Selena Gilles, DNP, ANP-BC, CNEcl, FNYAM, is a Clinical Associate Professor and Associate Dean of the Undergraduate Programs at New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing.

She’s also an Affiliate Faculty member of the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing (HIGN), where she serves as Co-Director of the HIGN Scholars Program, an Affiliate Associate Professor at Howard University College of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences, and a Volunteer Associate Professor for the State University of Haiti.

Dr. Gilles is known for creating and implementing nontraditional immersive teaching/learning innovations to address nationally identified nursing education issues that will enhance student learning/program outcomes.

She is regarded as a leader and prelicensure nursing education expert who has implemented curricular innovations that have been evidence-based, creative, and effective teaching strategies that span multiple courses at Meyers and settings outside of Meyers, significantly impacting student academic success and role transitions.

Dr. Gilles’s contributions have helped enhance the nursing curriculum, filling identified gaps and answering the new essentials call for all entry-level professional nurses to have knowledge and proficiencies to practice across various settings in wellness/disease prevention and chronic disease management.

She’s passionate about the management of acute and chronic pain, as well as opioid overdose prevention, and is the Program Director of the Greater NYC Black Nurses Association Opioid Overdose Prevention Program. Dr. Gilles has strong community advocacy and a passion for global health; currently working with organizations aimed to serve the underprivileged and underserved communities in Haiti, Ghana, and Nigeria and has been on six medical missions.

Dr. Selena Gilles is an important nursing leader, and we’re proud to profile her as part of the Champions of Nursing Diversity Series 2024. The series highlights healthcare leaders who are prominent figures in their organizations and are making transformational impacts in nursing.meet-a-champion-of-nursing-diversity-dr-selena-gilles

Meet Dr. Selena Gilles, Clinical Associate Professor and Associate Dean of the Undergraduate Program at New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing.

Talk about your role in nursing.

I am a Clinical Associate Professor and Associate Dean of the Undergraduate Program at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. I am also an Affiliate Associate Professor at Howard University College of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences and a Volunteer Associate Professor for the State University of Haiti. I am a certified Clinical Nurse Educator and certified in Critical Care Nursing. As an Adult Nurse Practitioner, I specialize in neuro and pain management, including medical marijuana and opioid overdose prevention.

I have always been passionate about giving back to my community, which often lacks the resources and support to combat health disparities, inequities, and social injustice. With a proven track record of volunteering, my work with nursing organizations and community groups has impacted thousands of students, nursing colleagues, and community members locally and globally. 

My pioneering work has impacted 8,000+ disadvantaged patients in Haiti, Ghana, and Nigeria. As a volunteer Nurse Practitioner for seven medical missions, I have significantly contributed by educating local professionals and providing appropriate patient care while mentoring nursing students in global health initiatives. My innovations enhance health professions curricula with local/global community-based experiences, fill international gaps, and prepare nurses to gain essential competencies across cultures and practice settings.

How long have you worked in the nursing field?

I have been in nursing for 18 years. It’s hard to wrap my head around that question whenever I answer it. It feels like it was just yesterday when I graduated from nursing school. I have been a nurse practitioner and nurse educator for 13 years.

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Why did you become a nurse? 

My grandmother migrated to Brooklyn in 1969 from North Carolina with her three daughters at a time when being black in the South was still dangerous. My grandmother struggled with heart disease and diabetes and suffered a stroke, as do many African Americans in underserved communities. Seeing her severely ill is what sparked my interest in a healthcare career.

Aside from my grandmother, my parents have been very influential in my career. My mom grew up in a very disadvantaged neighborhood. She spent her early years in a housing project. She worked for over thirty years as a certified nursing assistant. My father, a Haitian immigrant who came to America at age 20, instilled in me early on that I’d have to work twice as hard to get the same opportunities as my counterparts. I didn’t grow up in the best neighborhoods. As a latchkey kid who grew up in the NYC public schools, I knew I had to make it out of areas where most lack the resources to succeed. These are places where community members didn’t have the best healthcare access or all the resources required to live a healthy life, like safe areas to play or exercise or even grocery stores with fresh foods. That taught me about the impact of the social determinants of health and how I could serve as a community advocate to combat health disparities and inequities. 

