Scholar Story: J. Margo Brooks Carthon, PhD
“As nurses, we are concerned with more than caring for the sick, we are invested in the protection and promotion of health. This requires us to focus on caring for individuals in a holistic manner — and taking under consideration how factors such as socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and culture influence how individuals access and engage with the health care system.”
If Margo retired tomorrow, she would want her work to have improved policies and practices that influence health outcomes for vulnerable populations. Specifically, she would want her work to have influenced and empowered her community to take control of its own health trajectory. Growing up as a “child of the Civil Rights era,” with a family tied strongly to its community, Margo wouldn’t have it any other way. She has always felt a sense of mission, and was connected to social justice for the community that she loved and cared for.
Helping the Community She Grew up Loving
Growing up in a household with family members who were often sick, Margo desired from an early age to influence the health of the people she loved.
These influences drew her to nursing. “I wanted to apply my knowledge and help communities as a whole,” Margo says.
After practicing as a nurse for some time, Margo notes that she saw “clear and marked differences in how individuals in minority communities and historically disadvantaged communities received care and engaged with the health care system.”
This inequality was a turning point for her. She couldn’t ignore the fact that minority populations — including her own family members and many others in her community — were struggling to navigate the complex worlds of medicine, specialists, and health care providers.
While pursuing her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, Margo recalls merging years of experience as a nurse with her passion for health care equity. “This fusion has led to my program of research, which has illustrated that direct care providers, such as nurses, are in unique positions to influence the trajectory of health care due to our close and frequent interactions with patient and families.”
Margo also found that efforts of nurses were undermined, however, when nurses work in settings that were poorly staffed or working conditions were poor. Black patients, notably, were more likely to be hospitalized in such settings
Through her research, Margo has discovered the link between nursing care and health disparities. She found that older blacks disproportionately experience a lack of nursing care, which puts them at a higher risk for re-hospitalizations after a heart attack. She works toward making sure there is a reduction in readmission disparities, which means ensuring that “nurses at the front lines can attend to the complex social and healthcare needs of populations most in need.”
Gaining Confidence through a New Connections Grant
In addition to discovering the link between nursing care and health disparities, Margo had the opportunity to further study racial disparities through her New Connections grant. New Connections provided her with research support and protected time as well as provided her with new confidence and connected her with invaluable mentors. She continues to connect regularly with other scholars to exchange experiences and discuss potential research projects.
Pursuing a career in the Academy can be a daunting task, Margo attests. “New Connections showed me that other people who look like me can achieve amazing things, and that I can be one of them.”