Yvette Conyers ’07N: Pursuing social justice through nursing
Yvette Conyers ’07N: Pursuing social justice through nursing
In high school, Yvette Conyers ’07N, DNP, MS, RN, FNP-C, CTN-B, dreamt of becoming a neonatologist. She excelled in the sciences and already had a fire in her to serve others. Then, as a 17-year-old senior at Penfield High School, she got pregnant.
“Becoming a young mother changed my life, but not my focus on college,” says Conyers. “I listened to the advice of people I trusted, including my high school counselor. She talked to me about a career in nursing, which seemed like something I could pursue, even with a baby.”
That advice set Conyers on a path. After she graduated from high school, she participated in a summer college preparatory program offered through SUNY Brockport’s Rochester Education Opportunity Center. She then enrolled at Monroe Community College where she earned an associate’s degree and became a registered nurse.
In the beginning
For the next seven years, Conyers worked at Highland Hospital, starting in its gynecological oncology unit. She loved her work and wanted to offer more advanced care to her patients. With that in mind, she enrolled in the School of Nursing’s (SON) RN to BS program. Conyers was doing it all—working full-time as a young mother and nurse and part-time as a student.
“Throughout her academic and professional career, Yvette has shown a fierce determination to serve as a role model in the African-American community,” says Kathy Rideout, EdD, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, dean of the School of Nursing, professor of clinical nursing, and vice president at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “She has used adversity as a motivator for herself to serve as teachable moments for her students about the ups and downs of nursing school, professional practice, and life in general. Her background has also inspired her mission of creating equal access, opportunity, and treatment for people from underrepresented groups.”
Conyers thrived in academia as well as in a clinical environment. So much so that after SON, she went to Roberts Wesleyan College and then to St. John Fisher to earn her doctorate. Her doctoral thesis was entitled “The effect of an evidenced based cultural competency educational program on a registered nurse’s cultural competence.” Her work then, and now, is focused on reducing health care disparities, helping to ensure that nurses incorporate culturally relevant approaches into their care, and underscoring the need for social justice in nursing education and clinical work.
A commitment to serve
Over the course of her nearly 20-year career, Conyers has taught in academic settings, provided acute and outpatient care, and led community health outreach programs. She’s worked in hospitals and as an in-home care nurse. She’s completed hundreds of in-home risk assessments in communities that consistently lack health information and access. Conyers also received SON’s Josephine Craytor Nursing Faculty Award, which recognizes outstanding nursing educators and provides support for their research and professional development.
In 2018, Conyers founded the Rochester chapter of the Black Nurses Association, where she continues to serve as its president. Today, she’s on faculty at St. John Fisher and she serves as a nurse practitioner with Signify Health. She’s also a volunteer leader within organizations such as the African American Health Coalition and the University’s Black Alumni Network, where she serves as program committee co-chair and regional leader.
At the center of her work
Providing preventative care to complex patients and populations; leading conversations around equity, diversity, and inclusion; and addressing the social determinants of health are all key to Conyers’ work.
“Health care professionals have a responsibility to ask—and find out—what kinds of educational access have our patients had?,” she says. “Do they have access to primary and specialty care? What about access to health insurance? Do our patients have access to quality food, water, and air? Are their neighborhoods safe? Can they access transportation and get to appointments? What kinds of conditions do they work in? Do they have more than one job? Have they been incarcerated? Are they living below the poverty line? Answers to questions like these help us form new policies and adopt new ways of working with patients. All of this is critically important, especially now in the time of COVID.”
During COVID, Conyers has been involved in many community-focused COVID outreach programs. For instance, she serves on the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force. This group of 70 health care professionals from throughout the region have been focused on equity, transparency, and efficiency as it relates to COVID-19 education, testing, and vaccine rollout. They strive to build a foundation of trust in marginalized communities by being active and visible in them.
Their grassroots efforts have made a difference, too. For instance, Conyers says that in the high-risk zip code of 14605, where there have been some of the highest rates of COVID infection, she and a small team have provided information along with masks and hand sanitizers to more than 150 people. They also tested and vaccinated more than 500 people in other underserved zip codes, as identified by Common Ground Health. Conyers adds that one-to-one contact at churches, empty store parking lots, and places where communities gather are important ways to reach and connect with people, and, ultimately, reduce risk, infection, and isolation.
“To bring more equity into our system and into people’s lives, we must we ask ourselves what barriers exist for them right now, we must take action, and we must break through existing ceilings and systems,” she says. “Doing so will lead to better outcomes and improved health for so many in our community.”
Conyers adds that nurses are in an excellent position to do all of this. “We are trained to listen and educate, and we are our patients’ first point of contact and most trusted health care professional.”
More from Yvette Conyers
What advice do you have for those entering the nursing field? Find a mentor and join a professional organization so that you can build your professional and personal network.
How are you able to toggle so many responsibilities? I try to remember that my work is greater than me—that’s what keeps me going. I work hard for the community, for the Black population, and for the nurses who will come after me. That’s the legacy I’m trying to leave.
What are you reading? I’m reading A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriett A. Washington ’76. It’s about environmental racism, public health, and injustice, a must-read for those in healthcare.
What are you most proud of? Being able to raise my son as a single parent. He’s seen me grow through challenges and break through barriers to be where I am today.
Do you have a favorite quote? It comes from the Bible (The Gospel of Matthew, verse 19:26), “With God all things are possible.”
Community action milestones
Conyers has been involved in many high-impact community programs. Here are just a few from the last few years:
- National Black Nurses Association and Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center (BHERC) COVID 19 grant to help community-dwelling elders at most risk for COVID in the 14605 zip code
- Received United Way’s community crisis grant and partnered with Roc City Sicklers, an advocacy group for children and families living with sickle cell disease. Conyers and a small team provided food gift cards, offered COVID education, and held listening sessions in church parking lots.
- Helped launch the “Community Fighting COVID,” a collaborative effort with the Black Physicians Network of Greater Rochester, University of Rochester, Rochester Regional Health, Common Ground, Ibero-American Action League, Jordan Health, the City of Rochester, Rochester Transit Authority, and volunteers. Together, they developed COVID education and outreach programs for communities of color in Rochester.
- Upcoming: The fall/spring 2022 rollout of a RBNA “Bridging the Youth Mental Health Gap” program funded through a Greater Rochester Foundation grant.
—Kristine Kappel Thompson, November 2021