"Healthcare is a Human Right"
Jennifer Dohrn, DNP, CNM
Jennifer Dohrn is the director of the Office of Global Initiatives and an assistant professor at Columbia Nursing where she teaches community health. She oversees collaboration with Columbia Global Centers and leads the Columbia Nursing WHO Collaborative Health Center for Advanced Practice Nursing. Dohrn has worked as a nurse educator and nurse midwife for more than two decades. She previously served as the program director of the Nurse Midwifery program at Columbia Nursing and as project director for the ICAP Nurse Capacity Building Program/Nursing Education Partnership Initiative Coordinating Center at Mailman School of Public Health. For more than a decade at ICAP, she worked to improve the infrastructure for nurses and nurse midwives in 12 Sub Saharan African countries. She continues to contribute to the ICAP program and works at a community health center in the Bronx. She received MS and DNP degrees from Columbia Nursing.
Q: What made you want to become a nurse midwife and eventually, pursue your clinical doctorate in nursing?
A: Giving birth to my three children with the assistance of midwives was so empowering that it became clear that I needed to become a midwife and share this powerful experience with other women. I feel fortunate to have helped thousands of women safely deliver babies right here in New York City and on the other side of the world.
When the DNP degree was implemented into the curriculum at Columbia Nursing, it provided clinicians the opportunity to expand our practice and offer complete care to patients. It was empowering for me to manage a patient’s care from a clinical setting to hospital admission and then back into a community health facility without disruption. Having a DNP makes it possible for me serve people lacking access to quality care, which has always been my passion.
Q: What role do nurses and nurse midwives play in global health and ultimately, in reducing health disparities? What can NGOs and universities do to better support and educate them?
Globally, nurses and midwives are often the primary health providers within a community, because health care systems often operate with minimal resources and infrastructure. Since the onset of the HIV pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa, nurses and midwives have been on the frontlines caring for patients. These practitioners have opened many doors to addressing HIV as well as maternal and infant health in more effective ways. We need to expand nurse’s education and clinical skills in the developing world and give them a larger role in determining their countries’ health policies. Health care is a human right. Universities have a responsibility to share their knowledge and create partnerships with other countries’ ministries of health and NGOs to reduce the great health inequities in the third world such as maternal mortality, infant mortality and HIV infection.
Q: How do you envision the work done through Columbia Nursing’s Office of Global initiatives having an impact on reducing global health disparities?
The Office of Global Initiatives serves as a hub where collaborations with international ministries of health, other nursing and midwifery schools, and the Columbia Global Centers to expand the capacity of nurses globally through our faculty’s research, education, and clinical expertise.
Our objective is to reduce health disparities through a process of exchange and contribution. We are examining nursing through a global lens and working with nursing leadership in other countries to research best practices and identify gaps in our understanding of population needs as well as mentoring nursing researchers. Among the individual projects at Columbia Nursing that serve this mission are our clinical rotation for ETP students at an HIV clinic in the Dominican Republic and ethnographic research done on traditional birth attendants in Bangladesh.
Q: You spent more than a decade working in Sub Saharan Africa, and continue to work in countries including Mozambique, Swaziland and Kenya. How have your experiences in this continent influenced your teaching and approach to addressing global health disparities?
I have witnessed unacceptable suffering and death from treatable conditions in other parts of the world throughout my entire career. I worked with rural African midwives who courageously struggled to provide quality health while working without access to clean water or electricity. I have also seen ministries of health open their doors to include nurses in decision making. My teaching reflects those experiences. We live in a global community and we are obligated to contribute to high quality health care for everyone. This idea informs everything I teach.
Q: You still work at Morris Heights Health Center/ Women’s Health and Birthing Center in the Bronx, the same community health center that you helped form in 1987. Very few nurse practitioners work in the same community for decades. What impact have you seen in this community that is a direct result of the care received at this clinic?
I have been very fortunate to serve such a diverse community of women and families for more than 25 years. When the clinic first opened, one-third of the community’s mothers had no health care when they gave birth. Today, I see many local women enter care early in their pregnancy. I watched HIV ravage this community in the 80s and 90s, and now I see HIV positive women receive care, live long lives, and have healthy babies. I helped women deliver babies there, then later helped their daughters give birth. This community is like an extended family to me.