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War refugee, women’s health advocate chronicles life as a UMass Chan nursing student on YouTube

Born in West Africa, first-year nursing student Jeneba Aruna was 11 when she and her family relocated to Lowell to escape the civil war in Sierra Leone. Aruna graduated from Framingham State University with a bachelor’s degree in biology and worked as a technician in the Genomics Platform lab at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

“I quickly learned that I had a love for advocating, caring for and being there for other people,” said Aruna. “I wanted to be in front of the patients who were being tested.”

Aruna’s friend Ezequiel De Leon, DNP’22, recommended the Graduate Entry Pathway (GEP) program in the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing at UMass Chan Medical School, which prepares students who hold bachelor’s degrees in fields other than nursing to earn their nursing licensure and either their Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or PhD in nursing. Aruna plans to earn her DNP and become a family nurse practitioner.

Aruna posts YouTube videos under the moniker “Legally Nursing Gyal,” chronicling her journey as a woman of color in the STEM field. By sharing her videos, she hopes to inspire women of color to enter the nursing profession. In the future, Aruna hopes to bring cleaner birthing rooms to villages in Africa; according to the World Health Organization, good hygiene can prevent maternal deaths. Aruna is also inspired to focus on women’s health because of her sister Hawanatu Bendu, who died of cervical cancer in 2020.

“She had a history of not speaking up for herself and not going to her yearly pap exams,” Aruna said. “By the time the cancer was caught, it was too late. I want to be the nurse practitioner who will advocate for my patient and make them feel comfortable. If I could save even one life like my sister’s, I want to be able to do that.”

Aruna’s most gratifying moment as a nursing student happened in the delivery room.

“A father called me over as he was cutting the umbilical cord. He said, ‘Do you want to finish cutting this?’ This was a moment for this father, and I was wondering why he was calling me. He said, ‘Thank you for holding my wife’s hand through labor. Thank you for being there for her.’ That's when I realized there’s a reason why I’m meant to be here.”

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

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Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing to hold inaugural Nursing White Coat Ceremony
WATCH: Graduate School of Nursing student Ezequiel De Leon seeks to care for vulnerable population