Samuel Merritt University and Sutter Health Launch Nation’s First Health Equity Nursing Fellowship

Bill Hendee

Samuel Merritt University (SMU), a national leader in health science education, has partnered with Sutter Health, an integrated, not-for-profit healthcare system based in Northern California, to launch a new Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Fellowship aimed at developing future health equity nursing leaders.

The Sutter Health & Samuel Merritt University Health Equity Nursing Fellowship is a collaboration between Sutter's Institute for Advancing Health Equity and Sutter's Chief Nursing Officer, as well as SMU's Ethnic Health Institute and the SMU College of Nursing.

“The goal here is to be an incubator for the next generation of health equity-minded nurses and nursing leaders,” says Sam Alavi-Irvine, Founding Director of the SMU Center for Community Engagement which oversees the Ethnic Health Institute.

The compensated fellowship will place students at a Sutter health equity site where they will receive mentorship as they pursue a health equity project that counts toward their DNP progress. The fellowship provides an opportunity to participate in groundbreaking research that can be directly applied in clinical settings.

Alavi-Irvine was not surprised at the level of student interest in the fellowship given its focus on equity in maternal health and birth, mental and behavioral health, chronic disease outcomes, and care transitions and access. “A lot of our students, when given the opportunity, want to be doing health equity work.” Key stakeholders from SMU and Sutter interviewed three finalists after the initial applicant pool was narrowed down.

The panel chose Irene Arroyo-Romero, MSN-FNP ’21, DNP ’24, as the inaugural recipient of the DNP Health Equity Fellowship. “I feel very excited that Irene's our first fellow,” says Alavi-Irvine, “Irene’s passion and her experience speak for themselves and really set the tone for the type of candidates we anticipate will make an impact through this fellowship.” The panel cited Arroyo-Romero’s motivation to make an impact and her initiative in creating an afterschool program—El Corazon de la Salud—which exposes high school students to healthcare professions. 

Irene Arroyo-Romero, MSN-FNP '21, DNP '24
 Irene Arroyo-Romero, MSN-FNP ’21, DNP ’24

In addition to her DNP candidacy, Arroyo-Romero works as a family nurse practitioner in a Federally Qualified Health Center where more than 80 percent of her patients speak Spanish only. She is a first-generation Mexican American whose experience as the medical interpreter for her Spanish-speaking family and lack of health care access while growing up inspired her journey to become a health equity leader. When she heard about the fellowship, Arroyo-Romero says she recognized the opportunity it presented for her to work with underserved communities and incorporate mental health into overall patient well-being while providing the mentorship to make changes within healthcare.

The fellowship will begin on September 1. Arroyo-Romero is still in the research stage of her health equity project with plans to investigate medication adherence among Latinx patients. Arroyo-Romero says her goal is “to shed some light on providing care that's culturally competent and attuned to the Latinx community, and then also provide the resources to the Latinx community to be able to better care for their own health.” She hopes to ultimately publish her findings.

“I want to make sure that the Latinx community is heard. Ultimately, I want to help other healthcare providers understand the Latinx community in a way that can be more impactful and more meaningful.”

Sam Alavi-Irvine calls Arroyo-Romero “the perfect person to start a project and work to make sure that this fellowship opportunity is even better for future students. Irene's a leader in that way, too.”

The DNP Health Equity fellowship will select two fellows each year moving forward. Alavi-Irvine hopes “that it will draw prospective students to SMU knowing that they will be rewarded for health equity work, and that it will help us diversify our student body even more. SMU and our nursing students will be playing a leadership role in setting the national conversation around health equity.”

Sam Alavi-Irvine calls Arroyo-Romero “the perfect person to start a project and work to make sure that this fellowship opportunity is even better for future students. Irene's a leader in that way, too.”

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