As a hard-working and successful nursing professional examining your career, you might reflect on your nurse mentor. The person who inspired, guided, advised, and kept you on the straight and narrow path, and ask yourself if you’ve ever been one yourself.
Was there someone who took you under their wing? Was there an individual who counseled you on your choice of master’s degree program? Did a colleague serve as an example of the kind of nurse you aspired to be? And if you’re a new nurse and can’t make heads or tails of this new career, where have you turned for guidance?
Sometimes, a mentor appears when you least expect it, and sometimes, you proactively go out and find one. Either way, the mentoring relationship can be life-changing, which sets you on the course of greater success, satisfaction, and confidence.
Mentors are Everywhere
Mentors are everywhere and can be sources of great inspiration who utilize their personal and professional experience as examples for others.
However, mentors are distinct from preceptors. A preceptor is a nurse you’re paired with to learn the ropes of a particular position or unit. Being precepted means that you’re being shown the ropes of where things are and how things are done. Mentors offer broader professional guidance; although they may be employed by the same institution where you work, that isn’t always the case.
According to Johnson and Johnson, where they match nurse mentees and mentors in hopes that these relationships will empower them to reach greater heights in their careers, “When you’re thinking about a potential mentor, you’ll obviously want someone you like and look up to. But it can be even better if they have skills that apply to your own career goals.”
And for the mentor, J&J states, “Sharing your experience with a new nurse can make all the difference to their career and help create a new generation of confident and well-prepared nurses.”
The American Nurses Association (ANA) is also a strong proponent of mentoring, outlining the many benefits of this special relationship for both the mentee and the mentor. Benefits may include:
Receiving honest feedback from a seasoned professional and role model.
Learning from generational differences.
Giving back to the next generation of nurses.
Gaining insight into a particular specialty or career path.
Finding a Mentor
Some institutions have official mentoring programs. While this may be rare, there are pros and cons to this type of situation. The required documentation can sometimes be so burdensome that it detracts from the creativity the pair could otherwise cultivate if left to their own devices.
The ANA offers a mentoring program that matches volunteer mentors with new nurse mentees seeking guidance and support as they launch their careers.
If joining an official mentoring program isn’t available to you or your cup of tea, there are plenty of ways to find one on your own.
There may be a nurse in your life whom you admire and would give anything to follow in their footsteps. You may be inspired by their work, accomplishments, and successes, or simply for the kind of person they are.
Aside from people you know, there’s also the riskier option: approaching someone you don’t know. You may encounter someone you admire at a conference, on LinkedIn, or through networking. While it may feel scarier to ask a stranger to be your mentor, taking that risk could lead to amazing things.
If you choose to approach someone about being your mentor, keep several things in mind:
Make sure they know that you greatly value their time and expertise
Come to them with a specific problem or issue that you’d like to tackle
Outline your initial goals for the relationship
Offer for the mentoring relationship to be time-limited (e.g., perhaps 3-6 months)
When you set parameters from the outset, the mentor knows you respect their time and expertise. And there’s always the possibility that the relationship may last much longer than initially proposed, including budding into a lifelong friendship.
The Magic of Mentoring
Mentoring can be magical for both the mentee and the mentor. Camaraderie, inspiration, friendship, professional connection, and mutual learning can all result.
While the relationship is by and large about the mentee learning from the mentor, there can be plenty in it for the mentor, too. After all, the mentee is human with their own experiences, skills, and knowledge, and the mentor may come out of the relationship equally enriched.
Every relationship has risks, advantages, and potential downsides, but the mentor-mentee relationship can be a highly inspiring experience for all involved.
If you’re interested in taking your nursing career to the next level, becoming professionally re-inspired, or launching a special project, engaging the support and guidance of a mentor may be just what the nurse ordered.
Culturally competent nursing mentorship for nursing students, nurses, or faculty often remains challenging when the mentor needs to reflect on the mentee. Understanding diversity in higher education and the strategies to improve culturally competent guidance is looked at through the lens of mentoring.
