Antonia M. Villarruel, PhD, RN, FAAN
Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing Antonia M. Villarruel leads a world-renowned faculty to advance science, demonstrate practice excellence, and prepare leaders in the discipline of nursing—all through her extraordinary lens as a first-generation college graduate and daughter of an immigrant, an innovative nurse-researcher, the first—and to date only—Latina nurse inducted as a National Academy of Medicine member, and one of the few Latina nursing deans in the United States, not to mention the only Latina nursing dean at an Ivy League school.
“At Penn Nursing, students have the intellectual capacity to undergo the rigors of a nursing science curriculum while surrounded by world-class faculty who are invested in their success, always providing an array of possibilities to discover and develop their passions!”
PhD – Wayne State University, Detroit, MI – 1993
MSN – University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA – 1982
BSN – Nazareth College, Kalamazoo, MI – 1978
Dr. Villarruel is the sixth dean of Penn Nursing. She also bears the distinction of being just the second Penn Nursing alumna to hold the deanship. During her tenure as Dean—which began in 2014—QS World University has ranked Penn Nursing as No. 1 in the world every year since 2016, when rankings began; U.S. News & World Report has ranked the School’s undergraduate program as No. 1 in the country since they began ranking BSN programs in 2022, and the School’s graduate programs are also ranked among the best. Additionally, among schools of nursing, Penn Nursing has consistently been one of the top recipients of research funding from the National Institutes of Health—usually in the top three, if not number one.
Under Dr. Villarruel’s leadership, Penn Nursing also received the single largest charitable gift ever made to a U.S. school of nursing: a $125 million investment to launch a unique, tuition-free program aimed at preparing and increasing the number of nurse practitioners to work in underserved areas, among a range of generous donations made over the last decade. This support makes a Penn Nursing education accessible no matter a student’s financial situation and provides students with cutting edge opportunities and dynamic community engagement events and programs—while addressing ways to aggressively promote health equity.
But Dr. Villarruel’s accomplishments go far beyond upholding Penn Nursing’s long and storied history as a leader in nursing education and research. She is the first Penn Nursing dean to serve with prior and current National Institutes of Health research funding of her own, sought after as a national and international speaker, social justice advocate, and health educator and expert.
Selected Career Highlights
|Overcoming Structural Inequities in Health Care & Nursing Education|
Dr. Villarruel is recognized as a forward-thinking advocate for social justice. She has positioned Penn Nursing as an example for all nursing institutions to search out and address bias in education and diversify its student population to generate a future nursing workforce truly reflective of the patients they serve. She and several Penn Nursing faculty and alumni published key considerations for the design of research to address structural racism in “Dismantling structural racism in Nursing Research,” Nursing Outlook in 2022.
Additionally, Dr. Villarruel was a co-author of “Equity and Inclusion, Effective Practices and Responsive Strategies—A Guidebook for College and University Leaders” (2020). This guide provides a roadmap and best practices that can be used by senior leadership to make research universities more equitable and inclusive.
The education Penn Nursing students receive imbues them with a lifelong passion for working alongside communities and patients to dismantle structural barriers to equitable health care for all people. She has set the tone for this work personally as Co-Investigator of a series of research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to address COVID-19 inequities in the City of Philadelphia. Through this funding she co-leads a multi-team effort called Philly CEAL (Community Engagement Alliance). The goal is to reduce COVID-19 mortality and morbidity and increase vaccinations, focused primarily on geographic disparities by targeting the hardest hit neighborhoods and those with the least access to resources and to develop community partnerships to address health disparities.
Dr. Villarruel has taken a personal interest in several Penn Nursing fellowship programs that aim to increase the number of highly skilled nurses in underserved communities, acting as program lead of the Amy Gutmann Leadership Scholars Program and co-authoring a paper about the effectiveness of the Leonard A. Lauder Community Care Fellowship Program. The paper, titled “Advancing Primary Care with Underserved Communities: A Case Study of the Leonard A. Lauder Community Care Nurse Practitioner Program,” appeared in NAM Perspectives in 2023.
