When Keisha Jefferies crosses the stage of the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium this week, she’ll be getting her second Nursing degree from Dal and taking her first steps on the path towards a third.
Receiving a Master of Nursing degree and beginning a PhD are milestones Keisha says she could never have imagined achieving as a child.
Add to those the three months she spent in Tanzania last summer on a prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship doing research for her Masters Health Policy Practicum, and it becomes especially clear just how far Keisha has come.
Finding her opportunity
Raised by her grandmother (who was physically disabled) in New Glasgow, N.S., she faced a number of challenges early in life.
“In the environment that I grew up in, I didn’t see a lot of examples of what I could do or where I could go,” she says. “And if you don’t see yourself in certain places, you don’t really see it as a possibility.”
While Keisha had an aunt who was a nurse in British Columbia, she says she didn’t have much contact with her as a child because they lived so far apart. It wasn’t until much later after she finished an undergraduate Science degree at Mount Saint Vincent University that she began to see nursing as an option and enrolled in the three-year accelerated undergrad program at Dal.
During a maternity rotation in her second year, Keisha was attending a birth that took a turn for the worse and the baby was swept off to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). It was at that moment she says she decided, “‘Okay, this is something I would like to be a part of.’”
Exploring health policy
Following two placements and a two-year work stint in the NICU at the IWK in Halifax, Keisha decided to return to Dal to build on some of the research skills she’d acquired on the job.
She was also keen to dig a bit deeper into the world of health policy, something that informed her Tanzanian health policy analysis on exclusive breastfeeding in the east African country. She found that while 99 per cent of women start out practicing exclusively breastfeeding there, many also provide babies with other food before the first six months are over — something that can impact an infant’s development and introduce potentially harmful bacteria that can lead to illness and infant mortality.
Keisha plans to turn her attention towards more local issues with her doctoral research, drawing upon her own personal experience to explore how African Nova Scotian nurses perceive the challenges of entering into and progressing in the profession.
“From my own personal experience, I feel that having community support really can make a difference in the lives of individuals in the community,” she says.
Support from her community
In her case, she says she benefitted from the support of a few key people in her community along the way. It was through these relationships, she says, that she came to understand the value of education and being self-motivated.
It’s that same sort of spirit that has compelled Keisha to give back to the community herself over the years, volunteering as a peer mentor and tutor at the Black Student Advising Centre, as a team lead Dalhousie Interdisciplinary Collaborative Clinical Education Program (ICCEP), as a member of the Dalhousie Diversity Committee for the School of Nursing, and as a Board member at the Black Business Initiative, where she works directly with youth.
By being a leader on many fronts, Keisha is doing her own part to help combat a common obstacle keeping African Nova Scotians from the health professions.
“If you don’t see yourself reflected in the people you go visit in the health-care system,” she says, “you may not think there’s a place for you there.”
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