The term ‘mentor’ was adopted from Mentor, a Greek mythological figure in Homer’s “Odyssey.” Mentor was placed in charge of Odyssey’s son, Telemachus. Their mythological relationship consisted of Mentor imparting wisdom, guiding, and sharing knowledge with Telemachus. In modern times the word mentor has come to mean a very experienced and trusted advisor. A mentee is the term for the person in the position of receiving the mentor’s training, guidance, advice, or wisdom (Grant & Hazel, 1993).
Becoming a nurse, advancing a nursing degree, or being a nursing professor all require skills and knowledge to be learned. A part of that learning comes from mentor-mentee relationships. Ideally, each nursing student or new faculty should have an available mentor sensitive to the mentee’s needs. Mentors that reflect or identify with their mentees would be optimal (Schuler, 2021). However, in the absence of availability, the mentor must practice culturally competent mentorship. The importance of the mentorship role becomes evident when the mentee does not reach their full potential or partake in opportunities within the profession.
U.S. Census Statistics and Nursing Numbers
According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2020), 57.8% of the American population is White, forming the majority; Hispanic and Latino Americans are the largest ethnic minority comprising 18.7%; Black or African Americans are the largest racial minority making up 12.1% of the population. Also noted on the census was an increase in multicultural populations. Additionally, according to the National Council of the Board of Nursing statistics (2021), ethnic/racial minorities represent 19.2% of the RN workforce. According to the numbers that represent the U.S. population and the population of the nursing workforce, there is a representation of minority nurses ranging from the bedside to academia.
However, the reality of these numbers is striking. Due to the lower numbers of minorities in the nursing field, mentors must commit themselves to cultivate culturally appropriate mentoring relationships. Working within the framework of who is represented then requires solutions to effective and appropriate mentoring. Employing creative and Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) mentoring styles is mandatory for successful mentor-mentee relationships.
Mentoring advances the science of nursing; it helps develop and move forward the discipline along with its leaders and educators. However, cultural awareness and carefully suited mentoring styles to accommodate minoritized mentees are imperative for successful outcomes. Diversity is defined as different or varied. Whether the diversity is cultural, racial, religious, gender, class, or sexual orientation of a mentee, it must be acknowledged and understood by the mentor to help build a stronger mentoring relationship. This will add to the mentee’s development and foster meaningful results (Dirks, 2021).
Some causes of the underrepresentation of minorities in nursing have been noted as lack of opportunity, educational finances, emotional and social support from the discipline, and lack of diversified mentors (Firth, 2021). However, when focusing on the need for diversified mentorship in the formation of nursing students, new nurses, RN to BSN students, and new nursing faculty, there are many obstacles for the mentor.
Some examples of challenges a mentor may face include assessing a mentee’s motivation, having the proper time to mentor, setting reasonable goals, and the mentor’s ability to properly assess the mentee’s knowledge, skills, or background. One prominent challenge in mentee assessment is correctly identifying diversity to incorporate appropriate mentoring into the relationship. Schuler (2021) states that nurse mentees recognize support and are thankful for shared insights from culturally competent mentors.
While acknowledging the low numbers of minority students, nurses, and faculty, how then will professors of any ethnic, racial, religious, or any diverse background be a mentor to their diverse minoritized students or new faculty? The answer is already in practice.
The very steps that the professors teach their nursing students to form nurse-patient relationships regarding cultural diversity. The movement to include culturally competent care in nursing is currently operational in practice and academia. Nursing professors teach their students to be culturally competent as it is woven throughout EBP curricula (Hung et al., 2019). Students are taught the values and how to incorporate, accommodate, and respect culture into their healthcare-providing practices. This level of teaching students culturally competent care must be transferred and utilized with mentor-mentee relationships between professors and students, nurse administrators and new nurses, and professors and new faculty.
First and foremost, the mentor must self-reflect on their thoughts and feelings. They must recognize any biases and explore how this will affect the mentoring relationship, therefore working to acknowledge and eliminate them honestly. Secondly, they must get to know their mentees through inquiry. Asking mentees to share their backgrounds and how they prefer to learn is an act of openness and accommodation.
