Celestine Yayra Ofori-Parku, a student in the PhD in Nursing program, works to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity in the United States and in her home country of Ghana. This fall, she continues this work as a 2022-2023 UC Global Health Institute Women’s Health, Gender and Empowerment Student Ambassador.
Ofori-Parku shares how, as a child, a chance encounter with a nurse inspired her career trajectory and how UCSF is helping her achieve her goal of being a nurse midwifery researcher and educator.
Program: PhD Nursing
Hometown: Dzodze, Ghana
What motivated you to become a nurse?
I grew up in Ghana in a low-resourced community where health care and other basic amenities were luxuries. Access to professional health care was limited to people with affluence, and many people were forced to rely on home remedies when ill.
I knew from a young age that I wanted to make a difference in people's lives; I wanted to do something that would restore people’s hope. In elementary school, a mother of a classmate visited my school to give a talk about health. She was a nurse. As an 11-year-old girl listening to this woman speak, I was amazed by her knowledge and the impact she was making. Her example propelled me to go into nursing so that, like her, I could give back to my community.
I had the opportunity to meet this woman again during my midwifery training, and she was so happy when I told her this story.
How has your time at the UCSF School of Nursing impacted you so far?
UCSF has given me a sense of community and an inspiration to pursue my interest. My family is far away in Ghana. Coming to UCSF, I felt welcomed and a part of a larger community. The program is structured in such a way that I didn’t find myself wanting. I was taught and mentored all along the way. That has positively impacted both my academics and my dream of being a researcher.
You were just named a 2022 UC Global Health Institute (UCGHI) Student Ambassador – congratulations! What excites you about this role and what impact do you hope to make?
I’m joining as a women’s health, gender and empowerment student ambassador. As a nurse midwife, I’m interested in women's and gender-related health issues. The fact that the student ambassador role gives me a leadership opportunity in the specific areas of my research is so exciting.
This role will help me develop, implement and promote activities that address women’s health issues through education and community engagement. I’m also excited for the mentorship aspect of the ambassador role, and I look forward to being mentored throughout the academic year.
In terms of impact, I believe UCGHI will help reduce gender and health disparities globally and help us to achieve both equity and equality in accessing health care. I want to work to bridge the gap of equity so that everyone is treated with dignity and respect and receives fair treatment. Right now, many people will not go to the hospital because they have previously experienced prejudice or bias. This program can educate health professionals globally. It gives ambassadors the opportunity to do research and develop findings that will bridge equity and help affirm the lives of all people.
You’re also a fellow with the Abortion Care Training Incubator for Outstanding Nurse Scholars (ACTIONS) program. Tell us about your research.
I’m interested in reducing maternal mortality and morbidity and addressing women’s reproductive health challenges among underserved communities and populations. This interest lies at the intersection of inequalities and global health obstetrics and gynecology. I am using a human rights framework, and I am looking at how we can use respectful maternity care to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity. I want to empower women to know about respectful maternity care and that it is a fundamental human right. No one is supposed to take that away from you, and you should expect to be treated with respect wherever you are receiving care irrespective of your social status.
Pregnancy and childbirth are momentous events in the life of the pregnant person, in the life of the family and in the life of the community. The loss of a mother or child affects the whole community. Respectful maternity care has the potential to reduce the approximately 700 maternal deaths that occur annually in the United States due to bias and dehumanized maternal care.
By joining ACTIONS, I feel connected, mentored and supported as a predoctoral scholar. Through the work and interactions in ACTIONS, I have learned that giving communities, and the BIPOC community specifically, the opportunity to tell researchers what their challenges are shapes your research. You can conduct research that is tailored toward the community’s real needs because you engaged and listened.
What are your career plans after earning your doctorate from the School of Nursing?
One of the joys of my career as a nurse-midwife was the opportunity at an early stage to work with trainee nurses and nurse-midwives, and to serve as an examiner, preceptor and mentor for students and newly licensed registered nurses/nurse-midwives in Ghana. I did this until I left to attend school at UCSF. This has grounded my interest in linking nursing education, mentorship, quality nursing care and maternal outcomes. I want to be a nurse midwifery researcher and educator after graduating.
What message would you like to share with your fellow students at the School of Nursing?
I always tell myself, “It is because you can do it, that is why you are here. It’s because you have what it takes, that’s why you’re here.” Do not get upset about the beginning. It may look so hazy, and you may feel that you want to give up. But remember, the darkest part of the night is when the night is about to give way to the morning (and see how bright and beautiful the morning is!) So, when you think that it’s too difficult and you want to give up, you should know that you’re just about to uncover greatness (your morning), and just keep fighting. You will make it.