Sheldon D. Fields, PhD, RN, CRNP, FNP-BC, AACRN, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN
Diversity and inclusion are crucial to the success of our society and require everyone’s commitment and support—they are also especially important in the field of nursing. Enter Dr. Sheldon D. Fields. As Penn State College of Nursing’s inaugural Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion, he is the first nursing administrator at Penn State to be formally charged with advocating for a culture of inclusivity throughout the nursing college and commonwealth and prioritizing diversity in nursing. “Nursing is having a racial reckoning of its own—similar to what we’re dealing with in our country. The field of nursing is over 80 percent white, and the majority are women. Nursing is not a diverse profession, which is very problematic.”
Sheldon has joked that he is a unicorn in the world of academic nursing because he still walks into spaces where he is the only male nurse of color. At Penn State he is the only Black, Latinx male faculty member—and back in 2000 Sheldon was Penn Nursing’s first Black male to graduate with a doctorate in nursing. He was also the first Black male nurse faculty member at the University of Rochester. He says, “A lot of these positions have started opening up in nursing colleges and universities to deal with this issue. We have a moral and ethical obligation—a social contract and responsibility—to train a nursing workforce that is going to be well suited to really take on and take care of everybody in society. That means we must diversify in all ways: racially, ethnically, gender, gender expression, religion. We need to open up the door of nursing.”
Sheldon has expressed that he finds his current role [as Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion at the Penn State College of Nursing] very exciting. “I’m taking all my experiences throughout as an academic, a researcher, someone who has a health policy background, and a health disparities researcher. My personal mission, at this point in my nursing career, is to do everything I can to help nursing move forward with a plan to diversify the profession. This role is the platform with the resources and the support to really move forward.” It is also in line with the work he does as the current First Vice President of the National Black Nurses Association.
Sheldon’s career is a prime example of how multifaceted the field of nursing can be. He has an impressive resume that ranges from clinical work, to research, to academia, to administration. Sheldon discovered his interest in the medical field early on. Growing up, he experienced illnesses that brought him in and out of hospitals. His Aunt Lorraine was a nurse and an inspirational role model. After enrolling at Binghamton University as a pre-med biology major, he soon realized that wasn’t the right track for him; gravitating to the field of nursing was a better fit to his personality. Sheldon says the nursing profession teaches you to think creatively in terms of problem solving. He credits his patients with teaching him humility, how to cope with adversity, and how to connect with the community. Because of his relationships and work experiences, he feels he is more detail oriented, focused, and forward thinking.
But his position as a clinical nurse was challenged when a good friend was diagnosed with HIV. He found himself surrounded by friends and family members who were living with and struggling with this disease. He decided to be part of the solution and help make a difference with research. As he was applying for grad school, he learned that one of the foremost researchers of HIV prevention, Dr. Loretta Sweet Jemmott G’Nu 82, Gr’87, was teaching at Penn Nursing. Sheldon decided to come to Penn Nursing for his PhD, with Dr. Jemmott as his advisor and mentor. He says, “I love the fact that she’s an African American woman doing very highly respected research. Her husband John did similar work and was part her team, and I became part of their research family.” After earning his PhD, Sheldon continued researching HIV and its prevention, specifically in young men of color. Many times this research required innovation in finding funding. He says, “We have all the tools to end the HIV/Aids epidemic but don’t yet have the collective will.”
Sheldon’s research led him to focus on health policy and he worked to ensure he had a seat at the decision table, which was many times necessary to move an agenda and create change and innovation. He took his nursing career to the halls of Congress as a Robert Wood Johnson health policy fellow and was advisor to Senator Barbara A. Mikulski on the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration. Later in his career, he became Dean of the Mervyn M. Dymally School of Nursing at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and was one of the youngest in the country and one of the first men of color in that role. Shortly after, he became Dean of New York Institute of Technology’s School of Health Professions. He is also the founder and CEO of his own healthcare consultant firm.
While each of these roles allowed Sheldon the opportunity to manage multiple areas in the fields of health care and academia, the number of responsibilities did not afford him the flexibility to focus on specific issues that mattered most to him. This led Sheldon to his current professional path: his role as Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion which allows him to directly contribute more and concentrate on specific focuses, like ensuring that there is a diverse nursing workforce. He says, “At this point in my career, I absolutely know I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
Random Fact: Sheldon is a big fan of Star Trek; “I’m a die-hard Trekkie,” he says.
Penn Nursing is excited to share that Sheldon D. Fields has been selected as the 2021 recipient of the Lillian Sholtis Brunner Award for Innovation, a Penn NursingAlumni Award that recognizes a Penn graduate for innovation in interprofessional, collaborative practice impacting the nursing profession and/or the health care delivery system.
As a nurse, you experience your patient as a whole person and get the opportunity to see their character. It is more than being curative, and you focus on their comfort and peace. You think like a family member, in a way.