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PhD student Keisha Jefferies is working to make health care more inclusive

It was a profound moment for Keisha Jefferies. Conducting a health policy analysis on breastfeeding practices as well as participating in maternal and newborn health research in Tanzania as part of her Master of Nursing degree studies. She was constantly interacting with doctors and nurses who looked like her – visibly Black.

“I grew up in New Glasgow and for the most part the people who looked like me, who worked in healthcare, generally worked in maintenance, as custodians or in the kitchen,” she says. “I began thinking about the underrepresentation of African Nova Scotian healthcare providers and how that relates to health disparities within African Nova Scotian communities. I became interested in exploring ways to address those disparities and decided it should be through nursing.”

The Killam Scholar, who is earning a PhD in nursing at Dalhousie, is working toward that goal by researching the leadership experiences of African Nova Scotian nurses and how those experiences affect the health of the Black community. She has interviewed 18 African Nova Scotian nurses, who have practice experience in Nova Scotia and elsewhere in Canada, to understand how leadership is perceived and integrated into their nursing practice. Keisha’s qualitative research also assesses how aspects such as race, class, gender, and other important considerations factor into those experiences.

“I am looking at whether these nurses feel included or excluded in nursing leadership, what motivates them to do the work they do, how that work constitutes leadership, and whether that is recognized by health care organizations,” Keisha explains. “By exploring the facilitators and barriers to leadership for African Nova Scotian nurses, we can start to identify the policies and processes that health care organizations need to implement to ensure more representation from all aspects of Canada’s population.”

Keisha is looking at other critical factors through her research, such as community mistrust, mental health, and how nursing education plays a pivotal role in perpetuating the underrepresentation of African Nova Scotians in nursing. She believes her findings could prove invaluable for the Dalhousie School of Nursing in its efforts to improve access not just for African Nova Scotian students but also Mi’kmaq students.

Keisha is continuing to do her part to bring about impactful change. She is completing her analysis of the data she has gathered and intends to follow-up her PhD dissertation with a report of her findings to help guide the School of Nursing, Faculty of Health, and Dalhousie in their efforts to diversify the student body. Ultimately, she would like to work in academia to both teach and conduct further research on representation, likely with a broader lens, and to help attract and educate a new and truly diverse generation of nurses.

“The opportunity to become faculty, teach, and have a pedagogy that would really equip students to be amazing nurses appeals to me,” she says. “It would be exciting to bring in content that I wasn't privy to when I was going through my nursing education. There are so many ways to incorporate a more holistic understanding of the Canadian mosaic than what has been and is currently being taught.”

Keisha is looking at other critical factors through her research, such as community mistrust, mental health, and how nursing education plays a pivotal role in perpetuating the underrepresentation of African Nova Scotians in nursing. She believes her findings could prove invaluable for the Dalhousie School of Nursing in its efforts to improve access not just for African Nova Scotian students but also Mi’kmaq students.

Keisha is continuing to do her part to bring about impactful change. She is completing her analysis of the data she has gathered and intends to follow-up her PhD dissertation with a report of her findings to help guide the School of Nursing, Faculty of Health, and Dalhousie in their efforts to diversify the student body. Ultimately, she would like to work in academia to both teach and conduct further research on representation, likely with a broader lens, and to help attract and educate a new and truly diverse generation of nurses.

“The opportunity to become faculty, teach, and have a pedagogy that would really equip students to be amazing nurses appeals to me,” she says. “It would be exciting to bring in content that I wasn't privy to when I was going through my nursing education. There are so many ways to incorporate a more holistic understanding of the Canadian mosaic than what has been and is currently being taught.”