PhD Nurse Profiles

These PhD-prepared nurses are contributing to RWJF’s goal of building a Culture of Health.

Angela McBride, PhD, RN, FAAN

In 1973, Angela Barron McBride, PhD, RN, FAAN, published The Growth and Development of Mothers, a revolutionary tome that decoded the needs of mothers at a time when children were the subject of most parenting literature.

The book was a critical success—it was named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times—and set McBride, then a young nurse educator and a new mother, on a trailblazing path to nurse leadership. Ever since, McBride has built a reputation as a powerful advocate for women’s health and has received many honors for her contributions to both women's health and nursing.

Four decades later, McBride—chair of the National Advisory Committee for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars program—drew on her experience as a nurse leader to do for nurses what she did for mothers all those years ago: help them understand their roles and reach their full potential. In 2011, she published The Growth and Development of Nurse Leaders, a book with a title that very consciously spins off of her earlier work.

“Really, the tasks of mothers and nurses are not that different,” she says. “Nurses and mothers both have jobs that can be scary at times, and they are often held to impossibly high standards. They’re both often talked about by people who spout pious drivel about what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.” And much of that talk, she says, isn’t realistic.

McBride speaks with the authority of a leader who has climbed from the bottom rung up. The daughter of an immigrant family in working-class Baltimore where few people—including her father—finished high school, she won a scholarship to Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and went on to earn a master’s degree in nursing from Yale University and a doctorate in developmental psychology from Purdue University.

She has since held several prominent leadership posts, including dean of the eight-campus School of Nursing at Indiana University and president of Sigma Theta Tau International and the American Academy of Nursing. She currently serves on the board of Indiana University Health, an 18-network hospital, and chairs its committee on quality and patient safety, and directs the annual leadership conference for the National Hartford Center of Gerontological Nursing Excellence. And she has served on advisory boards for the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Research on Women’s Health.

“It took a long time for me to realize I was capable of being a leader,” she says. “I hope this book helps other nurses realize that they too can become leaders—and to reach that conclusion more quickly.”
The publication of her book came shortly after the release of the landmark report by the Institute of Medicine, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. It called on nurses to become full partners in—and leaders of—the development, design and the delivery of health care. More nurse leaders will improve the delivery of care and patient outcomes, the report said.

“When you get on a hospital board, you ask questions from the background you have,” McBride says. “The banker on the hospital board asks about business plans. The physician may ask about the number of MRI machines. And the nurse may ask about discharge planning. It’s critical to have diverse leadership so that all bases are covered.”

Kamal Eldeirawi, PhD, RN

In 2000, Kamal Eldeirawi, PhD, RN, a pioneering scientist with expertise in immigrant health, became director of a state-sponsored asthma project in Chicago. For the job, he drove to more than 40 of the city’s public schools, where he screened children for asthma and respiratory conditions, provided education to children with asthma and their families, and trained school teachers and staff on how to control the disease.

His forays throughout the city led to a deep understanding of the difficulties low-income parents—and immigrant parents in particular—experienced accessing adequate health care for their children. New immigrants, he observed, faced almost insurmountable challenges. Many lived in fear of deportation and in social isolation, without support from family and friends, and few had access to social support services.

The experience resonated with Eldeirawi, an immigrant who was born in the Gaza Strip in Palestine, and spurred him to research immigrant health. “I was touched by those challenges, especially in newly arriving immigrant families,” he said.

Eldeirawi’s interest in nursing dates back to his childhood, where he saw the profound impact of poverty and disadvantage on health in his own community. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Palestine, Eldeirawi enrolled in a master’s-level nursing program in Pennsylvania. In 2006, he earned his doctorate in public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he wrote his dissertation on asthma in children of Mexican descent.

Now an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Eldeirawi is continuing his research into asthma, a condition that affects around 40 million people in the United States. About 12 percent of Mexican American children have asthma, and Eldeirawi is researching risk factors that contribute to the condition in this under-studied group.

For his work, he pioneered an area of research on the effect of immigration and acculturation on asthma and respiratory health in Mexican American children, documenting that asthma rates increase with immigration and acculturation. Eldeirawi says some Mexican immigrants may have been exposed to protective factors in utero or in early childhood before moving to the United States. But this protection seems to fade away while living in the United States and being exposed to different environmental and lifestyle factors, he says.

Now a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar (2013-2016), he is delving deeper into his initial findings to prevent asthma and reduce asthma-related disparities in Mexican American children—and perhaps in other populations too.