Thirdly, the mentor must create an atmosphere of judgment-free mentoring to allow the mentee to receive the advice in their way.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the mentor and mentee must commit to being open, honest, and respectful in their roles. Without their commitment, the relationship is not built on a trusted foundation, and all that follows may be tainted. The lack of diverse nursing mentors may or may not be able to be wholly addressed by looking purely at the census numbers.
As nursing advances, there is a recommendation to include and support minoritized nurses in all roles of the profession. Regardless, whoever is in the role of mentor, must accept the current challenges and comply with the prerequisite to pledge to deliver EBP culturally competent guidance using the above-mentioned mentoring strategies.
Firth, S. (2021, August 12). Why are they so few people of color in nursing? Washington Correspondent, Medpage Today. https://www.medpagetoday.com/nursing/nursing/94025
Grant, M., & Hazel, J. (1993). Gods and Mortals in Classical Mythology. Springfield: Merriam-Webster.
Hung, H., Y., Wanf, Y., W., Feng, J., Y., Wang, C., J., Lin, E., C., L., & Chang, Y., J. (2019). Evidenced-based practice curriculum development for undergraduate nursing students:The preliminary results of an action research study in Taiwan. Journal of Nursing Research, 27(4), 30. doi: 10.1097/jnr.0000000000000298
Schuler, E. (2021). Evaluation of an evidence-based practice mentorship programme in a paediatric quaternary care setting. Journal of Research in Nursing, 26(1-2),149-165.
That advice about timing resonated last month as she prepared to donate a kidney to her mentor, professor and faculty colleague. Professor and biostatistician Vicki Stover Hertzberg, PhD, who directs the school’s Center for Data Science, had been waiting nine months for a transplant after being diagnosed with kidney failure.
The two professors’ personal relationship is only one aspect of their remarkable story.
Both long ago had personal experiences that made them aware of the high need for living kidney transplants and the safety of donation. At the nationally No. 2-ranked School of Nursing, both women work on a research team that studies renal issues and other health problems related to heat exposure in farmworkers and published their findings in March. Both say their life-giving partnership reflects their school’s caring connections.
Chicas was only one of several Emory employees who answered Hertzberg’s call for potential donors in mid-2021. While others matched enough to donate, Chicas was the closest match.
“So much science has gone into it for such a long time, and to be able to use that science to help Dr. Hertzberg be healthier and live longer, it’s awesome. And I get to be a part of it.”
—Roxana Chicas, PhD, RN
“I have no words to express my gratitude for the individuals who came forward including those who ultimately, for one reason or another, could not be a donor,” Hertzberg said before the March 15 transplant surgery. “And for Roxana to do this is just phenomenal. I find it very overwhelming and very humbling.”
Most of us only need one kidney
Chicas’ first job at a pediatric office in Atlanta, when she was 18, exposed her to kidney issues and solutions. She translated for pediatric nephrologist Stephanie M. Jernigan, an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine.
“Children who were born with just one kidney often lived perfectly normal lives,” she says. “Other children who had kidney transplants did very well, even though it’s a very invasive surgery.”
She also learned to see her own intellectual potential.
Having come from El Salvador at age four and undocumented, Chicas had received temporary protective status that allowed her to work for the pediatricians. She helped them communicate with families who only spoke Spanish, and thought she might be smart enough to become a medical assistant so she could help them more. Pediatrician A. Gerald Reisman, MD, urged her to try nursing instead, and at age 28, Chicas enrolled in what is now Perimeter College at Georgia State University.
That educational decision led to Bridges to the Baccalaureate, an Emory program that nurtures minority students in research. With School of Nursing Dean Linda A. McCauley, PhD, RN, FAAN, as her advisor, Chicas got a BSN and went directly into the doctoral program. She joined McCauley’s team working on farmworker health, which felt personal because her mother, Maria Chicas, farmed in El Salvador. Farmworkers are 35 times more likely to die from heat-related illnesses than any other profession, she says.
