Dr. Cindy West
Dr. Cindy West

The University of Texas Medical Branch's School of Nursing, under the leadership of Dr. Cindy West, the inaugural Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Assistant Professor in the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program, was 1 of 50 schools selected by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) to participate in a national initiative designed to foster inclusive learning environments and build a more diverse nursing workforce.

The project Building a Culture of Belonging in Academic Nursing, was launched in January 2022 to help schools of nursing create environments where students, faculty, and staff possess a strong sense of belonging and are encouraged to thrive, according to a national release sent in late July.

As a nursing professional for the past 26 years, Dr. West credits her passion for nursing to her late mother and her father who always told her that she must work hard, play hard, but keep your eyes on the prize, she said.

I was completely shocked yet overjoyed with excitement when I got the news about being selected to participate in this project, Dr. West said. I periodically reflect upon my work and self-evaluate what I can do better as a nurse and how I can give back to the nursing profession. This acknowledgement/opportunity was one of these moments.

This opportunity is a prize, yet I remain humble and grateful thanking God for it all knowing this is just the beginning of many new things to come at SON.

As the new leader of DEI at SON, Dr. West, who currently serves on local, state, and national DEI focused boards and organizations including the UTMB Institutional Diversity and Inclusion Council and the Texas Association of Nurse Anesthetist Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce just to name a few, has always been an advocate of doing the right thing and advocating for the underrepresented, fairness, and ensuring that everyone has a voice at the table, she said.

As an active listener and diversity leader, Dr. West hopes to bring awareness and equity while creating a safe space for a sense of belonging to the SON community.

We strive for a thriving, inclusive environment where our graduates are a part of a diverse nursing, workforce making an impactful change on the local, state, national and global levels, Dr. West said. It is critical to advance nursing education to our students so they can provide high quality culturally appropriate care to our communities.

One of the major initiatives that will soon be launched is the AACN LAMP-Culture & Climate survey, Dr. West said.

This special initiative will create the foundation that will garden new diversity efforts focusing on inclusive language, a safe space, and transparent communications, as well as identify gaps to integrate diversity within the nursing curriculum.

DEI work cannot be done solely by one person, Dr. West said. The adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child' is an example of the need for every individual to create change. This is what makes this new diversity program dynamic. To move forward we must acknowledge the past.

Since her start here at the SON, Dr. West has developed a new DEI Advisory Committee comprised of members committed to the vision of achieving excellence and professionalism through Diversity & Inclusion, Respect, Accountability and Transparency at SON.

The committee will include incentives for completion of the Culture & Climate survey, which will launch in late September, as well as promote a T-shirt contest seeking a DEI symbol recognizing those who will be doing/leading diversity work on campus or in the community, Dr. West said.

All voices should be heard here at the SON, Dr. West said. Students, faculty, and staff must work synergistically to create a sense of belonging. If there is an idea or matter focused on diversity, we welcome you to the table for an open discussion. Everyone a part of SON is invited to become involved.

Dr. West received the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Workplace certification from the University of South Florida-MUMA College of Business in 2021 and is currently completing her DEI certification from Cornell University.