The struggle for equity was something Leah Gordon recognized as a young child, well before anything was called diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI. It was core to her father’s work as commandant of the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
“Making sure veterans got their fair and equitable share of good health care and access was so important to him,” said Gordon, an Afro-Latina whose mother immigrated from Panama. “Seeing his commitment to veterans resonated with my family and our world as people of color.”
Gordon joined the Connell School of Nursing in January as associate dean for inclusive excellence, diversity, and belonging after serving as director of diversity for Mass General Hospital’s Nursing and Patient Care Services Department. As associate dean, Gordon provides leadership and vision for CSON’s diversity and inclusion efforts. She is a central resource and advocate for CSON students, faculty, and staff, and leads the Diversity in Nursing and Action Committee (previously known as the Diversity Advisory Board). She is also developing training programs, events, and activities geared toward
the entire CSON community.
Gordon sees a sense of belonging as a crucial first step in diversity efforts. “We need to create an environment that makes people feel like they belong—where their identities are acknowledged and they can be their authentic selves. It’s essential groundwork for building and maintaining a diverse faculty and student body,” said Gordon.
One of her priorities is to deepen CSON’s connections with community partners, who bring a “highly developed understanding of the communities and patients we serve and help us bridge the gaps caused by social determinants of health.” She also launched a
monthly healing circle where “the CSON community comes together to hold an open conversation about outside events that are affecting them in an atmosphere of respect and concern.” Participants offer and receive support and listen without question or judgment.
Gordon said that CSON Dean Katherine Gregory’s support has been invaluable. “In DEI work, if you don’t have leadership support, it’s very difficult for these initiatives to thrive,” she said. “I came to BC because I saw the level of support around the idea of creating community and a commitment to DEI work.”
“We need to create an environment that makes people feel like they belong—where their identities are acknowledged and they can be their authentic selves. It’s essential groundwork for building and maintaining a diverse faculty and student body.”
Leah Gordon, associate dean for inclusive excellence, diversity, and belonging
Gordon is also an associate professor of the practice who is currently co-teaching Advanced Health Assessment to CSON graduate students who are preparing to be advanced practice clinicians. For nearly 20 years, the focus of her clinical practice has been caring for oncology patients, and she continues to work one day a week as a radiation and oncology nurse practitioner at MGH.
Because nurses lead with empathy, Gordon sees them as natural leaders in making health care more equitable and just. She wants Connell to be a place where the seeds of equity are planted.
“We can offer the training, knowledge, and preparation to create stewards who will call out bias, racism, or any ‘ism’ or ‘phobia’ in health care settings, help address it, and provide a resolution to it.”
Being seen and valued
Gordon knows how transformational a sense of belonging can be. Early in her career, she worked at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in multiple support roles, engaging with patients and supporting nurses and physicians. During that time, she met nurse practitioner and CSON alumna Kim Noonan, M.S. ’88, who felt Gordon belonged in the nursing profession.
“What are you doing with your life?” Gordon recalls Noonan saying to her. “I see qualities in you to be a nurse.”
While nursing appealed to Gordon, the journey to earn a college degree and become a nurse practitioner seemed daunting. At the time, she was a single mother to a toddler and would need to work full time while going to school. After years of hard work, she graduated from Regis College with an M.S. in nursing around the same time her daughter graduated high school. In 2017, Gordon earned a D.N.P.
Gordon and Noonan have remained good friends since those early days at Dana-Farber. “There have been lots of changes and struggles on this journey. The nursing profession saved my life. And it’s a profession that I absolutely love.
“All it takes sometimes is one person to just say, ‘I believe in you. Go do it.’”