Share this story

Aspiring nurse scientist driven to help teens overcome adversity

Saisha Cintron hopes to teach at one of the UMass campuses

Graduate School of Nursing PhD student Saisha Cintron knew from a young age that she wanted to be a nurse, after witnessing the level of care that nurses provided her grandmother during treatment for end-stage endometrial cancer. Years later, an experience as an undergrad made her see how as a nurse scientist, she could make an impact on her community and society as a whole.

Cintron has a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Fitchburg State University. During a two-week trip to Ghana her junior year, she worked closely with a nurse scientist and other health care professionals to learn the needs of several Ghanian communities. The team provided care and information about hypertension, diabetes and other prevalent diseases.

Her mentor, Akwasi Duah, PhD’17, an assistant professor of nursing at Fitchburg State, helped her finalize her list of graduate schools. The mission of the GSN to mentor nurses and prepare them to lead and innovate in education, research, health care delivery, and public service sold her on its PhD program.

“We don’t have enough PhD-prepared nurses,” Cintron said. “The PhD focuses on the frameworks of nursing, that is the foundation of nursing, and changing through research. And thats the big thing that our discipline is lacking. I wanted to do more research and affect change systematically, instead of just in practice. And so that was the deciding factor to pursue my PhD.”

Cintron said she sees a need for better support systems for teenagers battling adversity: physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, addiction, abandonment and economic hardship. Her dissertation will focus on developing interventions for this population in her hometown of Worcester.

“I think that there needs to be a connection between health care and our school systems, finding a way to mitigate these issues that we’re seeing that are leading to poor health outcomes,” Cintron said. “We’re seeing a lot of depression at age 12, 13 years old—anxiety issues. They’re not able to talk to people because there are not enough resources available in the schools.”

Cintron has worked with high-risk preadolescent and adolescent populations as a youth pastor at International Ministry Movement of Glory in Worcester, a position she has held since she was a freshman in college. She said she’s seen positive outcomes from the informal mentorship program she’s developed, especially related to mental health.

“Being able to do that work has definitely given me a different side of nursing: seeing a holistic approach to care, seeing the spiritual side—seeing all different types of things that help people be well,” Cintron said.

Cintron said she knows firsthand the importance of a support system. With the help of her family, she overcame neighborhood poverty, violence and physical abuse, and she credits her success in the PhD program to her mentors, including advisor Susan Sullivan-Bolyai, DNSc, professor of nursing.

Her goal is to teach at one of the UMass campuses. Currently, the newlywed is educating her Hispanic American and African American church community about the COVID-19 vaccine. Cintron is also a float nurse, filling nursing shifts at both UMass HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital in Leominster and UMass Memorial Health’s Memorial Campus in Worcester.

One of her goals for the 2021-2022 academic year is to get involved with the Medical School’s Diversity and Inclusion Office. Cintron’s family is from Puerto Rico and St. Croix. During the 2019-2020 academic year, she was part of the UMass Medical School Dominican Republic Batey Health Initiative, an interprofessional program that works to address food insecurity and related health care needs of underserved migrant communities in the Dominican Republic.

The Student Spotlight series features students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Graduate School of Nursing and School of Medicine. For more information about UMass Medical School and how to apply, visit the Prospective Students page.

Related stories on UMassMed News:
Dominican Republic Batey Health Initiative continues addressing health care needs of Haitian migrant communities
Graduate School of Nursing Class of 2020 achievements honored