Overcoming Obstacles to Develop Specialized Patient Interventions
Unique approaches to care and research are not always accepted at first, and nurse innovators everywhere often overcome many obstacles to obtain the resources and credibility needed to implement life-changing ideas and programs. This is true for Antonia M. Villarruel, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor and the Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing at The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing), who developed the successful ¡Cuídate! or “Take Care of Yourself” program.
Even with her extensive background in health promotion and health disparities research and practice, Dr. Villarruel experienced pushback in developing the ¡Cuídate! program, a culturally-based curriculum designed to reduce HIV risk among Latino youth. In a recent interview with Johnson & Johnson Nursing, Dr. Villarruel discussed the challenges and triumphs of bringing this program to life, as well as her role as a nurse leader in reducing health disparities.
My nursing career began working at two facilities in Michigan as a clinician at a migrant health center and as a residential psychiatric nurse in a transitional care home. I then worked at Children’s Hospital of Michigan (CHM) for 15 years in many positions as part of an interdisciplinary team that developed the first in-patient rehabilitation center in the hospital. I was inspired to become a nurse researcher through participating in various research efforts to assess and manage children’s pain with nursing colleagues. At CHM, we added pain as a fifth vital sign to our assessments, quickly changing how kids were being medicated. That experience of affecting direct, rapid change had me hooked on research – so I decided to pursue a PhD.
I came to Penn Nursing as faculty in 1995, when HIV was emerging as a major health concern among minority populations. We partnered with community members who were working on similar issues, as well as our colleagues, doctors Loretta and John Jemmott, who developed an intervention to reduce sexual risk behaviors among black youth. Additionally, we worked to adapt and tailor the intervention for Latino youth by incorporating salient aspects of Latino culture into the approach.
I made sure I had the evidence, I made the case, and I sought and received honest critiques of my work. In 1999, I received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of ¡Cuídate!. It was shown to reduce the number of sexual partners of participants, reduce their rate of unprotected sex, and increase the age at which they first had sex; it was also proven to be sustainable over time.