November 2, 2011 — University of Virginia nursing doctoral student Patty Wilson is dedicated to clinical work, research and teaching focused on helping African-American survivors of intimate partner violence.
Thanks to a Johnson & Johnson/American Association of Colleges of Nursing Minority Nurse Faculty Scholars Award – one of five given nationally – Wilson will be able to continue that pursuit.
The scholarships help address the nation's shortage of nurse educators and are awarded in association with Johnson & Johnson's Campaign for Nursing's Future. The program provides $18,000 over three years to graduate students from minority backgrounds who agree to teach in a school of nursing after graduation.
"Nursing schools across the country turned away 67,563 qualified applicants in 2010 due to a lack of doctoral faculty," Nursing School Dean Dorrie Fontaine said. "The state of Virginia produced only 19 doctoral graduates last year. Ms. Wilson will fill the impressive need for more nurse-scientist faculty and especially improve the diversity of our faculty. Having a diverse faculty at U.Va. helps to match the student body and the patients and families we serve."
"Nursing is what I've always wanted to do," said Wilson, who wore her grandmother's nursing cap to career day in kindergarten. She's now in her first semester of the School of Nursing's Ph.D. program.
She is dedicated to both learning and sharing her knowledge. When she received her master's degree in 1998 from the University of Maryland (where she also earned her bachelor's), she recounted that her mother said she "knew she would be back" in school.
Wilson said she enjoys the process of learning. "The Ph.D. program gives you new insight and perspectives to look at issues and knowledge itself – to be nurse-scientists," she said.
Over the last 13 years, Wilson has worked toward her research and teaching goals. As a clinical instructor in community/public health nursing at Johns Hopkins University and as the assistant director of the East Baltimore Community Nursing Centers – positions she still holds part-time – she has witnessed firsthand the need for better understanding of the complicated issues faced by survivors of intimate partner violence, and the need for research upon which to build policies.
In her work in pediatrics, maternal child nursing and labor and delivery and with underserved populations in the Hopkins community outreach program, she said she sees so many issues and barriers patients face, particularly African-Americans. "I see problems with health disparities and underlying mental health issues," she said.
"Patty is a real asset to our Ph.D. program who has already contributed to the field through her clinical work and teaching," said Wilson's adviser, U.Va. nursing professor Kathryn Laughon, an expert on issues of intimate partner violence and its impact on women and children .
"In the area of violence research, where we know that African-American women experience higher levels of violence and more significant health problems than do other women, having African-American researchers leading the research teams is critical," she said.
Wilson agreed the academy needs more diversity. "I commend Johnson & Johnson for supporting that possibility," she said.
Her research focuses on "barriers women face, particularly African-American women when they are going from shelters to transitional or permanent housing," she said. "I will look at it from a womanist standpoint — a perspective that empowers and integrates the experiences and perspectives of African American women — at the intersection of class, gender and race."
The barriers include financial constraints and power and control issues that go with abusive relationships. Also, she said landlords sometimes don't want to rent to intimate partner survivors and their children because of issues related to restraining orders against their abusive partners. Wilson plans to research policies relating to those questions.
As part of the Johnson & Johnson scholarship program, Wilson will be assigned a faculty mentor and will attend a conference geared to new faculty members to be held in February in Atlanta.
Wilson also received one of three grants made this year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Minority Scholars Program.
She had no idea she would receive both grants and said, "I was in tears when I heard the news. I am fortunate to be awarded both."
Geared toward supporting dissertation and scholarly research related to mental health, the latter award changed the trajectory of her intimate partner violence research to include the emotional impact and stressors associated with the barriers to housing and the mental distress and substance abuse associated with intimate partner violence.
Wilson lives in Baltimore and commutes to Charlottesville two days a week for class. The awards will help with tuition, transportation and living expenses, and also will allow her to reduce the hours she spends teaching and doing clinical work.
She said it's been a long time since she was in school and she's learning to balance all the different responsibilities in her life. There are advantages: She can model study habits for her children, 7 and 9. "I want them to see Mommy in school," she said.
She also looks forward to bringing them to U.Va. for a visit. "I want them to see what college life is like," she said.