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Alaina Hall, BSN, Nu’18,

In just the first two years, my nursing career has taken me on a journey I could have never imagined. After graduating from Penn in 2018, I spent a year in Mexico with the President’s Engagement Prize, working to prevent infectious diseases in children.

After Mexico, I moved to New York City and began working as a nurse in the Bronx. In March, NYC became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. The pediatric ICU that I was working in had quickly turned into an adult COVID ICU.

My experiences in Mexico and during the pandemic gave me a first-hand look at the unfair health disparities that plague our world today. In Mexico, many children grow up in poverty. Infectious disease in children is most prevalent in impoverished communities - related to a lack of clean water, sanitation, and health education. The long-term consequences of these often treatable infectious diseases are highly related to a lack of access to healthcare in these communities. In the Bronx, the coronavirus had especially devastating effects among the population. The Bronx population, one of a large number of minorities, has significant poverty and poverty-related comorbidities (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, etc.), which have been identified as likely risk factors for becoming severely sick from Covid-19.

Reflecting on working with patients in Mexico and NYC, I have a deeper understanding of the impact disparities can have on the health of individuals, communities, and populations. Poverty, racism, isolation, and so much more tend to put people at an increased risk of developing health issues and make it harder for them to get healthcare.

I became a nurse because I wanted to help others, especially those who are often forgotten about. I have found that to do this, one of my duties as a nurse goes beyond direct patient care and extends to advocating for interventions and reforms that will reduce unjust risk factors for diseases and ensure all people have equal access to healthcare. I am grateful to have served patients both in a small town in Mexico and then in a big U.S. city during the worst health crisis of recent history. I have grown as a person and a nurse because of these experiences. I don’t know where the rest of my nursing career will take me but I do know that the knowledge from these first two years will be with me throughout.

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