“My goal is to do great science that will really improve the working conditions of agricultural workers,” Chicas says. “They are the backbone of this country and the globe. They feed us, and I think we need to value them more and recognize their worth, and they should be treated with dignity and given the same benefits that sometimes we take for granted. Many of them are undocumented and live in poverty, and I hope that I can be a part of a movement to better their lives.”
Heat-related illnesses affect kidney function, and Chicas did a postdoctoral stint in renal (kidney-related) medicine at the Emory School of Medicine. The research team measures indicators of health like core body temperature and kidney function.
“I got lucky, because I could have been working out in the field,” Chicas says. “I’m not there because of sacrifices that my mom made, and many other Latino parents have made and by having a mentor who told me that I can be a professional.”
A mentor in need
Hertzberg became Chicas’ professor and research teammate. From Florida to Mexico to Brazil, Chicas was in direct contact with farmworkers while Hertzberg worked to tell the story of the collected data.
“A wonderful mentor,” Chicas, 39, calls Hertzberg, 67. “She taught me that you can be smart and be strong in your career, and yet still be very kind.”
As the director for the nursing school’s Center for Data Science, Hertzberg is an internationally-recognized expert on “big data” and its impact on health care. She is widely known for her work measuring the social contacts in emergency departments and disease transmission on airplanes.
“Mentoring is what graduate education is all about,” Hertzberg says. “You learn a lot from each other. Part of it is just kind of a natural process because we’re engaged through research activities and part of that is just kind of understanding how the world works and what makes people tick. Roxana is incredibly driven and intrinsically kind, and always keeps me and our team focused on issues that our partner community experiences in ways that we don’t.”
On the farmworker longitudinal study, newer data relates to 25 markers of kidney function disease because of a relatively recent phenomenon called chronic kidney disease of undetermined etiology (CKDu). “Young farmworkers who had been feeling fine or really healthy all of a sudden wake up sick,” Hertzberg says. “Lo and behold, they have kidney failure and need dialysis.”
In late 2020, Hertzberg’s own bloodwork showed acute kidney injury, and when restrictive diet didn’t improve function enough, she was referred for a kidney transplant in mid-2021.
Like Chicas, Hertzberg had learned about the disease long before through a family friend and others. She reached out to her network by email and social media.
“Ideally a living donor is best,” she wrote. “A kidney from a living donor lasts on average 25 years, while a kidney for somebody who is about to have life support turned off is on average 12 years. Obviously, the 25 years is my preference…. the wait for a kidney from the person on life support will take three to seven years.”
“I knew it’s a pretty big surgery, but I was just like, ‘I have an extra kidney. I’m pretty healthy,’” she says. “And I called my mom and asked her what she thought and she was like, well, if that’s what you feel that you’re called to do, then go for it. And I was like, Okay.”
When she found out that there was competition to give a kidney to Hertzberg, Chicas told herself, “If God wants me to be the donor, then I’m going to match. So much science has gone into it for such a long time, and to be able to use that science to help Dr. Hertzberg be healthier and live longer, it’s awesome. And I get to be a part of it.”
Hertzberg even had colleagues clamoring to organize her meal train. This loyalty is partly from working at Emory since 1995, and supporting so many people and projects with her expertise. She served on dissertation committees for Chicas in 2020 and (at the University of Cincinnati) for McCauley in 1988.
Christian Larsen, MD, DPhil, professor of surgery in the Division of Transplantation at Emory and former dean of the Emory School of Medicine, transplanted Hertzberg’s new kidney last month. Larsen and Hertzberg knew each other through their collaborative research. From 2005 to 2010, they teamed-up on a protective immunity project studying aspects of the immune system in kidney transplant patients.
“This is not a road I would have chosen for myself,” Hertzberg says. “So I’m trying my hardest to learn the lessons along the way and to keep being positive. I want to dance at my grandchildren’s weddings, and the oldest one is soon to be five years old.”
Chicas believes that her success, her mentors and her organ donation have proved her favorite quote.