What are the most important attributes of today’s nursing leaders? 

Compassion, emotional intelligence, collaboration, resilience, determination, flexibility, innovation, critical thinking, problem-solving, diligence, not being afraid to challenge the status quo, advocates, and being a team player.

What does being a nursing leader mean to you, and what are you most proud of?

Positions are temporary. Ranks and titles are limited. But the way you treat people is what will always be remembered. I am passionate about helping the underserved and will prioritize doing all I can to help those in need. As an award-winning expert clinician and community leader, I’ve launched effective models that bring under-resourced communities access to healthcare and education while creating nontraditional community-based immersive learning/interprofessional experiences for NP students. My groundbreaking contributions enhance the knowledge/competencies of 40,000+ healthcare professionals across community settings worldwide. I’ve secured corporate and community-based sponsorship for multiple community health initiatives and established an NP-led COVID-19 vaccine clinic that delivered 28,000+ vaccines to vulnerable people. As a volunteer NP, I have immersed nursing students in seven international medical missions, providing care to over 8,000 vulnerable patients and promoting health equity in Haiti, Ghana, and Nigeria. My innovations enhance health professions curricula with local/global community-based experiences, fill international gaps, and prepare nurses to gain essential competencies across cultures and practice settings

Tell us about your career path and how you ascended to that role.

At some point in our careers, we’re all asked how we accomplished our goals. All of our stories are unique. When reflecting on my journey and my road to success, I’ve realized that all paths are not a straight line. My path had many bumps, obstacles, twists, and turns, and I’ve met many people. Often, when we think of education, we think of it in the traditional sense, whatever we’ve learned in school. Of course, as nurses, degrees earned ultimately shape our careers regarding the type of healthcare provider we become and the setting in which we practice. I’d say that my identity as a nurse started to develop way before I entered nursing school. I credit a lot of who I am as a nurse to all of the many experiences I’ve had along the way.

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We are a product of our society and our parents and their struggles. It began with seeing my grandmother struggle with chronic illness and seeing my mom work long hours at the hospital. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to the best schools, reinforcing the importance of hard work and dedication. It gave me my drive, made me more ambitious, and taught me not to take no for an answer. This led me to continue to pursue higher education and seek a terminal nursing degree

I am the daughter of a Haitian immigrant. A father who told me I could have anything that I ever dreamt of if I just worked for it. He’s a huge part of where I get my work ethic from. Some may call me a latchkey kid, as my mom worked very hard at a Community hospital to provide for me. That experience taught me to be independent, self-sufficient, and hardworking. I learned that sometimes, you must sacrifice for the greater good. We’ve all made sacrifices for our patients

I think about my experiences in public school, where I didn’t have a lot of teachers who looked like me. You can’t be what you can’t see. In my third year of nursing school, I was exposed to two doctorally prepared women faculty of color. They gave me something to aspire to. It was at that moment that I realized that anything was possible. That my career in nursing could be whatever I wanted it to be. That shaped who I would become as a nurse in academia. So, I pay it forward by being that example. I wish I had more of this when I was pursuing my education. To look at my surroundings and advocate for more diverse faculty so that the diversity in leadership mirrors the diversity of our students and the patients we care for. To ensure our curriculum is diverse and inclusive, we are preparing culturally competent and aware nurses who can provide culturally appropriate care to all patients. This is the change I wish to see in the world. 

