This month, New York University (NYU) Rory Meyers College of Nursing welcomed Jacquelyn Taylor, PhD, PNP-BC, RN, FAHA, FAAN, as the inaugural Vernice D. Ferguson Professor in Health Equity.
Taylor has already had a notable career. In January 2017, she was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers by President Barack Obama, the highest honor awarded by the federal government to scientists and engineers, where she will examine next-generation sequencing-environment interactions on cardiovascular outcomes among African Americans.
Vernice D. Ferguson (1928-2012) was a distinguished nurse leader, educator, and executive who championed the health of all people throughout her career. Ferguson, who received a baccalaureate in nursing from NYU, pioneered leadership positions for nurses and elevated the nursing profession through advocating for increased opportunities, respect, and wages, as well as fostering nursing research.
Taylor says it’s a tremendous honor to be selected to serve as the inaugural Vernice D. Ferguson Professor in Health Equity. “It is my sincere hope that the research I lead is as beneficial to the public as the work of the iconic Vernice D. Ferguson.”
Over the course of Taylor’s career her work has focused on health equity in Black populations for common and chronic diseases such as hypertension, both in the United States and in Africa.
“African Americans have the highest incidence and prevalence of hypertension than any other ethnic group in the U.S.,” says Taylor. “In particular, African American women have the highest incidence and prevalence of hypertension than any ethnicity or gender. Understanding the genomic underpinnings and social factors that contribute to this disparity can help providers to intervene early in life to eliminate such disparities. On a personal level, my father had hypertension and had a stroke, and my mother had cardiovascular complications as well. I would like for the work that I do to help others to avoid these complications.”
Another primary goal for Taylor is to study the genomics of lead poising in Flint, Michigan. She says the purpose of this project is to better understand the harmful effects of chronic lead exposure, the psychosocial insults of the Flint water crisis, and the underlying omic mechanisms involved that may contribute to increases in blood pressure in this already at-risk African American population in Flint.
“An intergenerational, multi-omic (genetic and epigenetic), and psychosocial approach will be utilized to understand one of the major symptoms of chronic lead exposure—high blood pressure—among African American families in Flint,” Taylor explains. “This research will provide critical insights that will add a layer of functional outcomes for health providers to best understand, assess, and intervene with tailored treatments based on an individual’s unique environmental, omic, and psychosocial profile and will help in mitigating long-term cardiovascular and other health risks.”
Taylor says her primary goal during her professorship is to continue to build on the work she has done in omic-environment interaction studies among minority populations by utilizing multiple advanced genomic techniques and expanding to more minority populations across the USA and abroad.
“I would also like to expand my reach as a leader in nursing science by taking on a more key administrative role that will aid in building up the next cadre of minority nurse scientists.”
Keondra Rustan, RN, MSN, PhD(c), visiting assistant professor at Linfield College in Portland, OR, has overcome many challenges in her decade-long career as a nurse and nurse educator. Raised in a single-parent home with limited resources, she discovered how she could channel her interest in science into a nursing career by reaching out to mentors along the way.
Today, she shares her story and offers advice to other minority nursing students and nurses who may face similar challenges in their education and careers.
How long have you been in the nursing field and what has been your career history until now?
I have been a nurse for nine and a half years. I started out working in cardiac health care in Virginia. I did cardiac stepdown, some cath lab work, and I floated to some cardiac ICUs. I then went to the ICU where I learned a great deal and developed some professionalism and leadership traits. I then went on to become an assistant manager of an ICU and IMCU. I finished my master’s degree and became a professor at a private college where I rediscovered simulation and developed a great love for it. I became the simulation lab coordinator and for a time was the interim director of the LPN program, and went on to become the assistant director of the LPN program so that I could make more time for my doctoral schooling.
I am currently working in the dissertation phase of my doctoral program and enjoying my work at Linfield College as a visiting assistant professor working in simulation as lead faculty.
What inspired you to enter the nursing profession?
At first I didn’t want to be a nurse. I went through all of my primary schooling without having the decision of wanting to be a nurse. I wanted to be a scientist at first like those scientists in Jurassic Park.
Later on in high school I decided that I wanted to be a scientist that could help cure diseases and study microbes. However, I lost my grandmother when I was in high school and some of the care that she received wasn’t the best and lacked empathy. I decided that I wanted to help people more directly and show them that they aren’t just a room number but a thriving person who was deserving of care. I wanted to be a person who made a difference in the lives of others.
As nurses we often aren’t remembered individually; but if a patient has less exacerbations and starts feeling better because of your care and the education that you provided, it is very rewarding.
What inspired you to become a nurse educator?
I discovered that I liked teaching by precepting new nurses and nursing students. I enjoyed seeing the potential in them. I loved teaching them how to do things based on evidence and why it was so important for it to be done that way. I wanted to show them how to provide holistic care to patients and help them grow into future leaders.
I also enjoyed telling them stories so they could directly apply the teachings to their practice. Most importantly, I wanted them to have things I did not have prior to becoming a nurse: resources and a mentor. I wanted to apply these principles on a broader and larger scale so I went into the field of nurse education.
