BSN, RN, Student PMHNP
Neema Shayo is fortunate to have managed to combine circumstances, experiences, and intentions to ignite a passion and launch a career. Born in Tanzania, a country burdened by widespread food insecurity and a culture that discourages talk of mental health challenges, she was surprised to see these twin afflictions here in the US as well. Since then, her education, her work, and her service have directly addressed both of these needs.
The arc that carried Neema to nursing began at a young age; as she says, “I wanted to do my part in raising awareness and education, as well as helping those who struggle with their mental health and show others that it is nothing to be ashamed of.” She began exploring her interest in mental health in high school, when she took an introductory course in psychology at her local community college. That, in turn, led her to the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Nursing, where she received her BSN and RN degrees, cum laude. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree at the University of California, Long Beach, while also working as a psychiatric registered nurse at a crisis stabilization unit.
While at Pitt, Neema signed up for the Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program, where she was matched to Dr. Willa Doswell as her mentor. Dr. Doswell is a notable public figure in the greater Pittsburgh area and the recipient of numerous honors for her community service, most notably for her research and engagement with the African-American community there and her particular interest in promoting the health of adolescent and pre-adolescent African-American girls. It was Dr. Doswell, herself a recipient of an MFP/ANA Fellowship some 45 years earlier, who told Neema about the program and encouraged her to apply.
In Neema’s own words, “The MFP/ANA Fellowship has allowed me to connect with other students of color across the nation who are pursuing a higher education in the field of mental health. It has given me a community and a sense of belonging. Without the MFP/ANA Fellowship, I would not have access to the vast network of scholars, mentors, and leaders who guide me and inspire me along my journey.”
When she arrived at Pitt, Neema says she was “shocked and saddened to see all of the food waste in the dining halls,” and thereafter, in her freshman year, joined the Food Recovery Network (Food Recovery Heroes at Pitt), an organization that delivered leftover campus foods to the surrounding food banks. Neema served on the executive board throughout her undergraduate career; during that time, the group’s work steadily expanded from food recovery at a single dining hall to a second dining hall, on-campus restaurants, and sports events. That work was further buttressed when she, along with other members, further worked to promote food security by meeting directly with members of Congress on Capitol Hill during a nationwide food dialogue to raise awareness.
Drawing together the threads of mental health and food insecurity, Neema is keenly aware of the interconnected challenges that many people; particularly communities of color, face. After completing her Master’s, Neema aims to work with underserved minority populations.
Mental health issues,” says Neema, are “not a confined problem.”
“At the food banks I volunteered at, I met people who couldn’t afford refills of their psychotropic medications. During my home health visits in my clinical rotations, I encountered patients struggling with repeat psychiatric hospitalizations. When I was teaching recitation in the School of Nursing, I saw that many students faced mental health challenges of their own, such as anxiety. Through my courses, clubs, and clinicals, I saw the disarrayed state of our nation’s mental health care network. I realized the dire need for improved comprehensive care. It is those experiences that continue to shape me and fuel my passion of becoming a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.”
Ms. Shayo is available for talks and panel discussions. For information, please contact her here: firstname.lastname@example.org