“Mother Teresa said, ‘If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed just one,’” she says. “I’m not a philanthropy. I’m not a billionaire. But I feel like there are certain things that I can do.”
Nurse-midwives and educators from three prominent research universities have teamed up to improve pregnancy outcomes in Black communities by providing specialized training for doulas, persons who support birthing mothers and families through the entire process of childbirth.
The Alliance of Black Doulas for Black Mamas is led by Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Associate Professor Stephanie DeVane-Johnson, PhD, CNM, FACNM, Duke University School of Nursing Assistant Clinical Professor Jacquelyn McMillian-Bohler, PhD, CNM—both graduates of Vanderbilt’s nationally-recognized Nurse-Midwifery program—and University of North Carolina School of Medicine Assistant Professor Venus Standard, MSN, CNM, FACNM. The project leaders are Black, certified nurse-midwives with a combined 60+ years of midwifery experience.
Doulas offer emotional and informational support for pregnant persons and their families. Unlike nurse-midwives, they are not medically trained; however, their help with things like breastfeeding, acupressure, birth plans and postpartum issues can be critically needed, as can their presence as an advocate for the mother.
The three researchers are addressing the U.S.’s Black maternal health crisis. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries—and the crisis is even more pronounced for Black mothers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics reveal disparities between pregnancy complications and risks across different racial groups. Black women are approximately twice as likely to have a moderately low birthweight child and three times as likely to have a very low birthweight child than white or Hispanic women (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db306.htm). Black women are also more likely than white or Hispanic women to die from pregnancy complications—almost 67 percent of which are preventable.
Having a trained and trusted professional who can help parents-to-be make healthy decisions and choose proper prenatal care can make a difference in maternal health and birth outcomes.
DeVane-Johnson, McMillian-Bohler and Standard worked together to write and fine-tune a plan to train and provide Black doulas to help Black families, with hopes of mitigating the high Black maternal and infant mortality rate. In 2020, the doula project was funded by a $75,000 award from UNC, the Harvey C. Felix Award to Advance Institutional Priorities and the group trained its first 20 doulas. In 2021, they received a $545,000 Duke Endowment grant, which will fund the program for three years beginning in May 2022.
Nurse-midwives Jacquelyn McMillian-Bohler, Venus Standard and Stephanie DeVane-Johnson.
The main program goals are to: decrease Black maternal mortality and morbidity; improve patient experiences; provide doulas for free to families; and help those interested in becoming doulas build critical skills and later use those skills to earn wages. The program’s goals align with the 2021 Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, which “directs multi-agency efforts to improve maternal health, particularly among racial and ethnic minority groups, veterans, and other vulnerable populations,” states congress.gov (https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/959).
“The training is more than about labor and birth,” said McMillian-Bohler, who teaches the mindfulness curriculum. “We also introduce the doula to general stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness and acupressure. Although evidence suggests these techniques are helpful, they are often not accessible to the Black community.”
DeVane-Johnson works remotely as the community engagement liaison for the program, which is housed at UNC Family Medicine in Chapel Hill, but the doulas will be serving families in Durham, Wake and Orange counties in North Carolina. Devane-Johnson hopes to receive funding to expand this program to Black pregnant persons in Nashville, TN.
“The strength of the program is the expertise of the entire team and the integration of the expertise,” said Standard, who connects families with doulas from the program and is currently teaching the third cohort of Black doulas. “Although each university could independently support the doula program with its hospital system and academic affiliation, a collaboration between the three universities positively impacts the project as a whole.”
Doula training applicants attend information sessions and are screened to make sure they will be successful in the program and that they will enjoy the work.
According to McMillian-Bohler, the program’s doula/family partnerships offer racial concordance, which can increase trust and understanding.
“I think the fact that we are able to come in and talk about some of these health resources and, I hope, remove some of the stigma, opens up a whole area of health care and wellness to people who desperately need it, who maybe didn’t feel like it was for them,” McMillian-Bohler said.
The doulas recognize that birthing parents have the right and need to speak up for their own bodies and health, and help them build the confidence and ability to do so.
