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She is a force. Energetic, decisive, attentive, thoughtful. She wears the mantle of leadership comfortably and she gets things done. She is motivated to act by a mission to care, and she means to change things for the better. She is propulsive and real, plainspoken and warm.

She is a nurse, in other words.

“Once a nurse, always a nurse,” says Dr. Nena Peragallo Montano, and her face crinkles and her eyes light up as she does so. She understands the value of this collective identity. At the bedside or in the clinic, classroom, lab, or office, she believes all nurses share her same passion for care and manifest it through a unique and valuable set of skills. They look for solutions, create a culture of support, and most of all, effect change.

As a nurse, educator, scientist, and administrator, Nena brings all these attributes and more to the School of Nursing’s dean’s suite. They inform the choices she makes as our seventh dean and inspire her leadership as she seeks new opportunities, weighs possibilities, defines options, and sets new standards for creativity and innovation in an increasingly global arena.

Until you meet her in person, here’s a sneak peek at our School’s new leader:

She greatly respects the reputation of UNC and the School of Nursing.

“Carolina is an exceptional university. It is well recognized and has a long heritage of prestige. And it’s a Research 1 university, which means a lot of important and useful research activity is taking place here, and the School of Nursing is a vital contributor to that. We have really talented faculty and students at the School, and so much potential to grow our research activity for the betterment of patients in and beyond North Carolina. I am incredibly proud to be the seventh dean of this fine School and motivated to do a job worthy of it.”

Her internationally recognized research career grew out of a single moment of profound empathy.

“I was doing clinical work with students many years ago at the start of the AIDS epidemic
when there was a lot of fear and stigma and misinformation surrounding the disease. One
of my students and I walked into the room of a patient, and it was immediately clear he had been neglected. There were trays everywhere that no one had picked up; his curtain was drawn, his room was dark, and he was entirely alone. I felt terrible for him. We cleaned the room, raised the blinds, sat down on the bed, and held his hand and talked with him. It was a terribly affecting experience. It was then I got interested in research on HIV/AIDS. My first study was a random survey of nurses’ knowledge of the disease and their attitudes and potential bias toward AIDS patients. I found a connection, but

it wasn’t that nurses didn’t want to take care of patients— it wasn’t a true bias— there just wasn’t enough knowledge in the ’80s about the AIDS epidemic. I wanted to take part in changing that.”

Her research is a change-maker.

“As an outcome of that first project, Florida changed its licensing renewal requirements for nurses to include HIV education. I was very proud of that outcome, but mostly it’s an excellent example of the very real value of nursing research to patient care. Our science isn’t an ivory tower exercise— far from it. Our science is so patient- centric it can effect real, on-the-ground change
in health care.

“From there, I went on to focus on what was happening with Latinas and HIV. At the time, attention was almost solely focused on drug users and male-to-male sex, with no attention given to women. So, when I went for my postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania (which she attended as a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Nurse Scholar),

I focused my research on women and HIV.

“I did my first big study at the University of Illinois in Chicago— it included 780 women and focused on sexually transmitted infections and HIV. It was called SEPA, which means ‘you know’ in Spanish, and it included demonstrations, role-playing, and skills building. The intervention has been extremely successful. We did a second study in Miami where we looked at the intervention’s effects on violence prevention. When President Obama issued his statement to establish a working group on the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women and girls, and gender- related health disparities, the only nursing study he cited was ours.”

SON Dean Nilda PeragalloShe asks, and listens to the answers.

“I’ve spent this early time at the School getting to know as much about it and our history as possible; likewise, our faculty, students, the University, and other schools in the university.
I have been meeting with our alumni and want to get to know our state legislators. I also want to know more about our clinical partners, as I believe collaboration with them is critical to meeting the educational needs of our students and ultimately the health care needs of the state we serve and patients beyond it.