I would say the first year or so I was not very good at it. Or at least I did not feel as though I was a good teacher. I did not have a mentor or anyone to show me the ropes so I just taught them the way I was thought, which did not work.
What challenges have you faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
In my career my biggest challenges have come from lack of resources and lack of mentors. I grew up in a low-income single parent home with no vehicle. We did not have the funding or access to resources to get informed about career programs while in high school or even most scholarships. I wasn’t aggressive enough in thinking of my future and did not have enough drive when I was younger to seek those resources.
Once I decided to become a nurse, I didn’t really know how to become one, what nurses actually did, and what type of nurse I wanted to be (even when I graduated I still did not know that part). I had a lot of ideas, but I did not know how to bring them into fruition.
I overcame the lack of resources and lack of mentoring by joining organizations (good old-fashion Google search) based on my interests. When I was obtaining my BSN I got accepted into Sigma Theta Tau (the nursing honor society). Going to those conferences really opened a lot of doors for me. I am so grateful for the aid of the nurses and educators that I have met throughout my nursing career. They were able to point me into a lot of great directions. I am still growing and have a great deal more that I want to accomplish.
What challenges do you see minority nursing students face and what is your advice for them?
I see lack of resources as a big one and lack of mentors. Minority students (and I include males in this) have a high risk of falling through the cracks in nursing school. There seems to be a reluctance to seek aid when dealing with difficulties. It is hard to get over, because typically it is culturally ingrained.
My advice is to seek help right away when you are having trouble. If your school does not assign faculty mentors, seek out an instructor that you feel you can connect with. Shadow a nurse if you are not experienced with the duties of a nurse, so you have an idea of if it is right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; if you do not understand, seek help (think of the patient’s safety).
Most nursing schools have scholarships, open labs, writing labs, and tutors available for their students; make use of these resources and give yourself support. View any setback as a learning opportunity and grow from the experience. Never stop learning even after you are licensed and working on the floor. Google search some nursing organizations (you can even join some as a student for a cheaper price) and they can lead you down some interesting paths. Also, once you obtain your knowledge, pass it on. You never know who you will be helping with your expertise and experience.
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
I see myself with at least 10 articles published and maybe a book, of course having obtained my PhD. I want to still be educating nursing students and maybe have obtained my NP. I want to continue to learn and grow each day to become the best educator that I can be. I want to do more in community and be a greater help to those in need.
Marygrace Colucci (center) along with her supervisor/nurse manager Louise Esposito (right) and Marianna Vazquez, CNO (left)
Imagine moving to the United States from the Philippines and building a nursing and military career. That’s what Marygrace Colucci, RN, BSN, MSN, did when she migrated to the U.S. in 1995. Today, Colucci is living her lifelong dream as a staff RN in the ophthalmology operating room at Northwell Health at Syosset Hospital in New Hyde Park, New York.
In May, Colucci was honored with the Zuckerberg Nursing Excellence Award during National Nurses Week. The award recognizes exceptional nurses at Northwell Health.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a nurse,” Colucci says. “I have seven siblings, so my parents could only send me to a two-year midwifery program due to the financial constraint to support a four-year BSN program. I graduated at 18, passed the midwifery board but couldn’t get my license until I was 21 years old. I started working as a midwife in the hospital with just a permit, and I remember having so much fun delivering babies, and assisting in C-section procedures.”
Colucci says that when she first arrived in the U.S., it was a huge culture shock. “I missed my family and friends. I was homesick, but eventually got over it,” she says. “I was afraid to talk to people because of the language barrier; not because I didn’t know how to speak the language, but more because I was shy of my English and my accent.”
Colucci was inspired by her cousin who served in the U.S. Army as a nurse. “He was sort of my role model, and that is why I joined the Army Reserve in 1998,” Colucci says. “Joining the Army helped me overcome most of the challenges I had to face back then such as the language barrier, being shy, and lacking self-confidence. The Army taught me how to face all kinds of adversity. I’d have to say the Army really turned me into the kind of person I am today.”
Another supportive influence for Colucci has been her husband. “When I graduated with my associate’s degree in nursing, he told me I should go back to school, which I intended to do anyway. I went on to finish my BSN, and he told me again that I should go for my master’s, which I intended on doing. But him pushing me to go further was really a good motivator. And now that I’m done with my NP, he said go for your doctorate, which I’m still considering.”
Colucci says for now she is focusing on her military career. She hopes to be promoted to major in the future. “I also want to focus on helping soldiers from my unit, which I am currently commanding,” she says. “I try to motivate my soldiers and tell them that they can do so much with their skills, and that there are so many opportunities available if they’ll just work hard for everything that they want to achieve.”
“I also tell my fellow Filipino coworkers to advance their education by going back to school,” she says. “I told them that if I can do it, so can they. I’m not really smart; I just happen to be disciplined and really put a lot of time and effort into everything I set my mind on achieving.”
