In the beginning, there was a banner.

Then came the placards—Respect Lives Here—outside each classroom and lab. The #HoosInclusive photo campaigns and Pizza and Pronouns parties. New common-area portraits celebrating nurses less often seen: UVA’s LPN alumni, Filipino caregivers, and the School’s first African-American graduate, Mavis Claytor (BSN ’70, MSN ’85). And dozens upon dozens of learning opportunities about all the ways race, class, culture, healthcare, and well-being intersect, and what students, faculty, and staff could do to transform their good intentions into action and advocacy.

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groups: Diverse Conversations; Implicit Bias; Racism at the Hospital; LGBTQ+ Issues
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BSN & CNL students who took "Stepping In: Responding to Disrespectful and Biased Behavior"

Less visible but equally powerful were the seismic shifts in recruitment, admissions, advising, and curricular protocols. Deepening understanding of power and privilege. Classroom concepts like HEALS, terms like microaggressions, and bystander intervention entered the lexicon, all symbols of the reach of the Inclusion, Diversity, and Excellence Achievement (IDEA) initiative and Susan Kools, its director and founder, whose gentle, persistent presence belied the tidal force of what was being embedded in the School—and nurses’ preparation for the world beyond it.

“As a nurse, you get thrown on the unit and it’s not the model you’ve trained in,” said Mary Lacy Grecco (BSN ’11, DNP ’21,), a senior clinical research nurse at the National Institute of Health’s hematology oncology transplant unit who took part in the LGBTQ+ Curriculum working group, “but we know what things should look like: what language to use, what questions to ask, how our body language, neutral face, and eye contact should be. This education means my tool bag is really big, and I know which tools to pull out to get the job done.”

“It’s knowing what’s in your big tool bag and pulling out the right tools at the right time to get the job done.”

Mary Lacy Grecco, (BSN ’11, DNP ’21), part of the LGBTQ+ Issues working group

Equity work isn’t just about race, either; it’s also about nurses’ political and economic savvy, and their roles as resource agents.

“I feel confident enough to provide direction that can calm some nerves, and alleviate some stress,” said fourth year Nichole Heon, who, during an externship in Washington, D.C., last summer, connected financially strapped transplant patients unable to afford antirejection medications with aid programs. “The whole point is for us to empower people and embrace our roles.”

Even with Kools’ recent retirement, IDEA’s work continues because “it was built to be sustained,” said Dean Pamela Cipriano, “and will impact everything we do, and how we do it.”

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Trained Faculty and Staff Allies
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Faculty & Staff Trained in USC's 8-week Equity Institute

That means classes still begin with intentional expressions of warmth and connection, connective teaching practices, like sending pre-class letters of introduction, get-acquainted activities, guidelines for respectful engagement, and professors always, alwayslearning students’ names and preferred pronouns. Those touched by these lessons of equity and inclusion say there’s no going back. They’re different nurses—different humans—for keeps.

“I seriously cannot even describe how different my brain is,” said Paige O’Brien (BSN `21), a cardiac intensive care nurse at Oregon Health Sciences Center in Portland, Ore., who remains connected as a facilitator with the Diverse Conversations working group. “I’m tougher; I notice a lot more things, and I’m much less sensitive to those who challenge my world views. I just feel such urgency, because you cannot not do this work and be a nurse.”

For CNL student Mousumi Franks (CNL ’22), the most powerful lessons are gleaned by watching.

“The nursing school is already doing so much good just by being who they are,” said Franks, a former middle- and high-school teacher. “They model the behaviors that we all want to see in healthcare that say, ‘I may not understand you, but I’m going to take care of you. I want to protect you.’ That’s what we are taught to do.”

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