Three alumnae— Catherine Conahan, Sabianca Delva, and Brittney van de Water— join CSON’s faculty.
As a faculty member, Catherine Conahan, D.N.P., NP-BC, brings her extensive experience and passion for teaching, research, and caring for patients with complex medical situations to the Connell School.
Conahan staffs the nursing office at Cristo Rey Boston High School, which serves families of limited resources. There, she performs physicals, assists with COVID-19 protocols, addresses conditions from asthma to injuries, and helps connect teens with medical specialists when needed. Working with Connell School nurse practitioner (NP) students, Conahan provides care for adolescents who, she says, tend to need more care than those who come from more privileged backgrounds.
“One student came in with a stomach ache, and after an assessment, we found out it was because he hadn’t eaten for two days,” Conahan recalls. “Health inequities are real, and we are trying to help.”
Conahan received a bachelor of science in nursing from Georgetown University and realized she wanted to become a nurse practitioner while working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “[The NPs] were very well respected and seemed to be the ultimate collaborators,” she says. In 2015, Conahan earned a master of science degree from New York University to become an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner.
After returning to Boston (her hometown), she spent several years in oncology care and research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Wanting to stay competitive and pursue a teaching career, she enrolled in CSON’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program. She especially valued its courses in leadership and quality improvement, and the opportunity to co-lead a clinical scholarship project, aimed at improving practice, with several colleagues. She graduated from the program in December 2020.
Conahan, who is married with two young children, became a part-time faculty member last spring and helped develop the nursing office at Cristo Rey, which previously had no school nurse. Now full time, she continues to precept the Connell NP students who help out at Cristo Rey and support D.N.P. candidates conducting clinical scholarship there. She has also begun studying the impact of the nursing office’s services. This fall, Conahan is teaching Role of the Advanced Practice Nurse at CSON.
“I am very excited to be teaching at BC,” Conahan says. “I often had Connell NP students working with me at Cristo Rey [last spring], and it was always the highlight of my day to teach them something new, or watch them pick up a new skill or interview technique.”
After moving to the U.S. from Haiti at age eight and having grown up in a Haitian immigrant community, Sabianca Delva, Ph.D., RN, knows that ethnic minority groups often encounter cultural, economic, and other barriers to accessing health care. She also knows that mobile technology holds promise for helping lower those barriers.
Delva has been studying ways to motivate ethnic minorities to use mobile health tools, such as smartphone apps and fitness trackers, to manage their cardiometabolic diseases. For example, these “digital health assistants” might empower users to count their steps, take their medication, check blood sugar levels, or connect with providers—ultimately helping to reduce health disparities.
She joins the Connell faculty after earning a Ph.D. in 2020 from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, where she took part in its Nurse Faculty for the Future fellowship program. For her dissertation, Delva conducted a mixed method study—during the COVID-19 pandemic and while pregnant with her daughter—among 101 Latinos in Maryland with cardiometabolic risk factors such as high blood pressure. Her investigation, supported by a predoctoral research grant from the National Institutes of Health, concluded that mobile health technology needs to be affordable, culturally tailored, and user friendly.
Delva began her career by enrolling in Boston College’s Pre-Health Program. She fell in love with nursing while working as a nursing assistant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to help cover family and school expenses, was accepted at Connell, and received her B.S. in nursing in 2011. Through the school’s Keys to Inclusive Leadership in Nursing (KILN) program, she met peers from disadvantaged backgrounds who also aspired to lead efforts to improve health care in underserved communities. Participating in KILN, she recalls, “gave me a place of belonging.”
Delva was a full-time RN at Massachusetts General Hospital for three years before pursuing her doctorate. She’s excited to return to the Heights and eager to be a role model for students from ethnic minority communities. “I feel like I’m coming back home. I decided to get my doctorate because I felt I owed my success to the mentorship I received from professors as an undergraduate at BC,” notes Delva, who is teaching Advanced Physiology and Pathophysiology Across the Lifespan this fall. “I want to pay it forward and mentor future generations of nurses.”
Brittney van de Water, Ph.D., RN, CPNP, witnessed the devastating toll of tuberculosis (TB), a leading cause of death worldwide, as a Connell School undergraduate studying abroad in South Africa. While volunteering on the pediatric ward of a hospital, she befriended a young boy who had been treated for TB. “I would come and we both would just light up,” recalls van de Water. Their special bond helped shape her career path.
Today, van de Water is a global health delivery researcher examining ways to provide high-quality TB care in low-resource settings. With a K23 Career Development Award from the National Institute of Nursing Research, she is working with colleagues to reduce tuberculosis transmission among high risk populations (children, people with HIV, and close contacts of TB patients) in rural Eastern Cape, South Africa. The program they are developing involves going to people’s homes, screening household members, treating active TB, and providing treatment to prevent infections from becoming active disease.
“[Our goal is] to create an intervention that is sustainable, culturally appropriate, and will be acceptable to the community we’re serving and adopted by clinicians,” says van de Water, a practicing pediatric nurse practitioner who has lived in both South Africa and the U.S. with her husband and two children.
Van de Water joins the Connell School faculty after four years at Harvard Medical School, where she was a postdoctoral research fellow and then an instructor in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.
A Massachusetts native, van de Water earned bachelor of science and master of science degrees in nursing from CSON in 2009 and 2010, respectively. In addition to studying abroad in South Africa, she volunteered in Honduras annually and completed her community health clinical training in Nicaragua. After several years of clinical practice in Massachusetts and a year teaching pediatric nursing in Malawi through Seed Global Health and the Peace Corps, she received a doctorate in nursing from Duke University in 2017, where she was selected to participate in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Future of Nursing Scholars Program.
This fall, van de Water is co-teaching Public Health in a Global Society with Associate Professor Joyce Edmonds and looks forward to sharing her passion for global health and research with her students. “There are so many career avenues in nursing,” van de Water says. “I want to harness their passion, no matter what it is.”