Colucci sees herself working in emergency medicine in the future. “I had a great time when I was doing my clinical at the urgent care centers. I told myself I will embark in that field if given the chance. I think emergency medicine is a very good and rewarding field to practice. I would like to be promoted to major in the next two years; and eventually to lieutenant colonel in the Army Nurse Corps.”
Many working adults dream of becoming a nurse. They want a nursing career but aren’t sure how to juggle working and the demands of nursing school.
If this is you, don’t give up on the idea of becoming a nurse. Completing an associate of science in nursing (ASN) degree is often a more flexible and less expensive option. ASN programs typically only take two to three years to complete at community colleges. Another benefit is that community college tuition is a fraction of the cost of a four-year university. Earning your ASN is a smart way to start a nursing career.
Here are some tips for juggling work with an ASN program:
1. Focus on Completing Your General Education Courses First
You will need to complete your general education classes before you start working on your nursing coursework. These general education requirements include classes such as composition and anatomy.
The good news is that these classes are often offered online or in person at numerous times during the day and evening hours which offers students maximum flexibility to complete them.
Focus on getting these courses complete and you’re much closer to your dream of nursing school.
2. Find a Flexible Job
Depending on the structure of your associates degree program, having a flexible job while you’re in school will offer you less stress in scheduling your classes and clinicals.
Some aspiring nurses manage to work a traditional day shift job and attend evening, weekend, and online classes.
Whatever your work situation, be sure to talk to your employer early in your nursing program to see if they are willing to work with your school and/or clinical schedule. You may be able to take a planned leave of absence or change your work hours to accommodate school.
3. Set Your Priorities
Once you’re in school you simply will not have as much time for other activities. If you have children, you will have to manage even more demands.
Let go of everything that isn’t a top priority including social and volunteer activities. The less you have on your plate while in nursing school, the more time you have to devote to family, work, and studying.
Working and going to nursing school takes a lot of hard work and dedication. But in the end, you’ll be well on your way to a rewarding nursing career.
Like many minority nurses, Jackie F. Webb, DNP, FNP-BC, RN, associate professor at Linfield College School of Nursing in Portland, Oregon, had to overcome many challenges on her career path to becoming a family nurse practitioner.
Webb is the daughter of immigrants to the United States and is a first-generation college graduate. Her parents worked hard to provide for their family and instilled the importance of going to college. It wasn’t until Webb got a job in a nursing home that she set her sights on becoming a nurse.
“I did not start out college knowing I wanted to be a nurse,” says Webb. “It was the experience of working in a nursing home and meeting an incredible nurse who exposed me to the challenges of nursing that convinced me to major in nursing. Looking back, I realize the time this nurse took to help me see the power and art of nursing, and her support is what gave me the belief I, too, could be a nurse.”
Webb initially thought she wanted to work as a critical care nurse, but soon realized she was most interested in preventing patients from ever needing a critical care unit.
“Working as a public health nurse opened my eyes to the challenges of seeing patients in their own homes, without fancy equipment but my stethoscope and a BP cuff, and my ability to really listen and take a thorough health history.”
This experience motivated Webb to go to graduate school and become a nurse practitioner where she learned how to manage chronic illnesses and how to incorporate cultural beliefs into the patient’s management plans. She has been a family nurse practitioner for more than 30 years.
Like many minority nurses, along the way Webb had several challenges to overcome.
“Not having role models, not having parents who knew how to navigate the world of college applications, finances, scholarships, etc. Additional challenges for me included not having good writing skills, not having a rich vocabulary, and not having experiences like so many of my friends. My parents didn’t take vacations, they didn’t belong to book clubs, they didn’t have dinner parties nor did they have their brothers and sisters or any family member close by. They both had to work long hours to afford a roof over our head. The isolation of being a first-generation immigrant was at times difficult.”
Webb believes that there are ways for colleges and universities to help immigrant and first-generation college students overcome the unique challenges they face.
“Colleges and universities who work with immigrant students and/or first-generation college students need to know that these students are for the most part willing to work harder than any other student population,” says Webb. “For some they see how hard their parents work to just keep food on the table, they don’t take anything for granted. These students are grateful for any type of assistance and will overcome amazing barriers to obtain their college degrees. Many of these students end up inspiring other students and take on challenges many students are fearful to take. Many students value their college community and will take on various leadership roles.”
So what advice would Webb offer to minority nursing students today? “I would tell them to value their personal stories,” says Webb. “Value your history and that of your family. Be proud of the hard work your family has gone through to get to where you are now. The passion, the self-reliance, and support students have will get them very far.
Webb also encourages minority students to reach out for support. “For many students of color they are the first to attend college. This is an incredible journey they are undertaking and they cannot do it alone,” says Webb. “It is so important that they find a mentor or advisor so they can feel comfortable asking how to navigate this new journey. Use every available resource so you are able to be successful. Don’t be afraid, embarrassed, or feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I believe it is absolutely the reverse: asking for help is a definite sign of strength as it shows you are ready to do the work.”