Thee-time UAB graduate Pamela G. Bowen, PhD, CRNP, FNP-BC, is an associate professor of nursing with more than 18 years of experience as a certified family nurse practitioner. Her patient population is predominantly African Americans with obesity-related chronic illnesses, and her program of research focuses on physical activity, obesity reduction, successful minority aging, and reducing health disparities among African Americans. For African Heritage and Health Week, which takes place the first week of February, Dr. Bowen wrote about her research on emphasizing physical activity to positively affect overall health.
Q: What led you to pursue a career in nursing?
I believe that it was divine intervention. Growing up as a child, I was always interested in being a “bank manager,” so I decided on a career in business. However, one career day in high school, I met a UAB recruiter that said, “Your grades are so good, you should go into nursing.” After giving it some thought, I applied to UAB as a pre-nursing major student, and the rest is history.
Q: After receiving your Bachelors of Nursing, what led you to pursue additional degrees?
While in nursing school a friend of mine and I always talked about furthering our education. After graduation with my BSN, I worked one year to fulfill my scholarship requirement, but as soon as my obligations were completed, I started working at UAB hospital part-time in preparation of pursuing my MSN degree at UABSON after I had two years of nursing experience. After obtaining my MSN, I began my career in home health care. This is where I learned about social determinants of health, even though that was not the buzz terminology at that time.
As I moved up the ranks in the home health agency, the regional director saw potential in me and recommended I manage a branch office. She encouraged me to obtain my Bachelor of Business Administration, which I did. Soon after graduation, the Balance Budget Act was implemented, and many businesses started downsizing and unfortunately, I was in that number. Although I was disappointed to be downsized, it was one of the best things to happen to me.
This provided me with the opportunity to pursue my post-MSN FNP certification, which ultimately provided me with the opportunity to work with Dr. Gail Hill on her grant entitled, “A Culturally Competent Online Family Nurse Practitioner Program.” Working at the UABSON was surreal because I would think, “I actually went to school here and now I am teaching here.” After working here a couple of years, Dr. Elizabeth Stullenbarger came to my office and encouraged me to pursue my doctorate degree. I hadn’t even considered a terminal degree, but I was glad that I did pursue and obtain my PhD because it opened up opportunities for me as a scientist to work to reduce the many health disparities that exist in our society.
Q: How did your education at the UAB School of Nursing prepare you for your career and your research?
My education at UABSON, along with my different places of employment, increased my awareness of the many issues that disproportionately impact minority and vulnerable populations as previously described. Obtaining my PhD in Nursing and working at UABSON afforded me the opportunity to be selected to attend the UAB Health Disparity Research Training Program. This program was a foundational step in my journey as a scientist building a program of research that builds from my dissertation work, which encompasses physical activity promotion, obesity reduction, and minority aging.
Q: Your research and clinical experience predominantly focuses on predominantly African Americans with obesity-related chronic illnesses. Why is it important to focus research on this population, and how do you hope to impact health care and community health through your research?
Growing up as a member of in the African American community allowed me to have the lived experiences that many others in this population experience. Many of my family and friends are burdened by chronic conditions such as hypertension, obesity, heart disease, asthma, arthritis, etc. These conditions can be managed, controlled, or prevented by engaging in a healthy lifestyle that encompasses regular physical activity. It is my hope that one day we can get all stakeholders (individuals across the lifespan, health care providers, health care systems, and decision/policy makers to see the value in disease prevention and health promotion. It is important that all people engage in healthy lifestyles in order to decrease the financial burden on our health care systems because we have to treat so many chronic conditions for vulnerable populations who many times are under or uninsured.
Q: In addition to your research, teaching, and clinical experience, you are also involved in state and national organizations focused on health initiatives for African Americans and other populations (for example, the Minority Health and Research Center). As a nurse and leader in the field, why is it important to remain involved in these organizations and committees?
Yes—I am honored to have been selected to serve in these organizations. I believe that in order to have real change as far as racial quality there must be equal representation of all people who will be impacted by decision made. It is also important to have nurses at the table because we bring a unique prospective to health care when compared to our physician and basic science colleagues.
Q: As a wrap up question, what advice would you give to someone pursuing a career in nursing?
Any person who is considering a career in nursing should really self-reflect and determine “Why nursing?” It saddens me when I hear people say, “I went into nursing because I knew that I could find a job.” I believe that nursing is a calling—NOT just a job. If people are not pursuing a career in nursing because the true essence of themselves encompasses compassion and dedication for all people, then this is not the career for them. However, if you are dedicated to be a lifelong learner who is willing to provide and ensure high quality and empathetic care to all people regardless of race, social class, gender, sexual orientation, as well as a willingness to protect overall public health, then this is the career for you.