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Nursing and Health Studies Ph.D. Grad Focuses on Mental Health

Danielle Perkins is the first African American to receive her doctorate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies.

“I feel very honored and humbled,” said Perkins, 33, who has accepted a position as an assistant professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “I chose the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies Ph.D. program because of its emphasis on vulnerable populations and health disparities.”

The UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies has graduated 37 Ph.D.s since the first in 1997. In 2002, the program shifted to what was then an innovative, all-online format – and placed a focus on recruiting minority nurses.

Ethnic and racial minority groups accounted for 37 percent of the U.S. population in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Registered nurses from minority backgrounds represented 16.8 percent of the workforce, of which 5.5 percent were African American. Only 12.6 percent of the nation’s full-time nursing school faculty come from minority backgrounds, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Perkins’ nursing practice and research has focused on mental health. Her dissertation is titled “Experiences and Perceptions of Depression in Young Black Men after Incarceration.”

This focus area is personal for Perkins, whose brother, Courtney Meredith, died from an overdose a few months before her first semester at UMKC.

“My doctorate, the first on either side of my family, is in honor of him and others who silently struggle,” Perkins said. “Black men like my brother don’t tend to share their feelings. Their voices might not be heard.”  Perkins recently received news that a manuscript, based on her dissertation findings, was accepted for publication in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing.

Danielle was a delightful student because of her passion and knowledge, said Patricia Kelly, associate dean for research and professor at the School of Nursing and Health Studies.

“Her focus on an underserved population is coupled with an understanding that this commitment must be matched by analytic and policy skills to be able to change social conditions,” Kelly said.

Perkins is active in professional and civic organizations including the National League for Nursing, American Psychiatric Nurses Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness and her local neighborhood association. She is a recipient of the prestigious Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholar Program, which gives grants to prepare doctoral candidates to help students address the needs of future patients, from dealing with chronic illnesses to providing culturally competent care.

“Danielle makes UMKC proud, and we are fortunate she chose the school for her doctorate,” said Ann Cary, dean of the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies. “Her work with mental health care, both in research and practice, is proof that the nursing profession is taking a leadership role addressing this critical need. This need was also recognized by the Jonas Foundation who awarded a scholarship to Ms. Perkins.”

Perkins also has successfully mentored other minority nursing students to facilitate the professional development and socialization of individuals into the profession.

“I’m happy to say the second African American Ph.D. student from the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies will graduate soon,” Perkins said.


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