Public health nurse credits Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health for award

By Rich Schneider

IU Communications Specialist

If Jessica Gonzalez Contreras had given an acceptance speech like they do for the Oscars, she knows who she would have thanked when she received a national health award.

Contreras credits her educational experiences at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis for her Breakthrough Leaders in Nursing Award, created by the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a joint initiative of AARP and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Jessica Gonzalez Contreras receives award

Jessica Gonzalez Contreras receives award

The Indianapolis public health nurse is among the first 10 recipients of the award recognizing nurses who make “extraordinary efforts to improve the health and lives of people in her community.” The award celebrates nurse leadership and the importance nurses’ efforts to improve health and health care.

Contreras, who graduated in May 2014 with a Master of Public Health, points to two educational experiences in particular: a three-week trip to Beijing and a monthlong trip to South Africa.

“Those two experiences gave me a better understanding of other cultures, the importance of diversity, and they really showed me how other countries are dealing with issues in their health care systems,” she said. “It inspired me to kind of think outside of the box as a nurse.”

One question she’s heard a lot: What is it like getting a Master of Public Health as a nurse?

“I always describe it as phenomenal,” Contreras said. “It really made me become a better nurse and gave me a better understanding of how to work with other health professionals. In order to be a successful future leader, you have to have a good understanding of that.”

Contreras was raised by teenage parents in a Texas family of migrant workers, who told her that the best way to another life was college. While she was in high school, her grandfather was diagnosed with cancer; watching the nurses who cared for him inspired her to become a nurse.

Knowing that the costs were prohibitive for her family, she worked to earn top grades and qualify for scholarships.

“I have come full circle,” said Contreras, who provides in-home care to first-time, low-income mothers through the Nurse Family Partnership of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana. “I am helping people who need it most while also recruiting a future generation of nurses to become leaders.”

Contreras volunteers with the Indiana Action Coalition to diversity the state’s nursing workforce. In that role she also speaks to high school minority students interested in becoming health care professionals and is mentoring several nursing students. She is also an active member of the IU Latino Alumni Association, working to recruit the next generation of leaders.



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