Alumna Spotlight: Gina Dunn, DNP, Puts Her Passion for Preventative Health into Action

Oct. 4, 2021

Gina Dunn, DNP, FNP-BC, graduated from the University of Arizona College of Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program’s Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) track in 2019. Dr. Dunn was drawn to the program because of its nationally recognized stature, and because her father, a former UArizona School of Medicine faculty member, touted the quality of a UArizona education.

Dr. Dunn has always been dedicated to wellness and lifestyle, in addition to medical therapeutics in the treatment of chronic illness. Her passion for preventive health and lifestyle was reflected by her DNP Project, “Improving Primary Care Providers’ Knowledge and Intent to Recommend Whole Food Plant-Based Nutrition Education for Patients with Cardiovascular Disease.”

Following her graduation, Dr. Dunn was accepted into an NP Fellowship program at a St. Louis, MO Veterans Center, where she sees patients for chronic illness management and wellness. She continues to promote plant-based nutrition and to teach classes on nutrition and adapting African American cooking to be healthier and plant-based at her church. She recently became board certified by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and completed the Foundations in Integrative Health course at the UArizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, with hopes of being accepted into the center’s two-year fellowship.

“My hope for the future is that I can positively impact not only fellow veterans, but help address the African American community with lifestyle education that enhances health and wellness," ~ Gina Dunn, DNP, FNP-BC

“Dr. Dunn is a remarkable person and role model doing wonderful things to help those with health disparities to lead a healthy life,” says Lorraine Martin Plank, PhD, FNP-BC, who served as Dr. Dunn’s faculty advisor and project chairperson during her time in the DNP program.

We recently caught up with Dr. Dunn to learn more about her nursing journey, her research passions and what she plans for her bright future.

Why did you choose to pursue the FNP track in the DNP program?

The FNP track covers the life span from infancy to geriatrics.  Health and wellness should and can be introduced at any point on the age continuum, whether you are educating parents, teens, young adults, or older adults.  I wanted the opportunity in my practice to hopefully be a significant influence regardless of the age of who I was treating.  

What makes you passionate about preventive health and lifestyle?

As an African American health care provider, the comorbid health conditions that deeply and adversely affect the African American community are devastating. I worked in a very underserved community in Mississippi when I was in my mid 20’s and that is when I began asking myself a lot of questions as to what role I could play in this massive health concern.  In my own journey, I have realized that health and wellness is primarily driven by nutritional intake. My passion has become to educate, educate, educate -- not only patients, but colleagues, family, friends and my faith community.

How did you choose your DNP project?

My DNP project initially was much more involved and included monitoring BPs on individuals from my church who were going to volunteer to make a very healthy change in their nutritional lifestyle.  I realized this was going to be too involved to refocused my audience and approach while keeping the same theme.  As I was researching, I realized many providers were not aware of the health benefits of whole food plant-based nutrition.

Why is it so important to focus on educating providers to promote plant-based dietary eating for cardiovascular health?

Evidence-based research shows that plant-based nutrition can help prevent and, in some cases, reverse cardiovascular disease.  Research also shows that most medical school training programs traditionally have incorporated very little, if any, nutrition education. The providers are obviously treating and making recommendations to patients for their care. Cardiovascular disease is our number one killer, so it stands to reason that providers should be educated on a treatment modality that is so beneficial.

Tell us more about your community-based work teaching classes about adapting African American cooking to be healthier and plant-based?

This has been a real challenge but a challenge that has been met with a lot fun and support.  I began providing whole food plant-based classes not only at my church but in conjunction with a few local community organizations.  I have utilized resources from others who also have also purposed to adapt African American cooking to more plant based. When people have been willing to incorporate changes, realize that the changes are to their advantage, then begin to see results, their excitement make me even more excited. I personally like my food seasoned well, so engaging others making healthy adaptations is a dual benefit.

Tell us more about NP Fellowship program at the St. Louis, MO Veterans Center.

The NP Fellowship program was a one-year program offered by the St Louis VA Medical center, where four NP Fellows practiced under the supervision of one of the Primary Care NPs.  There were didactic components which included giving a few case studies and completing several educational modules as well as attending a few VA sponsored conferences.  It was a great way to launch into primary care practice always having someone right there as a resource, to answer questions and provide guidance.  As I continue to learn and grow, I realize how much more I need to learn! I would highly recommend this program.

What draws you to the special VA program which supports homeless veterans with medical and addiction problems?

I am drawn to the VA first and foremost because I am a veteran; I also have several family members who are also veterans. The VA provides numerous programs for not only veterans with homelessness and addiction problems, but mental health, obesity, and many chronic disease illnesses. The VA initiative that I am most drawn to is the Whole Health Initiative.  Whole Health has a focus of looking at what matters most to the veteran and what do they live for; Whole Health offers multiple modalities such as coaching, acupuncture, yoga, mindfulness, chiropractic services and massage therapy to name a few.  All of these issues can benefit from veterans being engaged in their care and their care being focused on what is important to them.

What are your hopes for the future?

My hope for the future is that I can positively impact not only fellow veterans, but help address the African American community with lifestyle education that enhances health and wellness.  I know I cannot save the world and I know everyone is not wanting to make certain changes.  However, for those who are willing and eager to listen even make baby steps, I am willing to walk alongside them.  I am contemplating a part-time private practice that will provide consulting, for those who think they might benefit from more individual time. I am open to where God wants to direct me to use the talents and knowledge He has blessed me with.