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How Mentorship Enriches This Nursing Student's Experience

April 2, 2024

Jaelyn WalkerJaelyn Walker, a nursing student in her senior year at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, recalls the pivotal conversation that motivated her to get more involved in community projects and professional associations.

Walker was talking with her mentor, Monica Harmon, MSN, MPH, RN, an assistant clinical professor at the college and executive director of its Community Wellness HUB.

“I’ve sometimes lacked the confidence to go after things,” Walker said. “And Monica said, ‘Well, did someone tell you no? You don’t know what your answer is until someone tells you no.’”

To speak with Walker, you’d be surprised to learn she ever felt timid about pursuing her goals. Her passion for learning, taking initiative and making a difference shines brightly and is evidenced by the breadth of opportunities she’s made the most of during her time at Drexel.

One of those opportunities was an internship last summer with Independence Blue Cross, working at Drexel University’s Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services. The program required Walker to come up with a research project and the topic she selected was inspired by her work at 11th St.

“Over 95 percent of the patient population at 11th Street is African American, and one of my primary interests as an African American is behavioral health, because a lot of people don’t talk about it,” Walker said.

Walker noticed that many patients at 11th St. had a pattern of hypertension (high blood pressure) and seeking behavioral health services. She proposed a study involving patients with both hypertension and a behavioral health diagnosis, such as depression, bipolar disorder, etc. Walker was curious to know the impact hypertension had on the patient’s behavioral health, depending on whether the hypertension was controlled or uncontrolled.

“My research indicated that the 11th Street clinic statistically had a higher treatment rate for patients living with a behavioral health diagnosis compared to the national average,” Walker said.

Walker currently works at the HUB, where she helps with educational events, health screenings and clinical services. Her position is part of the AmeriCorps Public Health Nursing Fellowship, a program for nursing students committed to working in community health.

She’s also enrolled in the Macy Undergraduate Leadership Fellows program, a personal development program for Drexel undergraduate students in public health, nursing and the health professions. There, she was paired with mentor Rashidah Abdul-Khabeer, RN, MHS, PhD, a public health advocate whose work on behalf of Philadelphia’s Black HIV/AIDS community is renowned.

In addition, Walker is an active student member of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Area Black Nurses Association (SEPABNA) and was recently elected as second vice president for 2024.

“I love the community…you have people who really support you and are rooting for you through nursing school. Anytime I’ve struggled in school or needed something, there have been at least five people I could personally call at SEPABNA who would help me,” she said.

One of those helpers is Harmon. Though she works at Drexel, the two initially met through SEPABNA, for which Harmon serves as chapter president.

“When Jaelyn first came in, she wasn’t looking to be led around. She just said, ‘What can I do?’ and jumped in and worked,” Harmon said. “The future of nursing is bright because of young people like Jaelyn who are stepping up to the profession.”

Jaelyn Walker at SEPABNASEPABNA has provided Walker with invaluable networking opportunities, including the chance to connect with members of the American Nurses Association and the National Black Nurses Association at NBNA Day on Capitol Hill last February. It was at this event that she was invited to speak to the group and share her ideas for addressing racism and discrimination at the bedside.

“It was a very cool experience and great to have my opinions heard,” Walker said, adding that health equity is a calling that’s very serious and meaningful to her.

Post-graduation, Walker’s plans include at least a year of clinical work, earning her master’s degree and eventually starting her own nonprofit organization specializing in women’s health and gender-inclusive health care.

“That’s something I’m passionate about and have always wanted to do since I was in high school. I want to serve communities that I feel are underserved,” she said, adding that her mother’s career in public health helped shape her from a young age.

“I loved what my mom did for a living,” she said.

In fact, of all the accomplished, inspirational mentors Walker has had the opportunity to learn from, none has influenced her more than her mom.

“I look up to her. She’s definitely inspired me to chase all of my goals and dreams,” Walker said.

By Abby Schwartz