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The Hillman Scholars in Nursing Innovation convened the first in-person meeting in three years on June 3, 2022. Overcoming COVID-19 pandemic realities, including delayed and cancelled flights, about 50 Scholars from as far as San Diego, Boston, and Ann Arbor made their way to Washington, D.C. A group of UNC-CH Scholars even went so far as to drive from Raleigh and through a stormy night to be in attendance.


The program began with opening remarks by Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation Executive Director, Ahrin Mishan, and by National Program Director, Dr. Linda Aiken. Reflecting on ten years of the program, Mr. Mishan reiterated the program’s purpose:

“Whatever you do, whatever pathway you choose, you will go out into the world and kick ass. You are going to do things that other people are not. You are driven by a sense of purpose: equal parts nurse scientist, nurse innovator, nurse badass, nurse activists, and nurse leaders.” – Ahrin Mishan

He spoke of the importance of the program’s intent to build a shared identity to allow Scholars to inspire each other, support each other, and nudge each other to push the boundaries of what is possible.

Race and Health Disparities

The Community of Hope, Director of Midwifery, Family Health and Birth Center, Ebony Marcelle, CNM, MS, FACNM, and Assistant Professor, Department of Advanced Nursing Practice, Christina Ximena Marea, PhD, NSRA, shared the non-profit’s 40 year history in D.C.’s Langdon neighborhood providing housing services and expanding into dental, emotional wellness, and their recent expansion into their new Family Health and Birth Center.  The program offers a 12-month comprehensive postpartum care plan that is both racially and culturally catered to the patient, offers home visitation, case management, and family focus groups for birthing people of color.

“Remember the idea of rhythm. We can do anything, but we can’t do everything at once.” -Christina Ximena Marea

Erin Athey, DNP, FNP, BSN, CEO and founder of C3: Cares & faculty at the George Washington School of Nursing, presented “a place-based care model led by nurses and delivered to residents of public and affordable housing”. Dr. Athey is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who has spent nearly two decades working on the east side of Washington, D.C., as a clinician, educator, and community-engaged scholar to improve health outcomes for those who are under-resourced and disenfranchised. C3: Cares is widely recognized as a groundbreaking medical business model that promises to take healthcare delivery to a whole new level.

“We’ve been so focused on being reactive and responding to problems that we haven’t had the chance to be proactive and patient centered.” -Erin Athey

Margo Brooks Carthon, PhD, RN, FAAN recounted her nursing career and journey to find meaning in Research, Race and Health Disparities. The Penn Nursing Tyson Family Endowed Term Chair for Gerontological Research and Associate Professor, has racked up an impressive body of work on nursing outcomes research, and the relationship between the organization of nursing services and health disparities among vulnerable patient populations. She was among the first to provide evidence that racial disparities in hospital-based outcomes are associated with poor nursing quality.

“Solidifying my ‘why’ early has been a north star for me. It has helped me make decision after decision. I would advise you to figure out your why to guide you through the zigging and zagging of your career… And find your village of people who believe in you.” – J. Margo Brooks Carthon

To address these healthcare delivery concerns, she and her team developed an interdisciplinary workgroup intervention called THRIVE to provide an honest account of her experience pushing boundaries in health equity. In addition, don’t miss this important retelling of THRIVE presented by Penn Nursing and the Rita  and Alex Hillman Foundation.

Special guest, Monica R. McLemore, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, brought everything together and moderated with her wisdom about dismantling racism and moderated the Q & A. Dr. McLemore is one of the few nurse-scientists in the world with expertise in family health equity grounded in the principles of anti-racism and critical race praxis.

Dr. McLemore encouraged Scholars to think about how a coordinated community of nurses can retrofit, reform and reimagine systems to provide equitable health access.

Funding and Nursing Innovation

Ahrin Mishan discussed the Foundation’s funding trajectory and opportunities. Dr. Andrew Dierkes (PENN ’18), Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, presented a case study of a “nursing innovation that was first awarded AERO funds, then successfully competed for Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation Hillman Innovation Programs. He developed a nurse-patient matching software to be developed for use in low-resource settings to optimize patient outcomes.” The goal of the software he introduced is to improve delivery of care through leveraging healthcare’s largest workforce.

“What is the core innovation? The software is still interesting, but the real breakthrough would be cracking the algorithm for how to make an optimal assignment.” -Andrew Dierkes

Career Roundtables with Hillman Scholar Alumni

Each scholar had the opportunity to learn more about the relevant themes impacting their journey and nurse education.

  • National Clinician Scholar Program
    Alex Fauer (UMICH ’20) @ UCLA
    Gill Adynski (UNC-CH) ’20 @ Duke
  • Postdoctoral Fellowships
    Esita Patel (UNC-CH ’19) @ Hopkins
    Asa Smith (UMICH ’20) @ Indiana University,
    Patrina Sexton Topper (PENN ’20) @ University of Pennsylvania
  • Clinical
    Jessica Marsack
    (UMICH ’18) @ University of Michigan Hospital System
    Lauren Johnson (PENN ’17) @ Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
  • Education
    Guy Weissinger (PENN ’19) @ Villanova
    Alicia Kachmar (PENN ’19) @ University of Pennsylvania
  • Industry
    Hayley Germack (PENN ’15) @ Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

Graduates, Careers, and the Program

Graduates and near graduates presented on their current work and areas of interest.

  • Mary Killela (UNC-CH ’22): “Use of medical crowdfunding to mitigate health care costs.”
  • Gill Adynski (UNC-CH ’21): “Change in PEPFAR implementing partners effect on HIV service delivery: A quasi experimental study.”
  • Alasia Ledford (UNC-CH ‘22): “Implementing evidence-based mental health interventions in perinatal home visiting programs.”
  • Harry Adynski (UNC-CH ’23): “The role of social adversity on emerging emotional regulation trajectories.”
  • Martha Grace Cromeens (UNC-CH ’21): “Endometriosis diagnosis pathways and disability considerations.”

To wrap up the official program, closing remarks were given by Dr. Linda Aiken. With the final of ten cohorts of Hillman Scholars admitted, and Scholars were asked to brainstorm ideas on their vision of a robust and engaged Hillman Scholar Alumni Network.

Following the day’s activities, scholars and mentors had the opportunity to enjoy the evening networking event at the DC cultural hub where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted at Busboys and Poets.


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