Urmeka Jefferson Joins Nurse Leader Fellowship at UC Davis

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

By Gema Tinoco

Urmeka T. Jefferson, PhD, RN, associate professor at Rush University College of Nursing, is one of 10 nurse scientists accepted to the second cohort of the Betty Irene Moore Fellowship for Nurse Leaders and Innovators. This fellowship program, funded by a $37.5 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, recognizes early- to mid-career nursing scholars and innovators with a high potential to accelerate leadership in nursing research, practice, education, policy and entrepreneurship.

As part of the three-year fellowship program, fellows receive $450,000 to conduct an innovative project or study with the potential to address a gap in knowledge, meet a vital need, alter care delivery or design a new solution to advance health.

With more than 16 years of experience caring for mothers and critically ill infants, Jefferson seeks to expand best practices in maternal-child health that promote equity and social justice. Her research focuses on breastfeeding interventions that resonate with the cultural and contextual traditions of African American mothers. Jefferson’s fellowship project will focus on refining Mother’s Milk Connection, an app she developed to streamline quality breastfeeding support and community services from hospitals to African American mothers at home, conducting usability testing and examining breastfeeding outcomes in a primary care setting. With an urgent need across the nation to redesign healthcare systems to better serve the needs of diverse communities, Jefferson’s research is helping to address this challenge and will positively impact the health of generations to come.

Jefferson is in the second cohort of the fellowship program, providing her with distinct exposure to exceptional mentoring and structured leadership training that will accelerate her journey as a nursing scholar. “I’m excited about the potential impact of the Mother’s Milk Connection model on reducing breastfeeding disparities, preventing illness and promoting the health of African American mothers,” says Jefferson. “Communities with the lowest breastfeeding rates are less likely to have access to successful evidence-based interventions, thereby compounding the deleterious impact on mothers and infants. The app will help to bridge that gap and promote convenient access to community services.”

Christine M. Kennedy, PhD, RN, FAAN, the John L. and Helen Kellogg Dean of the Rush University College of Nursing, believes Jefferson is uniquely qualified to change the paradigm for support of African American mothers. “Having spent years working in the community, she is highly knowledgeable and committed to supporting Black women’s health,” says Kennedy. “Her design ideas are innovative and have the ability to reach young women at any time or place.”

“To address low breastfeeding completion rates, we need to meet mothers where they are,” says Kennedy. “Dr. Jefferson’s unique research addresses this and can contribute to positive maternal and neonatal thriving which will affect health outcomes across the country.”

“Babies get a strong start in life with breastfeeding, ensuring mothers have the full support of partners, health care providers, and using evidence-based approaches. Babies who breastfeed for six months benefit from early connections critical to their well-being and development. It’s a win-win.”

In addition to the project, the fellowship program features a hybrid online and classroom curriculum designed and taught in partnership with the UC Davis Graduate School of Management to enhance leadership and innovation capacity, strengthen strategic thinking and collaborative skills, expand professional networks, develop entrepreneurial skills, and propel innovative ideas to fruition. A mentor selected by the fellow and an additional mentor provided by the national program office round out the educational experience.

“We’re delighted to provide fellows with a unique learning opportunity to fully understand their roles as leaders and how they can shape and influence health systems to deliver on the promise for better and more equitable experiences and outcomes for all they serve,” said Heather M. Young, professor, as well as dean emerita of the school, who now serves as national program director for the fellowship. “We expect this next generation of nursing leaders to have a widespread impact not only in their own communities but nationwide.”

The fellowship program is made possible by Betty Irene Moore’s passion to advance nursing with the goal of better outcomes for individuals, families and communities. The foundation seeks to prepare nurses as collaborative leaders with the skills and confidence to inspire others, enact change and challenge the status quo. With the creation of the Betty Irene Moore Fellowship for Nurse Leaders and Innovators, the foundation supports nurse leaders who take ideas to scale that advance high-quality, high-value care and optimal health outcomes.