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Former Ghana police officer earns his PhD at UMass Chan; returns as Graduate Entry Pathway director

Akwasi Duah brings personal experience to new position guiding career changers

Akwasi Duah, RN, PhD’17

Akwasi Duah, RN, PhD’17, took a winding path on his way to a career as a nurse leader and educator. Now, as director of the Graduate Entry Pathway program of the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing at UMass Chan Medical School, he is in a position to guide others in the profession.

The Graduate Entry Pathway program provides individuals with bachelor’s degrees in fields other than nursing a pathway to nursing licensure and then either a Doctor of Nursing Practice or PhD in nursing. Dr. Duah, assistant professor of nursing, can relate to the career-changers he is now mentoring.

Duah grew up in Accra, the capital of Ghana. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and economics at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, and served in the Ghana Police Service before moving to the United States in 2004.

“In Ghana, the nursing profession was usually reserved for women and there’s this cultural stigma, especially as a man, if you want to get into nursing,” said Dr. Duah. “But in the U.S., I realized that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past; you can do whatever you want to do. I decided to pursue a career that I loved all my life,” said Duah.

Duah earned his PhD at the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing in 2017. His dissertation was a qualitative study on family members who care for relatives struggling with substance use disorder. Caregivers play a major role in treatment and recovery, but are not often studied, according to Duah.

“Human behavior is like a cloud,” said Duah. “You can see the cloud moving, and maybe feel it; but if you reach out to grab it, you’re coming up with nothing. Nursing is not just the skills we learn with the IVs. The aspect of human touch sets nursing apart from all other disciplines.”

Prior to his return to UMass Chan as a faculty member, Duah worked as a registered nurse at McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, and an assistant professor at Fitchburg State University. While serving as interim director of the Graduate Entry Pathway program, Duah was struck by how much he loved the job. He was named director of the program in September.

“Something I find rewarding about my job is the people I work with,” Duah said. “We’re open-minded and team oriented. We support each other and make the workplace fun. If the people you work with are amazing, it makes things easy. For me, that’s my colleagues and my students. Our students are intelligent, wonderful and have diverse backgrounds. I make them aware that I’m not an expert in this field. We are all here to learn from each other.”