“I want to uncover the causes of asthma and design studies to treat and prevent this disease, not only in the United States but globally as well,” he says.

Wrenetha Julion, PhD, MPH, RAN, FAAN

Wrenetha Julion is fed up with the endless public handwringing over “deadbeat dads” in black communities. “If I hear again that more than half of African-American children grow up without their biological fathers in the home, I’m going to scream,” she says. “We know this fact, but the question is: What are we going to do about it?”

Julion, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, a professor of nursing at Rush University in Chicago and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections program (2007), is working to find an answer: She’s using her skills as a nurse scientist to find ways to bolster the positive involvement of black fathers who live apart from their kids.

Her research is of particular interest at a time when the nation is paying special attention to the issue. During his tenure in office, President Obama—himself the son of an absent father—has launched initiatives to promote responsible fatherhood and address challenges faced by young men of color.

Involved fathers are critical to healthy child development. Children of more engaged fathers do better in school and are more likely to delay childbirth and avoid risky behaviors, studies show. Fathers benefit from engagement with their children, too; they are more likely to complete their education, find and keep jobs, and earn higher incomes, and less likely to go back to jail if they have been there before, Julion says. More involved fathers help moms too, as long as there is a mutually respectful and positive relationship between parents, she adds. Engaged fathers are more likely to take on child care responsibilities and provide financial and emotional support to mothers, Julion says. “It’s a win-win all around.”

Despite its benefits, few researchers have explored ways to encourage non-resident black fathers to become more involved with their children. Julion has been working to fill this void ever since she entered a doctoral program in nursing at Rush University in Chicago in 1997. For her dissertation, she studied the views of black non-resident fathers about paternal involvement, and debunked the pervasive myth that black non-resident fathers are “deadbeat dads”—uninterested in, uninvolved with, and uncommitted to their children.

Also that year, Julion used her RWJF New Connections grant to study whether black fathers’ level of religiosity—as measured by their church attendance—affects their level of paternal involvement. In 2009, Julion received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a fatherhood intervention to help non-resident black fathers overcome barriers to positive involvement with their kids. In the summer of 2014, she received another NIH grant to evaluate the efficacy of the fatherhood intervention in a randomized study.

“We need to break the intergenerational cycle,” Julion says. “When children grow up without fathers, they think that their own children don’t need fathers either. But children do need their fathers, and the more we can do to communicate that message, the better.”

Margaret Moss, PhD, JD, RN

Margaret Moss, PhD, JD, RN, a prominent American Indian nurse scientist, lives in the shadow of tragedy.

Her mother died of complications from diabetes; her sister died of liver failure; her brother was killed in a motorcycle accident; and another brother died of HIV/AIDS. Her brother-in-law was murdered, and several aunts and uncles died prematurely.

It’s almost as if her family is cursed. Moss, in fact, believes it is—by a health care system that fails to adequately serve American Indians. Moss is not alone. American Indians, she notes, have shorter life expectancies than other Americans and experience disproportionately high rates of death from diseases such as cirrhosis and diabetes, motor vehicle accidents and other unintentional injuries, and assault, homicide, and suicide, according to the Indian Health Service, the federal health program for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

“I started putting it together, and our family experiences were actually falling in line with Indian Health Service statistics,” she says. “It kind of shocked me.”

But it wasn’t until Moss became a nurse that she began to fully understand how the “system” undermines the health, and the lives, of native people. That experience set Moss on a journey to explore ways to provide culturally sensitive long-term health care for American Indians. She earned her doctorate in nursing in 2000 and her JD in 2006—and in so doing became the only American Indian in the country who holds both degrees.

In 2008, Moss received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Policy Fellowship and worked for the Senate Committee on Aging, where she drew attention to health disparities and worked to coordinate federal funding for Alzheimer’s disease.

Now associate professor and coordinator of the nursing management, policy, and leadership program at Yale University School of Nursing, Moss is working to raise awareness about aging and health disparities faced by American Indians. In the fall of 2014, she accepted an American Fulbright Scholar Award to study aboriginal health in Montreal, Quebec. For her scholarship, she is undertaking a legal analysis of census and health laws and is conducting qualitative research to better understand health disparities affecting aboriginal people.

Moss is also currently writing the first textbook on American Indian health and nursing and expects it to be published in early 2015. “I’m hoping it will be picked up by nursing schools so students can get first-hand information about American Indian health,” Moss says. “What nursing students learn now about the subject could be summed up in one paragraph.”