medical
After two venture capitalists approached Kate Gregory about her work in the lab, Astarte was born. The software company is developing products based on her research that could help clinicians improve the feeding of pre-term babies, better manage the use of microbial interventions, and more. “We have an opportunity early in life to impact, not only whether or not these babies live or die, but the entire life course for them,” Gregory says. Astarte recently made news site Technical.ly Philly’s 2020 list of “most promising tech startups.”
In addition to running her lab, where she’s PI of the Brigham Baby Biome Project, Gregory oversees women’s and newborn health clinical operations at Brigham and is the neonatal editor of the Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing. “I’ve been so fortunate to have many diverse experiences in my nursing career, including direct patient care, science, entrepreneurship, and executive leader, and am an example that nurses can do almost anything, given the opportunity. I’ve had incredible mentorship and support, and hope that I can help others accomplish their goals on behalf of the patients, families, and communities they serve.”
Studying the Human Milk Microbiome
NIH funding is allowing Gregory to explore breastfeeding and the human milk microbiome, particularly in the case of pre-term births. “I think many nurses are curious about how milk plays a role in the health of pre-term babies, and studying the microbiome may shed light on that,” she says.