Silvia Arabia, a nursing student at UCSF, is on a mission to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for women of color and their babies.
And what could be more urgent? The U.S. has a higher maternal mortality rate than any other developed nation, and it’s even worse for black women, who are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than white women.
Arabia’s calling is a natural outgrowth of the work she did as a doula, providing emotional support for pregnant women from marginalized communities before, during and after childbirth. In 2015, she began working as a research coordinator at UCSF, eventually becoming program director for the SOLARS program (Supporting Our Ladies And Reducing Stress to Prevent Preterm Birth), which works to understand and reduce the impact of stress, anxiety and racism on pregnant women of color.
SOLARS changed her career trajectory completely: Hearing and seeing firsthand how women of color were mistreated during their pregnancies, she realized she couldn’t listen to these stories any longer without doing something more. That’s when she decided to become a nurse practitioner herself.
“Black and brown women are dying,” she says. Arabia is now enrolled in UCSF’s Master’s Entry Program in Nursing — an accelerated nursing program for students with no prior nursing training or experience. After one year, she will receive her RN and from there will specialize, graduating with a master’s in nursing, and becoming a certified midwife and nurse practitioner.
Arabia is often the only person of color or Spanish speaker at a clinical site. She knows that both the community and the profession need more nurses who are representative of the communities they serve. That’s why she is also mentoring Latina women who want to enter the nursing profession, guiding them through the application process and bringing them to UCSF.
“I never thought that meeting with someone a couple of times and helping them with their goal statement or mock interviews would make such a big difference for them and their outcome,” she says. “That makes me really happy to know I can support people in that way.”
She is also assembling students from the School of Nursing with students from the schools of Medicine and Pharmacy to look for opportunities to collaborate. The whole experience has broadened her horizons.
“I could be a professor here, or a dean,” she says. “I could help change the way things are run and be someone who makes a difference for future people of color, especially women.”
Her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. She was recently recognized with a United Health Foundation Diverse Scholars Initiative award at the National Association of Hispanic Nurses meeting.
This story first ran on the University of California website.