Doctoral student recognized for professional excellence

Doctoral student recognized for professional excellence

Immersed in studies and research, fourth-year doctoral candidate Ruth Rodney hardly finds time to socialize and attend community events.

That’s why she deeply appreciated the few hours spent with family and friends recently at the 20th annual Rev. John Holland Memorial Awards gala in Hamilton.

“I am always doing school work, so I hardly get out to events like this,” said Rodney, who is pursuing a nursing doctorate at the University of Toronto’s Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing. “It’s the first time in a long time that I have had the opportunity to attend a social function and have some fun. This is a big deal.”

Receiving an award for professional excellence capped off a highly satisfying evening for the registered nurse with international public health experience in Bolivia, Kenya, Cuba and Guyana, the birthplace of her parents and three older siblings.

“It means a lot to be honoured in your own community when you believe you are still in the process of building towards greatness,” said Rodney, the recipient of 12 awards since entering the U of T’s PhD program in 2012 after eight years of clinical nursing experience in Canada and overseas. “Just to be nominated is a huge honour, but to be the recipient of an award with Rev. Holland’s name attached to it is even greater.”

The patient advocate and role model was nominated by her brother’s mother-in-law.

“Ruth sets high standards for herself and achieves them,” said retired Halton District School Board (HDSB) educator, Angela Rzazewski. “She brings excellence, dedication, passion, compassion, empathy, energy, joy and exuberance to her chosen profession. She’s a most deserving candidate for this honour.”

A proud product of Barton Secondary School, Rodney completed a Bachelor of Science in nursing at Ryerson University and a Master’s of Science in global health at McMaster University.

Her doctoral research, which focuses on violence prevention in adolescent dating relationships, and advocacy work have attracted the attention of Guyanese policy makers, including President David Granger, who she met last year to discuss the implications of her research.

“She has never forgotten her Guyanese roots and is passionate about devoting her life to serving the Black community,” said Covenant House Toronto clinical director and PhD candidate, Naomi Thulien. “I have been a nurse for over 28 years and I can attest to the fact that Ruth is one of those rare jewels you know is going to make the world a better place. She has an endearing and infectious smile and a strong sense of justice which is a powerful recipe for advocacy.”

Hamilton General Hospital emergency department clinical manager, Lucas Milinovich, said Rodney deserves the recognition.

“I see her as an upcoming leader within the nursing profession creating knowledge that speaks to the most complex issues within health care,” said Milinovich. “I believe our profession needs more nurses like Ruth who have the experience on the frontlines, vision and drive to pursue her education further.”

The high esteem in which Rodney is held by her peers and professors was evident by the overwhelming support she received for the prestigious award.

Associate professor Dr. Denise Gastaldo, the Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research director at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, said Rodney meets the highest standard of professional and moral excellence.

“She has a passion for learning that led her to the PhD program in nursing at the U of T as a way to better understand violence prevention and to create new ways to give back to the Caribbean community in Canada and in Guyana,” said Dr. Gastaldo. “Less than two per cent of nurses in Canada achieve such level of preparation.

“I believe Ontario and Canada need global health scholars who, like Ruth, can connect local immigrants’ health issues to international phenomena and who engage with complex and challenging issues in the pursuit of excellence. I believe this award is an excellent form of recognition for a young researcher who has done so much to date and, in my opinion, will continue to impress us in years to come.”

Each day must feel like a gift for Rodney, who was shot in the abdomen during a gunpoint robbery in Guyana in the summer of 2013 while visiting family members and conducting her doctoral research.

She underwent two surgeries and is physically recovered.

Rodney said the violent ordeal hasn’t changed her view of life.

“My perspectives on life have been shaped since watching my father die from complications to diabetes when I was 14,” said the Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet) volunteer who has been back to Guyana twice since the incident. “Since then, what I cherish most in life is time. What happened in Guyana three years ago is just a reminder to enjoy life and do what you are most passionate about.”

She plans to defend her dissertation – Building Healthier Relationships: Guyanese Perspectives on Adolescent Dating Violence – by the end of the year.

“When that’s finished, I would like to continue working on violence prevention in Canada and the Caribbean,” she said. “Specifically for the Caribbean, I want to continue my focus on Guyana and build on the relationships and partnerships I have already made and collaborate further on research and initiatives that tackle violence.”

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