To receive help from a doula in the program, a person must be Black, pregnant and planning to deliver at a University of North Carolina-affiliated hospital.
“By having a culturally concordant doula, the patient has a personal advocate, educator and support person to help guide and navigate the system as a Black person, whose needs are often dismissed or ignored,” Standard explained.
“Our hope is that by selecting doulas, who are gatekeepers into various aspects of the Black community, and by giving them tools to share with families, we create a community project that helps birthing families and doulas, said McMillian-Bohler”
The program offers doula training that is expanded to accommodate the specific needs of Black women, covering topics like reproductive justice and the “superwoman schema,” which says that many Black women care for others at their own expense, increasing stress during a pregnancy.
“The goal is to help mitigate Black maternal and infant mortality rates,” DeVane-Johnson said. “Doulas stand in the gap. Sometimes, Black women bring things up to their health care providers and are not taken seriously, or the provider does not talk at a level that the patient and family can understand. The doula is there to bridge that gap and potentially interpret information.”
DeVane-Johnson also serves as the facilitator for breastfeeding lectures. She studies the history of breastfeeding and presents lectures to doula-trainees to help them understand the hurdles faced by those they are trained to help. The doulas use this training to support Black women who want to breastfeed and connect them with lactation consultants, as research indicates that breastfeeding decreases cancer risks in mothers and improves health outcomes for babies.
“Black women have the lowest breastfeeding rate out of any race,” DeVane-Johnson said. “When variables such as socioeconomic status, education and marital status are controlled for, similar positioned white women still tend to breastfeed at higher rates.”
Doulas help solve communication issues and offer consistent labor support for those who don’t have it, something that has been shown to decrease time in labor and the need for pain medications.
“We hope to create opportunities for Black women to find their voices and be empowered to ask questions,” McMillian-Bohler said.
“Doulas are there to empower, uplift and elevate birthing families,” she continued. “If something doesn’t feel right, the doulas help them recognize that they need to speak up and keep speaking until their voice is heard.”
The doulas are trained to recognize preterm, term and postpartum warning signs that may otherwise go untreated, leaving parent and baby at risk.
They train over the course of seven weekends. While on-call with patients, they assist with birthing plans, help pack bags for the hospital and even attend appointments, depending on how much support the birthing parent needs. Once trained, a doula is paired with three Black families who receive assistance for free.
DeVane-Johnson says program applicants need to be Black, have a passion for birth work and have a desire to support women in labor. In the past, applicants may not have been financially able to secure training, but thanks to the grants, training is free.
Applicants are screened to make sure they have reliable transportation, a job that’s flexible enough to allow them to leave to attend a birth and are vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to DeVane-Johnson, the most important qualification is “a passion to help support Black families in the community.”
“Being a doula often is different than what many people imagine,” said McMillian-Bohler. “They may have a romanticized notion of what the job is like. Babies come all the time, anytime, and doulas have to be able and willing to drop whatever other things they may be doing to come to a birth.”
The program benefits go beyond those received by the birthing family.
“Doulas are marketable and can hire out their services after they work with their first three families through the program,” DeVane-Johnson said. “This training will help them bring in money for their families and provide an important service.”
The program supports workforce development, DeVane-Johnson said, as the new doulas have sustainable jobs and develop entrepreneurial skills.
With many interested in training and families lining up for the service, the program is poised to make a difference in communities and in Black maternal health—and the leadership team envisions it as something that can go even further.
“Our goal with this program is to create a doula training model that can be tailored for birthing people with disabilities, those in the LGBTQ+ community, making things culturally relevant to whatever specific marginalized population that is birthing, because it’s these marginalized populations that have the worst birth outcomes,” DeVane-Johnson said.
At this time, the program has one year of data and the group looks forward to evaluating the incoming qualitative and quantitative data, something the new Duke Endowment grant will help them do over the course of the next three years.
DeVane-Johnson, McMillian-Bohler and Standard also hope to see the program expand beyond the borders of North Carolina.
