Melani Bell was seven years old when she remembers visiting Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C. There was something about the environment, seeing babies through the nursery window, and both men and women who looked like her, wearing white coats. She was mesmerized and would go home pretending she was a physician, dissecting worms in her front yard.
“I knew then I wanted to become a physician but changed my mind at age 16 to becoming a nurse,” says Bell, Chamberlain University Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) ’17 graduate. “I wanted to be able to spend quality time with patients.”
It has been an unforgettable ride for Bell, 45, a mother of three young, adult children.
Today, she’s become the primary family caregiver. Her mother lives with the family in Charles County, Maryland.
“My family and patients remind me every day how important it is for people who are seriously ill to have an advocate,” she says. “It’s so important for nurses to be innovators and understand our patients, families and the communities they live in, because that in many ways determines their health outcomes. It’s our job to promote health and well-being to help prevent disease and offer compassionate care.”
A ’17 Chamberlain DNP graduate, a ’14 Chamberlain Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) graduate and ’12 Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) graduate, she’s currently vice president and immediate past legislative chair of the Maryland Nurses Association. She’s also a nurse consultant for the federal government Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a patient care coordinator for Kaiser Permanente and a visiting professor for Chamberlain University. Previously, Bell has been a traumatic brain injury clinical educator, a nurse case manager for the U.S. Army, a lead nurse case manager and supervisor for the Army National Guard, and a dermatology oncology nurse navigator for patients with melanoma and mycosis fungoides at Medstar Washington Hospital Center. She’s also been the nurse for the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City.
Giving testimony to improve healthcare for older adults
When a loophole in Medicaid omitted dental coverage for needy adults in Maryland, Bell sprang into action. Even though Maryland’s healthcare system and agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University, ranked the state as one of the best for elder care in the nation, there was one glaring omission: dental coverage for adults, specifically for residents who at the time made up 133% of the federal poverty level or less but couldn’t receive basic oral health care.
Bell was one of more than two dozen doctors, nurses and healthcare advocates who also spoke in support of legislation that among other things, allowed adults who have Medicaid to receive proper dental care coverage.
Garnering global attention
After graduating from Chamberlain’s DNP program, her final project, which focused on tracking traumatic brain injury (TBI) patient progress, sparked international attention. She was invited to present her project at the 12th World Congress on Brain Injury in New Orleans, as well as at Chamberlain’s Sigma Theta Tau International induction and commencement. Her abstract supplement was also published in the International Brain Injury Association’s journal in June 2017.
Bell credits her Chamberlain education in healthcare policy and healthcare systems leadership, as well as her various nursing positions, for helping her secure a myriad of professionally-fulfilling roles that puts her on a path towards her goal – to work with the White House on healthcare policy.
“A DNP degree has allowed me a seat at the table,” she says.
Honored as a hero on the front lines
Bell was one of the numerous Maryland healthcare professionals honored by Maryland Governor, Larry Hogan, as part of “Healthcare Heroes Appreciation Week.” She’s also earned numerous awards and special recognitions for her outstanding work, mentorship and advocacy, which include a citation from the Maryland General Assembly for her “Immeasurable impact on the profession of nursing in Maryland” 2021, Year of the Nurse Outstanding Mentorship MNA award 2020, Rosalie Silber Abrams Legislative MNA award 2019, and Spirit of Community Award for dedication to the longevity of Women in the Military and Veterans 2018.
Looking ahead, Bell aspires to work directly with the presidential administration and members of Congress to support and put into place initiatives centered around health policy, equity, healthcare reform, disparities, and Social Determinants of Health (SDOH); leveraging opportunities with key stakeholders to strengthen quality healthcare delivery for all.
She’s come a long way from the seven-year-old who says she longed to be an OB-GYN and attend UCLA. “I don’t know where I got this idea,” she says.
Her advice for aspiring nurses and nursing students: “Embrace the journey, there may be setbacks along the way, and don’t be discouraged if you fail at something. Always remember your ‘why’ in becoming a nurse to help people. See your career as a cause and thrive that way. You need to advocate for your patients and advocate for yourselves.”
As a mother and busy healthcare professional recently nominated as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women, Bell says her self-care is her interest in fashion and interior design. “A getaway for me is going to T.J. Maxx & Home Goods. “I can also get lost on Pinterest.”
By Chamberlain University
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