August 15, 2023

As a child of immigrants, Melissa Ojemeni, PhD (MEYERS ’18) (she/her), was deeply influenced by the stark contrast between the life she has and the life she could have had. Read about how her passion for social justice and equity set her on a path to becoming Deputy Chief Nursing Officer at Partners In Health.

Melissa Ojemeni

As a child of immigrants, Melissa Ojemeni, Ph.D. (MEYERS ’18) (she/her), was deeply influenced by the stark contrast between the life she had and the life she could have had. When burying a family member back in her family’s village, Melissa was struck by the immense beauty of the land and yet that image was juxtaposed with the lack of development and opportunity she had witnessed in that same space. It made her wonder where she’d be today if her parents had not left when they did. “This realization has fueled my passion for social justice and equity irrespective of where someone is born,” she says.

Nursing became the gateway for Melissa to make a difference given the community outreach opportunities it provided, its scientific foundation, and its holistic approach to improving lives. She says, “[nursing] has also equipped me with a versatile skill set that has allowed me to serve and learn globally.”

Over her 15 years as a clinical bedside nurse, Melissa bore witness to significant challenges in both patient care and in the population’s overall state of health. Throughout these years she gained invaluable lessons from her patients, colleagues, mentors, and students who she credits for having shaped her into the nurse she is today. 

Read about Melissa’s current role as Deputy Chief Nursing Officer at Partners In Health, the journey that led her to this point, and her thoughts on nursing and healthcare today:

Tell us about your role as the deputy Chief Nursing Officer at Partners In Health?

As Deputy Chief Nursing Officer at Partners In Health, my role is to provide strategic oversight and leadership to enhance nursing and midwifery practice across multiple countries and regions. I work collaboratively with a dedicated team to support our colleagues on the ground, ensuring they have the resources and assistance they need to deliver quality care. This includes various forms of support such as resource mobilization, grant writing, thought partnership, and research. 

With over 50 percent of Partners In Health staff being nurses and midwives, our focus is on strengthening their practice and promoting their professional growth. Through our collective efforts, we aim to improve healthcare outcomes and address the unique challenges faced by our patients and colleagues in different countries.

How did your education at NYU help you on this trajectory? 

Obtaining my PhD through Meyers has been instrumental in shaping my trajectory and providing me with valuable opportunities in the field of global health. The rigorous academic program at Meyers has placed me on equal footing with other practitioners, regardless of their educational background. 

Through my studies, I had the privilege of learning from esteemed leaders and pioneers in global health nursing, including Drs. Ann Kurth, Allison Squires, and Robin Klar. Their instruction and mentorship equipped me with real-world applicability and credibility in various professional settings, both within and outside of NYU.

Additionally, in 2012, Meyers was selected as one of the nursing schools to participate in the Human Resources for Health program in Rwanda. This groundbreaking initiative aimed to strengthen and rebuild the Rwandan healthcare system. Being part of the inaugural year of this program was a transformative experience for me. 

As a clinical mentor, I had the opportunity to build relationships and collaborate with counterparts in Rwanda, sharing my expertise in nursing care and providing guidance to both clinical professionals and students. This immersive experience further enriched my understanding of global health challenges and solidified my commitment to making a meaningful impact in healthcare systems worldwide. 

Melissa speaking at the University of Global Health Equity

Melissa addressing nursing and midwifery leaders at the University of Global Health Equity, Kigali

Looking back at your career so far, what are you most proud of?

Stewarding a new generation of nursing students and leaders. As a co-leader of a global nurse executive fellowship, I have had the privilege of witnessing the remarkable growth, upward mobility, and professional gains of almost two dozen colleagues. Seeing their progress and achievements has been immensely gratifying, as their efforts have had a significant impact on the lives of thousands of individuals.

Through their dedication, I have witnessed improved patient outcomes, enhanced work environments for staff, and increased nursing representation at national and international forums. It is a source of great humility for me to contribute to the development and empowerment of nursing professionals who are making tremendous strides in healthcare and shaping the future of our profession.

What was your experience as a clinical bedside nurse of 15 years? 

Reflecting on my 15 years of clinical experience as a bedside nurse, I have observed a concerning decline in the overall health of the population, presenting significant challenges in delivering optimal care. The prevalence of chronic diseases, lifestyle-related illnesses, and socioeconomic disparities has grown, placing greater demands on already fragile healthcare systems. 

As a result, the work environments for nurses have become increasingly complex and demanding, with higher patient acuity, staffing shortages, and limited resources that stretch our capabilities to the limit. 

However, amidst these challenges, I have also encountered exciting opportunities within the profession. I have been able to transition within my career from a provider, researcher, and consultant to an executive now, which has allowed me to contribute to the advancement of nursing practice. 

Throughout my journey, I have gained invaluable lessons from my patients, colleagues, mentors and students which have shaped me into the nurse I am today. I am immensely grateful for the unwavering support I have received along my career path.

Having worked as a nurse in the US and internationally, what would you say is the biggest challenge facing nurses in the US? 

As a profession comprising over five million people, we have a powerful collective voice that is currently underutilized in advocating for policy and regulation changes, not only within the nursing profession but within healthcare and also in non-healthcare sectors. By harnessing our strength in numbers, we can drive meaningful change on issues that are not only important to our profession but also to society as a whole. 

Melissa Ojemeni

Melissa providing closing remarks during a week-long intensive session during the Global Nurse Executive Fellowship

What is a health practice or policy that you wish the US would implement that is done internationally? And vice versa, what is a health practice or policy that is done in the US that you wish could be done internationally?

When considering health practice and policy, there are two areas I wish the US would look to in our international counterparts. Firstly, the implementation of more inclusive maternal and paternal leave policies to support families. Secondly, a greater emphasis on preventative healthcare to reduce disease burdens and improve population health. 

On the other hand, an important health policy or practice that I wish could be exported quicker to other countries are the technological advances in equipment and treatments to communities that need them the most.

Did you have any NYU classes or instructors who inspired or impacted you?

  • Dr. Deborah Chyun, for her executive presence and leadership
  • Dr. Allison Squires, for her mentorship and devotion to her students
  • Dr. Robin Klar, for her understanding and ease of speaking through challenges, which was helpful
  • Dr. Ann Kurth, for paving the road for nursing research and scientific inquiry
  • Dr. Victoria Vaughan-Dickson, and Dr. Amy Witkoski Stimpfel, both of whom gave me a T-42 grant on occupational and environmental health nursing

What was your favorite local NYU/NYC hangout spot? 

It’s closed now, but La Caye in downtown Brooklyn, which was a Haitian Restaurant.