I started wanting to be a pediatrician after doing an externship in the pediatrics unit at the hospital where my mom worked as a teenager. That was my first taste of healthcare. I double majored in college because I didn’t come from money and knew medical school was expensive. I was premed with nursing as my backup. Seeing the great care my grandmother received from her ICU nurses at the end of her life, coupled with my early clinical experiences in nursing school, solidified that a career in nursing was best for me. After completing my degree and passing my licensing exam, I worked in a Med Surg unit for a year and then transferred to the medical ICU because I aspired to become a CRNA. At the same time, I enrolled in a master’s program to get a head start on core courses. I ultimately did not get into the CRNA program I applied to and ended up finishing my master’s and becoming an Adult NP. Upon graduating, I had difficulty finding a job as an NP. You did not see many working in the hospital at the time. One day, while working a shift in the ICU, I ran into a former colleague from my previous Med Surg unit. She had been working as an adjunct clinical instructor at my current institution and thought it would be a perfect fit for me. It wasn’t something I intended for myself, but I decided to try it, and the rest is history. The first and only hospital I’ve ever worked at now became the place where I would educate nursing students. Eventually, I secured a position at this same hospital as an NP in outpatient neurosurgery. Realizing I had a newfound love for nursing education, I began precepting NP students once I settled into my role. This led me to achieve my terminal nursing degree to pursue nursing education full-time. In my 13 years at NYU Meyers, I have strategically moved through the ranks. It feels like just yesterday when I was a clinical instructor. After completing my DNP, I advanced to clinical assistant professor, then a clinical associate professor seven years later. I have been active in the community locally and globally, taking on many leadership roles inside and outside my institution and spearheading many initiatives to advance health equity. In 2020, I was inducted as a fellow in the NY Academy of Medicine. In 2023, I was inducted as a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing and the Academy of Nursing Education.

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What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?

Historically, the image that comes to mind when people think of nurses is the caregiver at the bedside, following orders, administering medications, or being hands-on with their patients. They think of Florence Nightingale. Frankly, the first image is not likely of a person who looks like me. There is so much more work to do to improve diversity in nursing so that the nursing workforce mirrors the patient population they care for. There is still work to address diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in the profession and healthcare. To dismantle the structural and systemic racism that unfortunately exists within our profession. We need more nurses and other healthcare professionals to keep our ever-changing healthcare systems functioning. We need providers who are not only culturally diverse and aware but committed to advancing the profession and working towards eliminating health disparities and inequities.

As a nursing leader, how are you working to overcome this challenge?

Nurses should have a seat at every table, and if we don’t, as Shirley Chisholm says, pull up a chair. We are here because of pioneers like Sojourner Truth, Madame CJ Walker, Andres Fernandez, Mary Mahoney, Teresa Urrea, Mary Secole, Beverly Warne, Kay Fukuda, Junta Sotejo, and countless other nurses of color. I believe it’s important for nurses to have a seat at the table. Because of this, I prioritize dedicating my time to serving on boards of organizations that advance nursing and provide spaces for nurses of color to thrive and advocate for health equity. I am so grateful to DNPs of Color for creating a space where we can all come together, support, and encourage one another. Truly change the game and forge a new path through networking, mentorship, and advocacy. I am proud to serve as their Vice President.

I’m a founding member of the Greater New York City Chapter of the National Black Nurses Association, whose mission is “for the greater good.” The genesis of the Greater New York City – Black Nurses Association, Inc (GNYCBNA) was forged out of the need for a progressive and innovative chapter that addressed healthcare inequities in communities of color. The chapter was founded in 2017 and grew quickly. Through our various initiatives, we strive to positively impact the communities where we live, work, and play. The GNYCBNA’s mission and vision is to U.N.I.T.E. NYC: uplifting neighborhoods through innovation, teaching, and engagement. The cornerstone of GNYCBNA is innovative community service, focusing on health education, improving health, and building and strengthening the community. Through stand-alone efforts or collaboration with local, regional, and national community and professional organizations, GNYCBNA hosts and participates in at least 20 events each year. Committed to addressing health inequities, I spearheaded a strategic partnership between a federally qualified health center (FQHC), Stop the Spread, the Greater NYC chapter of the National Black Nurses Association (GNYCBNA), New York University (NYU) and Long Island University (LIU) Colleges of Nursing to establish four FEMA vaccination sites delivering 28000+ COVID vaccines (70% Black/Hispanic) during the height of the pandemic. As lead Community Liaison, I co-launched an NP-run vaccine clinic in an African-American church accessible to 180,000+ community members, providing access to vital healthcare services. I leveraged this collaboration to offer a semester-long immersive learning experience for 100+ pre-licensure nursing students working with medical students and registered nurses under the supervision of NPs to administer vaccines and provide health education to under-resourced communities disproportionately affected by COVID.

