NN: You received your Ph.D. a couple years back; what made you decide to go back to school?
Michelle: My transition from a clinician to public health was a slow evolution over time and one I could not have anticipated early in my clinical career. After practicing as a nurse-midwife for a handful of years, I became interested in maternal and newborn health globally, working with the American College of Nurse-Midwives Department of Global Outreach and other organizations on a volunteer and part-time basis to gain experience. This led to my decision to complete a Master's in Public Health degree while continuing to work full-time. I realized that by taking a public health approach, I could reach more people and have a bigger impact on health outcomes compared to one-on-one clinical work. As my global experience broadened, I began to understand the implications of good research on informing programmatic decision-making and resource allocation. Ultimately, I decided to leave clinical practice in order to pursue a Ph.D. in nursing and a career in public health because the world needs more nursing scientists. While I continue to highly value my experience and identify as a nurse and nurse-midwife, nurses have a huge role to play in public health and that role will only grow as we continue to face these complex humanitarian crises.
NN: What was the most valuable class you took throughout your education path that best prepared you for the nursing world?
Michelle: While I can’t point to a single class, I would say that my Ph.D. courses were incredibly valuable because they encouraged me to research evidence with a critical eye. It is so important that nurses can read both clinical and non-clinical research and be able to ask the question, what can we learn from it to inform our practice?
NN: How do you "keep learning" as a nurse, now that you are no longer a student? Why is it important for nurses to stay in the "student" mindset of learning about new innovations, trends or technology?
Michelle: I think it comes down to a love of learning and an internal need to continuously grow as an individual and as a professional. Since graduating from Emory’s Ph.D. program, I haven’t stopped pursuing knowledge. Remaining up-to-date on the latest evidence is foundational to being successful, both clinically and programmatically speaking. The nursing and public health professions are ever-changing and we simply cannot rely on the knowledge gained in school. I use the current evidence to identify where the gaps are and how I can help fill those gaps through global health research. This strategy can be used by nurses in clinical roles. Don’t be afraid to suggest change in the way things are being done!
NN: What advice do you have for anyone considering pursuing an advanced nursing degree?
Michelle: If you know what you want to do, then go after it! I would strongly encourage nurses to pursue an advanced degree early on in their careers. When I finished my RN degree at Luther College in Deorah, Iowa, I immediately started pursuing advanced practice nursing graduate programs. I went through Yale University’s School of Nursing in New Haven, Conn. and earned a Masters in nursing degree, launching my career as a nurse-midwife.
NN: Back in 2015, you won the Recent Graduate Award from Emory University's Nurses' Alumni Association. Can you explain how experience best prepared you to take on the work that lead you to win this award?
Michelle: The Sierra Leone Ebola treatment unit was a challenging environment, and my years as a nurse and nurse-midwife helped me find the calm that I needed to focus and be productive amidst the chaos. Through my work, I was able to observe the mental health needs of health workers who were caring for their own colleagues as they succumbed to Ebola. This understanding ultimately led to the development of a counseling center for health care workers and Ebola survivors.
My experience implementing reproductive health programs in low-resource settings helped me identify ways to engage the community and provide education on how to prevent Ebola transmission in a culturally-appropriate way. My research experience helped me to step back, look at the situation and decide how best I could fill the research gap. Taken together, every single experience I have ever had as a nurse and nurse-midwife, researcher and public health professional informed the work I did in Sierra Leone, and I am truly grateful that I had so much experience to draw on!
NN: What is your favorite aspect of public health nursing?
Michelle: My favorite aspect of public health nursing is the fact that I get to use all of the knowledge, skills and experience that I have gained over the last two decades. I use my clinical knowledge and skills when designing maternal and newborn health evaluations, or responding to Ebola in Sierra Leone. I get to use my organizational and programmatic skills when I am assessing reproductive health surveillance systems in refugee camps. I get to use my research skills when evaluating gender based violence interventions or when designing new ways to measure complex constructs in parts of the world where the cultural context is very different from the U.S. There is no truly limit to the work you can do in public health nursing!
NN: What was the most useful advice you received in your career, or throughout your education path?
Michelle: Never give up and always strive for your goals and beyond!