Addressing cultural issues within vulnerable communities can come in many forms, and a career in nursing can take unexpected turns as opportunities arise to help communities in need. Phyllis W. Sharps, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, a recent recipient of Modern Healthcare’s Diversity in Nursing Award, shows us how a career in nursing can evolve away from the bedside.
As a mentor, professor, published researcher, and dedicated military nurse with honorable discharge, Dr. Sharps has devoted her many roles to helping vulnerable communities through service and leadership.
Dr. Sharps’ journey started with research while on faculty at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, and as director of maternal and child health at the George Washington University (GWU) School of Public Health and Health Sciences, Dr. Sharps focused her practice and research on addressing health disparities related to birth outcomes for women of color. This was an issue that became increasingly apparent to her during her doctoral program, and guided her work as part of the research team at GWU while working on the “Pride and Parenting” project. The project aimed to find the best ways to keep women engaged in prenatal care and support them through the first year after birth.
This dedication to the health and needs of mothers in different communities has been driven by Dr. Sharps’ understanding of the impact that culture and community have on families.
“I have concentrated on working in communities because the health of a mother is determined by where she lives, works, and plays, long before she enters into any healthcare system,” said Dr. Sharps.
Now a professor and associate dean for community programs and initiatives at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing (JHSON), Dr. Sharps works with the JHSON Center for Community Innovations and Scholarship (CCIAS), which focuses on culturally acceptable health and wellness strategies that address issues related to access to care, health literacy, and health education relevant to each community.
“A unit [community] is only good when all people matter and when all people are working together and everyone’s contribution is valued,” said Dr. Sharps. “Working with a community in any way means being there, being engaged, and genuinely caring about what is important to that individual community.”
The CCIAS includes three nurse wellness centers that address health and wellness for adults in a domestic violence shelter, those in transitional housing, as well as a daycare center and a co-located school for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. All services are offered by faculty-student partnerships and are cost-free to underserved populations in East Baltimore.
In addition to her efforts to help improve the health of vulnerable communities, Dr. Sharps uses her experiences to continue inspiring new nurses through her annual summer mentorship program, during which she personally mentors one nursing student at Johns Hopkins.
“Any nurse who has the opportunity to work with youth, either through schools, faith groups, or other enrichment programs, has the opportunity to mentor; to get the word out,” said Dr. Sharps. “There are many options beyond the hospitals; nursing is a lucrative career. Any smart woman or man considering college education should also consider nursing.”
For more information on Dr. Sharps’ work with the CCIAS, visit the website here.