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As the founder and inaugural Director of the GNYCBNA’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Training Program (designated by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene{DOHMH}), I was instrumental in addressing rising NYC opioid overdose death rates in communities of color. We provide annual training to 400+ undergraduate/graduate nursing students through a multi-university collaboration. We also developed an innovative partnership with national music artists, DJs, and an LGTBQ+ clinic, allowing us to create a community coalition delivering ongoing naloxone training to over 400 clubgoers, owners, and personnel within the LGBTQ+ community. Because of the success of our program, I collaborated with the DOHMH on their 2023 Overdose Awareness Media Campaign. As the only NP featured in the campaign, my ad highlighting the use of naloxone for overdose prevention has been placed around NYC in train and ferry stations, neighborhood businesses, and online (in English and Spanish). Banners can be found on the DOHMH website, and the videos are accessible on their  YouTube page.

I think about all of the mentoring I have received throughout my career. I gained all the knowledge from seasoned nurses, all of the great times, and, yes, even the challenging times. I sought out mentors because of their stellar leadership or outstanding accomplishments, as well as those who saw something in me that could develop into something even more significant and wanted to play a part in my professional development. They have helped me grow personally and professionally in so many ways. I’ve gotten so many opportunities from mentorship or simply connecting with different people I’ve met. Because of this, I pay it forward and mentor the next generation. I encourage others to pay it forward, mentor and support nurses of color, and do their part in diversifying our nursing workforce and combating health inequities.

What nursing leader inspires you the most and why?

To know where we are going, we must understand where we came from. Black nurses can be found throughout U.S. history, but they faced racism on all fronts. It took dedication and perseverance to obtain an education and recognition. They had to fight to progress and pave the way for more nurses. Without them, there is no me. I think about Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first Black American to earn a professional nursing license, dedicating her life to increasing access to nursing education for people of color. I think about Estelle Massey Osbourne, the first Black American to earn a master’s degree in nursing. Because of her work, more nursing schools began to admit Black students. I think about Hazel Johnson-Brown, the first Black female brigadier general in the U.S. Army, in charge of thousands of nurses. I think about Eddie Bernice Johnson, the first nurse to win a national office, elected to serve the 30th Congressional District of Texas (1993). I think about Ernest Grant, the first black American Nurses Association (ANA) male president spearheading their Racial Reckoning. I think about living legend C. Alicia George, educator, practitioner, community activist, and the creator of the National Black Nurses Association’s (NBNA) annual Day on Capitol Hill. I think about Beverly Malone, ANA’s past president and chief executive officer of the National League for Nursing. They have truly paved the way for people like me to succeed. I stand on the backs of my ancestors, and I am committed to pulling up others as I climb.

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What inspirational message would you like to share with the next generation of nurses?

What I love about the new generation of nurses is their fearlessness and willingness to speak up and to advocate for themselves, their patients, and their profession. For them, that may often seem like a huge weight to bear, but they will be the ones who will push our profession forward. I want them to remember what it took to earn their title. Remember how they’ve triumphed, persevered, been resilient, and supported one another. Remember the challenges they’ve overcome and all that they’ve learned along the way. Remember to be as kind to themselves as they are to others. Remember to care for yourself because you can’t pour from an empty cup. Remember to give yourself grace and that learning is a life-long process. Remember always to do what’s right and prioritize accessible and equitable healthcare. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers? 

Remember, not every path is a straight line. Our identity as nurses is shaped by our formal education and, more importantly, by the challenges, obstacles, difficulties, opportunities, and victories we’ve experienced. Continue to pay it forward. Be that preceptor, that mentor, that faculty member, that leader you had, or even wish you had. You never know who’s watching and who you’re helping to develop their identity as a nurse. In my circle, we have a saying: Show up, show off, and show out. So show up as your authentic self. Show off all you have accomplished because you never know who you are inspiring. Show them that you are outstanding, even when imposter syndrome is knocking at the door.

Renee Hewitt
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