“I love that the mission of Carolina is so uniquely tied to the people of the state. ‘Of the people, for the people’ is a beautiful and resonant ethos, and I think it behooves the School to conduct an in- depth assessment of what is needed in our state so we can direct our efforts to meet those needs.

“We know there is a shortage of nurses in North Carolina, especially in rural areas. What can our faculty, alumni, and clinical partners tell us about that shortage or other health care needs facing our neighbors? This kind of information is essential to helping us map out our direction and leverage our resources to shift focus, expand or contract programs, raise funds for new initiatives or facilities, and so on. Everything is dependent on assessing the needs of the state.”

She encourages diversity as a path to the future.

“North Carolina has a diverse population— rural and urban populations, a wide range of races and ethnicities, many vulnerable and underserved populations. I would like to see the diversity of our faculty and students mirror that of our state’s population, and I’d particularly like to see more men enter the profession.

The public we treat is diverse, and we should have nurses who look like, identify with, and talk like the people they’re taking care of. I want to diversify what we are doing in research to ensure that certain populations aren’t overlooked or ignored. We have interesting projects and a broad portfolio of funding grants on both the teaching and research fronts, and we’re well on our way to effecting real, positive change for the profession and for patients the world over.”

Her leadership is grounded in a passion for nursing.

“I’ve always loved nursing. I worked in a hospital at the bedside, and then grew into academia from clinical nurse to teacher, researcher, and administrator. I have practiced in Chile, in Germany, and other points on the globe. There are so many opportunities in this profession to do and be what you want.

“We are the largest segment of the health care community, and we should be proud. When you look at the top jobs for growth, health care is at the top. The Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing Report asks nurses to take an even greater role in our changing and complex health care system. It’s important for the School to look at how we are aligned with that effort. Carolina Nursing has a powerful reputation for excellence and visionary thinking— we’re in our rightful place when we’re leading the profession into the 21st century.”

She believes alumni turn knowledge into action.

“Our alumni are a critical part of the makeup of the School of Nursing and integral to our identity. They know the school. They’re so proud of being Carolina nurses and they’re such an asset: they are our representatives, our public image, and our ambassadors. I love meeting our alumni
face to face and hearing the School’s history direct from the source.

“I want to understand our alumni’s thoughts, opinions, and vision for their alma mater. I want them to have a close relationship with the School and vice versa, so they can lead us to opportunities and relationships they have cultivated.

“We have a lot of work to do together: we need to feed the pipeline for retiring nurses and nurse faculty; we need to advance the discipline; we need to diversify our resources— and they can help us prepare the next generation to serve. Their input is integral to the advancement of

our agenda, and it is a win-win for everyone who is engaged and invested in the School.”

She will push the envelope.

“It’s a priority to grow research here at Carolina Nursing— it’s a useful source of much-needed funding, but more importantly, it’s a direct reflection of our mission, and a way for the School to effect real, lasting change in health care and improve the lives of humankind.

“We have a great and talented faculty who are doing a terrific job and want to do more to advance good health and well-being.

“And we’re in the midst of conducting a thoughtful environmental scan because health care is changing daily, and nurses are important to all the changes. We need to communicate with our clinical partners and ask, ‘What are you looking for, and how can we meet those needs?’ We need to respond by evaluating our programs based on those needs and updating our curriculum.

“I want to see Carolina Nursing go to the very top of nursing school rankings— not because rankings are important in and of themselves, but because they’re a measure of our success in bringing the best in nursing education, research, and service to people in and beyond North Carolina. It may take us a little time, but we will do it.”


Dr. Nena Peragallo Montano

Doctor of Public Health, the University of Texas

Master of Science in Nursing, West Virginia Univeristy

Bachelor of Science in Nursing, the University of Chile

Fellow, the American Academy of Nursing

Inductee, Sigma Theta Tau International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame

Dr. Peragallo Montano is internationally known for her research in health disparities, cultural competency, and the recruitment and retention of minorities in nursing.

— reprinted from UNC’s Carolina Nursing magazine. To access the original document, please click here.

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