Monique Reed, PhD, MS, RN is the Assistant Dean and an Associate Professor at Rush University’s College of Nursing. In 2020, Reed was appointed the Vice President of the American Nurses Association (ANA)-Illinois.
A PASSION FOR COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS
The foundation of Reed’s nursing career has been her commitment to serving historically marginalized communities. “I am most passionate about building partnerships within historically marginalized communities that have been systemically and intentionally oppressed,” she says. “Systemic racism has led to inequitable policies related to employment, housing, education, food security, walkable streets, and subsequently health outcomes. Despite the daily micro- and macro-aggressions these communities experience, they continue to be an inspirational and resilient group. They give me hope in the promise of love and compassion for thy neighbor.”
Reed stresses that health care providers need to build relationships with marginalized communities to create equitable health care regardless of race, ethnicity, immigration status, and sexual orientation or gender identity. “The different ways people experience life should all be embraced. We, as health care providers, should work to understand those experiences so we can all reach optimal health outcomes, says Reed. “It’s time for us to start to break down barriers to health care.”
And that’s just what she’s doing.
THE TWISTS AND TURNS OF A NURSING CAREER
“My journey to nursing has not been a straight line,” says Reed. After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from DePaul University, she was considering a career in health care. Then, the September 11 attacks happened. “Witnessing the terrorist attacks and seeing people come together confirmed what my purpose should be: helping others,” says Reed. Having been impressed by DePaul’s Vincentian values and commitment to service, Reed returned for her master’s of science in nursing, then earned her PhD in nursing science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Reed’s first nursing job after graduation was in a telemetry unit, where she developed an interest in cardiovascular disease prevention. Reed says, “I started to see similar underlying chronic conditions. It made me ask: How do we prevent this?” That burning question and desire to get to the root of the problem pushed her to earn a PhD in nursing science with a focus on health disparities and prevention research. This led her to focus on eating behaviors in African American adolescent daughters and mothers. “With the guidance of research mentors, I followed the science and saw where prevention efforts were most needed at the time, and my research team still works with that population today.”
COMMUNITY-FOCUSED RESEARCH AND POLICY-MAKING
During her master’s and PhD, Reed looked at models of community-based participatory research, learning how to build relationships with community members, alderman, congresspeople, and other political leaders. When studying at DePaul, she worked with community-based organizations in the Austin community, which is “a predominantly African American, low-income, marginalized community that has seen disparate health outcomes when compared to neighboring communities,” says Reed. “I had the chance to talk one-on-one with community members, who are the experts in things that affect them.”
Reed works to disrupt hierarchies between health care providers and community members. “I don’t look at research from a top-down approach, similarly, I don’t look at policy initiatives from a top-down approach,” she says. “When you do, you find yourself disconnected from what will effectively help communities achieve wellness. But when you start by talking to community members about what their thoughts are on access to care or insurance policies, you get a sense of where your efforts will yield the most gains.”
Reed brings this community-focused research to her role in the ANA, where she is part of a team working towards improving diversity, equity, and inclusion within both the organization and health care facilities. First, they reviewed the literature for best practices around racism, power, privilege, and anti-racism. Then, they worked together to develop a four-part module to train nursing professionals on health disparities and key terms such as racism, power, privilege, and microaggressions. “Each part builds on the other. The concluding module will be around allyship, advocacy, and anti-racism,” says Reed. “The goal is to have a ‘train the trainer’ model in which we reach out to institutions throughout Illinois, sending them invitations to identify at least one representative who will attend the sessions and bring the information back to their institutions.” This helps to embed institutional commitment and structures to implement change in ways that best serve their respective organizations. The initiative launched spring 2021 for information available here.
LIFTING UP NURSE ADVOCATES WITH THE ANA
Reed stresses how important national organizations can be for nurses and nursing students, having been an active member of the American Heart Association and the Midwest Nursing Research society during her research career. “ANA has so many resources available through their student nurse association,” she says. Before joining the board, she had participated in ANA as a student nurse and then as a faculty advisor.
Two intersecting moments inspired Reed to join the ANA board: the COVID-19 pandemic and increased awareness of racial violence across the United States. “In 2020, our nation had an abrupt and devastating reminder that American systems are flawed,” says Reed. “Nurses, hospitals and states were left without adequate access to personal protective equipment. America collectively watched the murder of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis by local law enforcement. In the absence of a strategic implementation plan for a life-saving vaccination we saw an uncoordinated immunization roll-out.”
Together, these historical moments emphasize the need for the health system to address disparities and better care for marginalized communities. “I decided to serve on the board because I care about the health and wellness of nurses, as well as the ability of nurses to advocate for the health of patients and communities as nursing providers, educators, and leaders.”
A big part of this work involves mentoring the next generation of nurses. Reed celebrates how nursing students have risen to the challenge of learning and caring during the COVID-19 pandemic. “What I saw from the students was a sense of determination to give back in any way they could,” says Reed, praising how students adapted to remote learning, assisted with COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, and advocated for antiracism in nursing education. “Students have also been the voice of movements around anti-racism, eliciting the attention of faculty members.”
ON THE HORIZON
Looking at the rest of 2021, Reed is focusing on continuing to build relationships with nurses across the state of Illinois. “As the largest healthcare profession in America, nurses will continue to build on established relationships to right the wrongs of racism, injustice and inequity; educate people about nursing science; and advocate for historically marginalized communities that have included populations of color, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ population, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, rural populations, older adults, immigrants, and others.”
She also looks forward to her annual trip to Jamaica with her mother, who is a Jamaican immigrant.
She advises others to appreciate every twist, turn, and detour of a career in nursing. “I have found these to be the building blocks of how I understand the potential of nursing, community experiences, the importance of social justice and equity, and working with marginalized communities. It’s important to just stop and appreciate every intersection. You’ll get to your destination in due time.”