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Alumna Q&A: Changing healthcare paradigms for immigrant communities

This alumni spotlight is part of our celebration of the Temple BSN program’s 50th anniversary. Read more stories here.

Elise Pizzi graduated from Temple in 1972, two years after the Department of Nursing’s BSN program was accredited. Today, she is a retired Villanova University faculty member and an active volunteer at Unity Clinic in South Philadelphia, where she works primarily with the city’s Indonesian population.

Pizzi’s experience at Temple, when the BSN program was in its formative years, shows how the values and lessons that nursing students learn there today were established at the program’s very beginning.

You’ve been a volunteer nurse practitioner at Unity Clinic for ten years. How did you become involved?

I actually came in soon after it was established. As faculty at Villanova, a professor suggested we have students go to the clinic. At the time it was fairly chaotic, so I decided my students would go to my other practice with me. Meanwhile, I went back and worked with other clinicians to run it in a more orderly way.

What were some of the changes you made?

When they started, anybody could just come in and whatever clinician was there you’d see. We decided that patients should have their own clinicians, so we’d see the same patients over time.

What affect does that have on their care?

We definitely see improvements. They’re becoming healthier at younger ages. The model in Indonesia is they only see the doctor if they’re really sick. It’s a culture change to see your clinician every couple months.

The food in Indonesia is much different than in the U.S. Fast food is much cheaper than any other food here, and often our patients don’t have time to cook or they share rooms or kitchens. They’re often not eating well, and I think that makes them sicker at younger ages.

For me, it’s really wonderful to establish relationships with my patients and see that they’ve become healthier: that they’ve lost weight; blood pressure’s gone down; cholesterol under control; diabetes is improving.

How did your education at Temple’s BSN program prepare you for your career?

I really became aware of health disparities. As students, we were exposed to people of all races and income groups. So, it was very easy to identify health disparities, and that was part of our education there. That was part of nursing school and what we were taught.

The biggest influence on me was my community health experience. We had a wonderful professor, and going into people’s homes gave me a real view of how differently people live when they’re poor. What people call bad neighborhoods, to me are just neighborhoods. People live there. Some people have more and some people have less.

Temple was a really rich healthcare environment. I had great teachers on campus, and great teachers in the nursing school. We got to be a part of a lot of interesting cases. I also volunteer at another clinic in Kensington. There, we see people who really have nothing. Some are drug addicts, some are just really, really poor and living in the streets. And I think, with all of this, I really developed a comfort level while at Temple.

Posted:  September 1, 2017