Commencement 2019: Nursing student aims to improve global public health

Media Contact: Patrick Luce, 401-874-4046 |
Emely Baez. Photo by Nora Lewis
Emely Baez. Photo by Nora Lewis

KINGSTON, R.I. — May 7, 2019 — Growing up, University of Rhode Island senior nursing major Emely Baez spent her summers in the Dominican Republic with family members who lived there. While there one summer she contracted Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that can be life-threatening.

While Baez recovered from the illness, the experience stuck with her, and it drove her to study nursing and to pursue a career in global health.

“I got to see the health disparities between there and here,” said Baez, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from URI May 19. “In the Dominican Republic — not all areas but most areas — when it comes to medical resources and prevention, there is a lack of that.”

The Dominican Republic isn’t the only country where Baez has seen a lack of adequate health care and prevention. While a student, she has been on educational trips to Tanzania, Argentina, Indonesia and Jamaica, which have solidified her desire to work in the field of public health in other countries.

“Going to those countries and having the support of the faculty from my College and other departments were defining and impactful moments for me because they solidified what I learned in the classroom and taught me how it relates to the real world,” Baez said.

While taking a global health course with pharmacy, health sciences and other nursing students in Indonesia, there was a specific moment when Baez knew she made the right choice when deciding her future career path. The students were helping out at a clinic and presenting on strokes, which is the leading cause of death in the country. One woman she examined had extremely high blood pressure, so Baez asked her if she had any knowledge of a history of hypertension. It turns out that the woman did, and was even prescribed medication for it, but didn’t take it regularly due to the cost and lack of access to it. She was also a grandmother who cared for 10 children so her own children could work.

“Taking care of her own health was not a priority for her, but I was able to put things into perspective for her and help her understand that if she didn’t take care of herself now, things were going to get worse and she wouldn’t be able to be there for her grandkids,” Baez said.

Originally from Washington Heights in Manhattan, New York City, Baez moved to Woonsocket, R.I., when she was 4 years old and has lived there ever since. She wanted to stay in the area for college, so URI was an obvious choice because she would be comfortable in the state she grew up in, but the University would be a new environment where she could meet new people.

“It was the perfect size, not too small and not too large,” Baez said. “There is a good sense of community and it’s not too far from home but far enough that I feel like I’m elsewhere.”

Being an organizer for the annual DIVE RI diversity conference on campus is an experience that has helped her gain skills valuable to nursing and global health.

“Through DIVE, I learned to be an advocate for diversity on campus, and that helped me become more of an advocate for my patients by wanting to learn more about helping my patients out and supporting them,” said Baez.

After graduation, Baez plans to complete a year-long nursing residency and then enroll in graduate school for global/public health. Her long-term goal is to work for an organization like the World Health Organization (WHO) or Doctors Without Borders, with which she can implement change on a larger scale.

“I hope to be able to attain enough experience and skills throughout the years prior to getting there so that I actually know what the population needs and how I can help change things,” Baez said.