Where are you currently working?
My current role is Professor of Nursing, Rory Meyers College of Nursing, New York University. I also serve as Director for the Global Consortium of Nursing & Midwifery Studies (www.gcnms.org).
Did you always want to pursue a career in nursing, particularly in your current field? How did your passion develop?
I knew I wanted to be a nurse early on, but I didn’t know I wanted to work in global health until I had the opportunity to study abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico as an undergraduate. In addition to getting me a minor in Latin American Studies and solidifying my fluency in Spanish, I was able to observe in the health system there. It planted the seed of a question that has shaped my research career: “Why is nursing different, and it’s not just resource differences?” When I returned from Mexico, not only did I have a new passion, but I met Dean Villaruel for the first time when she was a new faculty member at Penn. That connection helped to create the Oaxaca study away option that still runs today. Since graduating, I’ve taken a winding career path, gaining experience in the US healthcare system at frontline and administrative levels all while keeping my hand in global health work. By the time I had finished my PhD–which focused on nursing human resources capacity building in Mexico–global health had become a career option and the health workforce identified by WHO as a priority area for capacity building and investment. Since finishing my PhD, I’ve led or collaborated on health workforce (mostly nursing) studies in 80 countries.
Nearly every person in the field of nursing has had at least one or two A-ha moments that changed the way they think about healthcare, nursing, or their career—or just generally had a massive impact on you. What are yours?
During my master’s degree program at Duquesne University, I had the chance to work on a USAID-funded project in Nicaragua. It was about seven years after the civil war ended there, so the country was in the process of rebuilding. Since I did not grow up in an area of the country with a significant Hispanic/Latino population, I didn’t fully appreciate the cultural differences within the ethnicity. My Nicaragua experience helped me understand the importance of “nativity” when working with people who may speak the same language but have differences that are important for helping people to manage their health and well-being. As I worked with Arabic and Russian-speaking populations later in my career, I could apply the same principles. Now we’re finally seeing US healthcare become more sensitized to the importance of those differences and how they shape a person’s health.
What is the most satisfying part of your work?
As a Professor, I love mentoring PhD students and early career faculty. It’s one of the best things to see someone you’ve mentored and watch how they grow in their career. I’m also a firm believer in safe space mentoring–where you find someone you can talk to about life and career progression who is not your direct supervisor. It’s important to hear a variety of perspectives when developing a research career. I also love meeting nurses from all over the world. After a while, you realize we are all similar kinds of people with a similar commitment to people’s health and well-being across all stages of life.
How did Penn Nursing help you achieve your personal and professional goals? What is next for you?
The Penn network and opportunities for students is unparalleled and an intangible part of your education that I don’t think I really appreciated until after I graduated. Next for me is building and growing the research consortium I founded: The Global Consortium of Nursing & Midwifery Studies (www.gcnms.org). I started it during the COVID-19 pandemic when it became clear the research was all about nurses in high-income countries. The pandemic response was hard enough on nurses everywhere, and we need to capture where it was similar and where it was different. Our 70-country consortium (75% low- and middle-income countries) is capturing that data and generating articles, policy briefs, and advocacy tools for our team members. Longer term, the plan is to conduct multinational studies on topics that are important to our partners about the nursing workforce so that we can collectively improve working conditions and ensure a sustainable workforce.
What is something most people would find surprising about you?
If I hadn’t found nursing early on, I probably would have tried being an opera singer since I had a 3-octave singing range and loved the theater.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to current Penn Nursing students or young alumni?
Understand that there is no one true path in nursing. We all find our own ways to be a nurse and make a difference in the world. I think it’s critically important to work as a nurse too. Even if it’s just for 2-3 years, understanding the systems issues at an operational level will make a real difference wherever your career path takes you. There’s no substitute for working full-time as a nurse on the frontlines. Whenever you leave that role, you’ll come away with an incredible skill set, including being unflappable in most workplace situations.