We’re excited to welcome postdoctoral research associate, Jerry Nutor, to the global health community at Princeton. In this spotlight, we talked with Jerry about what perspective and expertise nurses bring to global health challenges, the importance of cultural humility in global health work, and why he started the African Interdisciplinary Health Conference. Below is our conversation, edited for space.
Erin: What are some of the moments or decisions in your life that have led you to a career in nursing and global health?
Jerry: I’m originally from Ghana, and I’m a registered nurse there. I decided to go to nursing school after high school because I saw that there was a need. But I ultimately wanted to be in academia rather than to practice nursing in the hospital, and I saw the need for teachers of nursing in Ghana. Next, I did my masters at University of California Davis in nursing science and healthcare leadership, and then I moved to Drexel in Philadelphia for my Ph.D. in nursing science and also added a global health focus to my work. My love for global health developed along the way through my undergraduate, masters, and Ph.D. and through doing work in Zambia.
Erin: What work brought you to Zambia?
Jerry: I did my dissertation research in Zambia. I looked at how access to water and toilet facility influence adherence to HIV medication among pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Zambia’s HIV prevalence rate is among the top ten countries in the world. Additionally, access to water and toilets is a huge problem in Zambia, and we also know that some of the side effects of antiretroviral medications (ARV) are diarrhea and gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting. I was looking to see if access to water affected whether a person living with HIV would continue to take their medications—particularly if they had experienced side effects. I wanted to understand how water access and ARV adherence affects breastfeeding mothers because water needs increase during breastfeeding. I am hoping to continue to do the same research during my time at Princeton. I have two aims—I want to expand my project in Zambia, and I also want to do a two-country comparison by collecting the same data in Ghana and seeing how this problem is experienced in two different countries.
Erin: Global health is an interdisciplinary field focused on solving complex challenges. What expertise and perspectives do nurses add to the consortium of global health researchers and practitioners?
Jerry: I think Global Health cannot be complete without the role of a nurse. Nurses play a critical role, they make up the majority of the healthcare workforce and are often the best people to approach when you want to reach out to a community, an individual, or a family. They play a large part in the patient’s experience and they also interact with a large variety of other health workers—physician, pharmacists, public health official etc. You interact with everybody, a nurse’s role is the hub of interdisciplinary care for individual and public health. I enjoy the field of global health because I can relate to almost every profession around me in global health.
Erin: Can you tell me about the conference you started, the African Interdisciplinary Health Conference (AfIHC). What is it, and why did you felt there was a need for this type of conference?
Jerry: I saw the need for health professionals within Africa and those conducting research in Africa to come together to deliberate on issues. Developing countries depend so much on methodologies from developed countries to solve their problems and these don’t always work because sociocultural and economic setups vary greatly between developing and developed countries. Instead, nurses, public health professionals, physicians, pharmacists, and laboratory technicians who are doing research in Africa can share their experiences that help promote healthcare delivery in Africa. That is my passion, for us to come together, to network among ourselves, and not always looking at donors from the west, but to find more opportunities to collaborate and share success stories among ourselves. When I was in my masters program, I hadn’t heard of any interdisciplinary approach involving the African continent. So I said I’m going to start this. I didn’t have the requisite support to do it at first, but after I got into the Ph.D. program, I started talking to a few people and we put the AfIHC together. If you go to the website, you can see that we had the first successful conference in Ghana in August and we had about 90 people from at least five countries. Now we are seeking funding to do the second one—hopefully in Ghana next year.
Erin: Will you be teaching any classes at Princeton?
Jerry: Currently, I am a preceptor for Professor Biehl’s GHP 350: “Critical Perspectives in Global Health”. Sebastian [Ramirez] and I are also developing a class that we will teach next semester; we are naming it “Grassroot Power, Theories of Social Change.” We will talk about how an individual can identify problems in their local communities and bring out change in these communities. I love this because Sebastian, who is an anthropologist, and myself, as a nurse, are going to be able to share our experiences and different perspectives with the students.
Erin: What else are you excited to do during your time at Princeton?
Jerry: I like to interact with people who can challenge me, and I think this is the best place for that. There are so many resources here—not only money—but people to help you, and infrastructure that can promote my research. I’m also very interested in what the Center for Health and Wellbeing and Global Health and Health Policy Program are doing and I’m happy to be a part of this and to see what I can contribute.
Erin: What do you see as the next steps to your career and what kind of impact do you want to have in global health?
Jerry: So many impacts! I want to continue with my research, and I also want to see how I can continue focusing on sub-Saharan Africa in my research and work. The African Interdisciplinary Conference is a way that I can contribute. I’m looking for ways that I can reach out to people and empower and encourage people—to say, what you are doing is good, and we can improve health and wellbeing among ourselves and be successful. I am also hoping to start a non-profit focused on community healthcare in Africa that does work similar to Partners in Health and delivers healthcare to people in remote areas by training, empowering, and providing the necessary supports to keep health workers and community health workers going. The conference is where we will build the momentum and reach out to people across sub-Saharan Africa.
Erin: What advice do you have for Princeton undergraduates who are interested in pursuing a career in global health?
Jerry: First, I want to encourage them to pursue their dream of doing something in global health. They should continue to read about and then listen to the problems in the world. A lot of people are doing things, but are they doing the right things and are they doing what the people need? Sometimes we researchers sit in the developed countries and formulate ideas and interventions for developing countries and then we go and impose these ideas without knowing their problems. Students should take advantage of opportunities to get to know problems more intimately—visit or do the study abroad programs—and be able to communicate with people who are already addressing these problems in their community and not make yourself out as someone who knows better. Cultural humility is very important.
I also encourage students not to lose hope. Working in global health is not easy and sometimes your efforts might not be recognized. You have to encourage yourself. You should continue to fight for the rights of the less privileged people, continue to learn from them, and push hard.
Erin: You’ve now been in the US for a few years and you’ve also lived in Ghana and Zambia. What global health experiences, expertise, and perspectives could the US benefit from and learn from Ghana and Zambia?
Jerry: There are so many global health problems in the US. You don’t have to travel to do a global health job, just look at the poor communities around us. I would bring interventions to promote child survival in African American communities. Mortality in African American children is almost double other races in this country and that is a global health problem. I just published a paper on preterm birth in African American communities. Putting a focus on and counteracting preterm births would include nutrition support, support of women in pregnancy, and counseling for those who are going through depression, among other things. Finally, there are some movements against immunization in the US—let’s kick against this movement and promote immunizations!
Thanks so much for sharing your time, story, and wisdom with us Jerry. We look forward to having you at Princeton and learning from and with you for the next two years.