She has served on the American Board of Internal Medicine’s Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion since 2020; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health’s E-learning Program Work Group since 2019; and the National Advisory Committee—Social Mission in Nursing Education Study, Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity at George Washington University since 2019.
|Championing Latino Health Interventions|
Dr. Villarruel’s first research grant was awarded in 1990 to study pain in young Hispanic, African-American, and European-American children—and her interest in Latino community health expanded from there. She designed a curriculum to promote abstinence and safer sex within the frame of Latino culture, with the participation of the community and with NIH funding—proved effective in a randomized controlled trial. The curriculum, named Cuidate!, was featured in the June 2010 News and Notes from the National Institute of Nursing Research and recognized by the Department of Health and Human Services as one of twenty-eight U.S. programs deemed most effective at preventing teenage pregnancy.
In addition to NIH funding for Philly CEAL, Dr. Villarruel is currently Co-Investigator for a study funded by the NIH and National Institutes of Aging. The study—“Tiempo Juntos para la Salud”—looks at a physical activity intervention to promote cognitive health, cardiovascular health, and sleep in older Latinos.
She was also the co-author of a 2022 paper that aimed to provide greater insight into Latino underrepresentation in medicine, nursing, and dentistry and to describe an approach for accelerating change in Latino underrepresentation in these three professions. “Achieving Latino Equity in Medicine, Nursing, and Dentistry Education: Accelerating the Path Forward” was published in NAM Perspectives in 2022.
As the result of her impact in working with Mexican communities in the U.S. and with nurses in Mexico, Dr. Villarruel received The Ohtli Award from the Government of Mexico in 2020. The Ohtli Award is the highest honor given by Mexico’s government to individuals and organizations that support the Mexican diaspora. She is also a member of the National Advisory Committee for Mi Hermana-Latina Health Champions.
|Advancing Science-Based Evidence in the Public Sphere|
Science relies on evidence—and Dr. Villarruel is committed to ensuring accurate and science-based health literacy at the community level, both online and offline. In 2021 she was an invited member of a National Advisory Group for the NAM project on “Principles for Defining and Verifying the Authority of Online Providers of Health Information.
In 2022 American Nurse published an article she co-authored with former Penn Nursing research librarian Richard James, MSLIS titled, “Preventing the Spread of Misinformation.” The article highlights the critical role that nurses play in helping patients, families, and communities access credible, trusted health information—and encourages nurses to be rigorous about their own health information sources. She also served on a special discussion panel at Penn Nursing in May 2022 to discuss how nurses can combat health misinformation.
Additionally, Dr. Villarruel co-authored a discussion paper titled “Identifying Credible Sources of Health Information in Social Media: Principles and Attributes.” This paper appeared in NAM Perspectives in 2021 and calls for engagement between social media platforms, consumers, and health organizations to determine what makes high-quality health information more available and accessible. While the paper identifies a range of strategies to ensure information quality and combat health misinformation risks on social media platforms, the authors highlight the need for assessing information quality and developing content moderation plans, particularly a system of “spot checks” for quality and integrity, supported by machine learning technology and supplemented by expert human evaluation—an option within reach for social media platforms.
|Additional Selected Achievements|
Recent Lectures by Invitation, Speeches, and Workshops
Villarruel, A. M. (2022). The end? Or a new beginning? Perspectives on lessons learned from the Future of Nursing Scholars Program and the preparation of PhD nurse scholars. Nursing Outlook, 71(1). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.outlook.2022.07.012
Villarruel, A. M., & Richmond, T. S. (2022). Reflections on the future of nursing research. Nursing Outlook, 70, 562-563. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.outlook.2022.04.003
Leary, M., Villarruel, A. M., & Richmond, T. S. (2022). Creating an innovation infrastructure in academic nursing. Journal of Professional Nursing: official journal of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 38, 83–88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.profnurs.2021.12.005
Flores, D. D., Hennessy, K., Rosario, A., Chung, J., Wood, S., Kershaw, T., Villarruel, A., &
Bauermeister, J. (2021). Parents ASSIST: Acceptability and Feasibility of a Video-Based
Educational Series for Sexuality-Inclusive Communication between Parents and Gay,
Bisexual, and Queer Sons. International journal of environmental research and public health,
19(1), 379. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19010379
*Villarruel, A. M., & Fairman, J. A. (2021). An eye toward a more inclusive future. Nursing outlook, 69(4), 510–512. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.outlook.2021.03.004