We not only want to educate highly skilled nurses; we also want to prepare nurses who represent our society as a whole and will contribute to its betterment.
To further this essential work, Chamberlain University created a new position – associate provost for social mission and academic excellence – and we feel very fortunate that Kenya Beard, EdD, AGACNP, CNE, ANEF, FAAN, chose to join us in this role. Dr. Beard is a leading voice on social mission. She spent four years as a faculty scholar at the Harvard Macy Institute, where she developed workshops on creating multicultural learning environments and facilitated discussions on how race and implicit bias affect the quality of healthcare. She previously served as dean of nursing and health sciences at Nassau Community College and held other faculty appointments in the New York City area. While at Hunter College, she created the Center for Multicultural Education & Health Disparities.
In her current role, Dr. Beard is responsible for ensuring Chamberlain graduates enter practice with a commitment to advocating for social justice and health equity. I started our conversation by asking her why this is so important.
Kenya: Injustices and inequities contribute to death, so I believe that social justice and health equity are critical to improving health outcomes. Typically, the focus in healthcare education is on disease prevention, early identification, treatment and management. However, when we fail to consider poverty, structural racism and other factors that undermine one's ability to achieve their highest level of health, we enter practice and treat individuals with one arm behind our back. It's really important that students learn, and providers recognize and understand, the broader issues that contribute to healthcare outcomes.
Karen: Yes, we don’t want students to look at patient care as a transaction. Instead of just looking at someone’s airway, they need to think, what brought them here today? What’s going to get them well and keep them from coming back?
You started your career as a community health nurse, and soon after that, you started teaching nursing. How did your awareness of health inequities shape your journey as an educator?
Kenya: I loved being a community health nurse, in part, because I got to teach patients one-to-one. I’d ask them, “What do you know about this disease? What does it mean to you? What do you want to do about it?” And to have them ask me questions, to have this dialogue—I left every patient's home feeling so incredibly inspired.
Even before that, I always wanted to be a teacher. I remember being at a nursing orientation, and the nurse educator was probably the first teacher I had that looked like me. I thought, “I want to do that,” so I went back to school for my master’s and my doctoral degrees.
Karen: Because we have such a diverse student population at Chamberlain, it gives us a unique opportunity and a responsibility to contribute to eliminating health disparities. Part of that will involve confronting racism within our profession. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has formed a National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing, and I know you served on it. Tell me a bit about the commission’s work.
Kenya: James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” So, I appreciate that the ANA has carved out space for this type of dialogue. Embarking on this path is a very courageous act because we don't have consensus when it comes to discussing racism. How can we address it in a way that empowers us to move forward and doesn’t stifle us and create this bubble where we stay in chaos and discontent and despair? Racism not only kills, but it is expensive, and our society is paying a huge tax.
Karen: When you think about what you learned from being on the commission, how do you see Chamberlain trying to address racism and health inequities?
Kenya: I love the fact that we have a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council, and we have the values of DEI built into goals for our academic colleagues. We recommend that all our other colleagues include something impactful about DEI in the goals we set and it is becoming the norm across the organization. Collectively, this can make a huge impact within an institution so long as it’s coupled with leadership support. If the leaders are not steering the ship in that direction, the one or two oars that try to move us forward will be moving against the current, and the ideals of DEI are less likely to manifest.
Karen: Part of your role is implementing the Social Determinants of Learning™ framework Chamberlain developed to address learning disparities and expand opportunities for students of all backgrounds. How might this model inform educational disparities more broadly?
Kenya: Traditionally, we’ve said, “If you want to get into nursing school, this is what you need to have.” Now with Social Determinants of Learning, we say, "We want you to come into nursing. What do we need to do to help you along your journey?" That might mean learning that a student needs to take three buses to get to a clinical placement and helping them with transportation logistics or finding them a placement closer to home.
Karen: And of course, by acknowledging that most of our students work, many full-time, the Social Determinants of Learning framework helps us better understand that our responsibility is not just to admit students; it's also to help them be successful.
Kenya: I agree. Chamberlain is different, not just because we're the largest school of nursing in the U.S., but because we're teaching our students to reframe how patients will be cared for in the future. We want them to think beyond the acute care episode to the many factors that will impact their patients’ health once they return to the community—where they live, where they work, all the social determinants of health. Keeping Chamberlain’s social mission top of mind will help us achieve this.
I’ll continue this conversation with Dr. Beard and other Chamberlain leaders in my next post, which will explore the ways Chamberlain contributes to educational justice for all. Until then!
Karen Cox, PhD, RN, FACHE, FAAN
Karen Cox, PhD, RN, FACHE, FAAN
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