This Q&A originally appeared in Focus on Faculty in Portraits magazine.
Professor Preston shares her path to nursing, her passion for community/public health, and her pride in her students' good work.
Why did you choose nursing as a profession?
I didn’t. I am a first-generation college student, and my mother told me I had one option for college, Adelphi University, and that I would be studying nursing.
It seems like it’s worked out—are you glad now?
My mother was very wise. Being a nurse is such an integral part of my life—I cannot imagine any other career that I would have loved as much.
You teach community/public health classes—how did you decide on this specialty?
I did what you’re not supposed to do as a nurse. Most new nursing grads begin on a general med/surg floor to gain experience before specializing, but my first job was in a pediatric ICU. After a few years, when I was tired of working nights, I took a daytime opportunity as a pediatric homecare nurse. This morphed into a joint-care venture with New York Hospital to create the first pediatric HIV program in New York City, and that’s how I found my passion for public health/community nursing. I immediately felt an affinity to working with an underserved population—maybe because my parents grew up in a disadvantaged setting—but I loved the patients and how so many different community groups and health care professions worked together.
It’s my true love.
Each semester you take a group of nursing students to Costa Rica—can you tell me more about this?
It’s on hiatus right now due to Covid, but it will be back next January, and we are expanding to Belize. It is open to students taking my NU449 Community/Public Health course, and fulfills their clinical rotation. For me, coming from Brooklyn where there is such diversity, having clinical opportunities that expose students to different populations is important, and I wasn’t finding this experience as much as I would like for my students here. I brought this idea to our study abroad program and our executive director, Maureen O’Reilly—they were really supportive. It’s important to me that we are working in communities that are truly in need, and making a real difference, and that students understand the needs of diverse populations, and experience what it feels like to provide health care when you have limited resources.
Our student nurses have been administering the Covid-19 vaccine in New Hampshire—why is this important?
Being in community/public health nursing in the midst of a pandemic provided a unique opportunity. Every one of my students will have experience in either testing for Covid or administering one of the vaccines. We’re also involved in programs that are bringing the vaccine to populations who otherwise might not have access to it—we are going to housing projects and/or soup kitchens, for example. The Nashua Department of Health has been amazing in giving us the opportunity to participate in these programs.
How are students handling this?
They are fantastic, and so great with the patients. They are interacting with many different populations, they are documenting in the Vaccine Administration Management System, they are vaccinating, and, as usual, so on top of everything, which can be difficult in such a fast and fluid environment. I’m always very proud
What’s your advice to nursing graduates entering a post-pandemic world?
Do what you love. Don’t feel trapped into following a certain path. There is so much more to nursing than giving medications or hanging an IV—the power we have as nurses is how we relate to people to promote their wellness. Don’t be afraid to think out
of the box.
If you could go back and choose your career path, what would you be?
I love horses and I used to show jump. I’d be a professional show jumper.