“We want to disseminate this program throughout the country,” Standard said. “We want to reach out to other academic hospital-affiliated institutions and integrate this program into their maternal care systems.”
If the program receives additional funding, Standard said they plan to increase compensation to the doulas and faculty, and hire additional staff to support an expansion to help more families.
“We’ve come a long way,” remarks Dr. Yvonne Commodore Mensah, Ph.D, MHS, RN. Now an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing—where she started her PhD study in 2010—she is guiding the next generation of emerging scientists.
With a special interest in mentees of color.
That’s because sheer numbers are not the whole story of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In 2018-2019, about 15,000 Black Americans earned PhDs, about 14,000 Hispanic or Latino Americans, and just 720 American Indians — compared to over 100,000 white Americans.
Mentors guide junior researchers through opportunities with world-renowned nursing faculty, cutting-edge facilities, and opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration throughout Johns Hopkins University and health care system. Among researchers of color and women, mentors are also critical for sponsorship and in building the fortitude to navigate underrepresented and unfamiliar spaces.
Meet Dr. Commodore-Mensah and her mentees: Dr. Ruth-Alma Turkson-Ocran and Dr. Oluwabunmi (Bunmi) Ogungbe
“Yvonne was always asking me ‘when are you going to come to Hopkins and get your PhD?’” laughs Dr. Ruth-Alma Turkson-Ocran, Ph.D., MPH, FNP-BC, RN.
They’re the same age – they are also both from Ghana, went to the same high school, and came (unknowingly) to the U.S. in the same year to become nurses. Dr. Commodore-Mensah traveled a more direct research path however, while Dr. Turkson-Ocran became a nurse practitioner first. She earned her PhD at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in 2019 and was a post-doc at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine until summer 2021, when she became an instructor of medicine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.
On the other hand… “I found and reached out to Yvonne when I began to explore doctoral programs,” Bunmi Ogungbe, MPH, RN/BSN says. Bunmi is from Nigeria. “She was one of the first people investigating cardiovascular disease among African immigrant populations.”
The COVID-19 curveball
Heart disease and African immigrant health are interests all three women share. In fact, Bunmi began the PhD program at Johns Hopkins in 2019 intending to investigate cardiovascular disease medication adherence in Ghana, working through an existing study by Dr. Commodore-Mensah. But then COVID-19 threw her work a curveball.
Grounded, with travel unsafe, Bunmi conferred with Dr. Commodore-Mensah and additional mentors, including former dean Patricia Davidson and other faculty internationally recognized for their cardiovascular and chronic care research, to take her research in a new direction: examining biomarkers that indicate an injury to the heart, to determine the long-term cardiovascular effects of COVID-19 among Baltimore City residents.
“Dean Davidson advised me that part of the journey is knowing when to pivot and take advantage of emerging opportunities,” Bunmi says. “Yvonne helped me work through such a big change. She has connected me with so many mentors and sponsors, and brought me into the spaces that matter.”
“It’s really interesting when the mentee takes a slightly different path. There is mutual learning that enhances our skills and knowledge,” says Dr. Commodore-Mensah. “After working with Bunmi I was asked to give a presentation on cardiovascular disease and COVID. And Ruth-Alma is my tech person.”
As faculty at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Turkson-Ocran gets to explore her interest in technology with projects investigating blood pressure at home, ambulatory blood pressure (meaning tracking blood pressure over a 24-hour period), and exploring how to use machine learning to examine blood pressure. Incredibly, information on blood pressure from wearable devices could be actionable in as little as five years.
With the interview process for her faculty position fresh in mind, Dr. Turkson-Ocran reflects on Dr. Commodore-Mensah’s generosity.
“It’s empowering to work on a multicultural team, yet, as underrepresented women in health and academia, there is something to be said for having someone who looks like me there to help raise me up.”
– Ruth-Alma Turkson-Ocran, PhD, MSN, MPH, RN
“Yvonne has constantly sponsored me, encouraged me to take on responsibilities I didn’t realize I was ready for.” She continues, “It’s empowering to work on a multicultural team, yet, as underrepresented women in health and academia, there is something to be said for having someone who looks like me there to help raise me up. It tamps down imposter syndrome and reinforces that this path is truly meant for me.”
“There is this façade of scarcity in academia,” Bunmi says. “People feel the need to hoard resources, opportunities, networks. Yvonne doesn’t do that.”
“You don’t lose anything by being kind.’ Former Dean Davidson used to say that, and I’ve been so fortunate with all my mentors that I can’t help but pass it on,” says Dr. Commodore Mensah.
Read more about graduate and post graduate degrees at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing:
Maria Rodriguez Shirey, Ph.D., associate dean for Clinical and Global Partnerships and inaugural holder of University of Alabama Birmingham‘s (UAB) Jane H. Brock – Florence Nightingale Endowed Professorship in Nursing, became dean of the UAB School of Nursing on June 1 following a national search. Shirey is succeeding Doreen Harper, Ph.D., holder of the Fay B. Ireland Endowed Deanship in the School of Nursing, who announced her intent to retire in 2021.
“Dr. Shirey’s work within the university, the community and the world at large is a testament to her abilities to lead this ever-growing school. We are confident that she will continue to propel the world-class academic, research and clinical enterprises in the School of Nursing,” said Provost Pam Benoit.
“As a Health Promoting University, it is essential that our leadership embraces the challenges of advocacy for local and global well-being, and we are fortunate to have a demonstrated champion in Dr. Shirey,” said President Ray Watts.
Shirey, a tenured professor of nursing at UAB since 2013 who is board certified in advanced nursing executive practice and health care management, is eager to assume her new role as the fifth dean in the school’s 70-plus year history. Provost Benoit thanked outgoing Dean Doreen Harper for her service, calling her a driving force of positive change who elevated the success and reputation of the school in her 17 years as its leader. “Dr. Harper’s vision for the School of Nursing has brought international acclaim to UAB and its community and has produced countless nurse leaders who continue to transform health care,” she said.
Shirey, who previously chaired the SON Department of Acute, Chronic and Continuing Care, has strategic, financial, human resources and operational responsibility for the school’s multiple community partnerships, the faculty practice enterprise and the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Collaborating Center for International Nursing.
Shirey’s areas of scientific focus on leadership science and health services outcomes research across the health care continuum. Since joining the UAB School of Nursing in 2013, she has extended her leadership and health services outcomes research focus and funding to test the efficacy and comparative effectiveness of interprofessional collaborative practice care delivery models advancing access to care, population health, care transitions and health equity addressing disparities in vulnerable populations with chronic diseases in urban and rural community settings. For her career contributions to advancing leadership and health systems science, Shirey was recognized in 2019 by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership Nurse Researcher Award.
She also has held several other administrative leadership positions in the school, including as the leader of its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Most notably in the clinical realm, Shirey was the founding director for the nurse-led Heart Failure Transitional Care Services for Adults Clinic in UAB Hospital in 2014 and continues to consult with its executive leadership.
Her current roles include co-leadership of philanthropic grant processes for community-based projects in the school and interim co-director of the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center for International Nursing.
Shirey is a senior scientist in two universitywide centers — Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center and the Center for Outcomes and Effectiveness Research. She also serves on the leadership committee of Live HealthSmart Alabama, winner of UAB’s first Grand Challenge competition, which is a key component of UAB’s strategic plan, Forging the Future.
Shirey’s service extends beyond the school to the university and its health system. She has had an integral role as leader in the UAB Nursing Partnership and is a member of the new universitywide Community Engagement Council and the UAB/St. Vincent’s Urgent Care Alliance Taskforce. Her work in the community currently includes an advisory role with the National Family Partnership of Central Alabama.
She is a fellow of the National Academies of Practice, Academy of Nursing Education, American Academy of Nursing and American College of Healthcare Executives.
Shirey earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Florida State University plus a master of science in nursing from Texas Woman’s University and a master of business administration from Tulane University before completing her doctorate in nursing science at Indiana University.