Student Spotlight: Cristina Rae Stuefen

June 18, 2018

First-Year PhD Candidate from the Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

Why did you decide to pursue a nursing degree?

Several roads drew me towards Nursing, including life-threatening injuries my dad sustained in Iraq, and the life and health experience of my maternal grandmother. She was undocumented for many years and lacked access to quality healthcare. This resulted in health effects that changed the trajectory of both her and my families’ lives. From these two experiences, I began to understand the pivotal role that nurses have in ensuring high quality healthcare, addressing health disparity and advocating for health equity.

I was actually originally an English Literature major and wanted to specialize in Southern Realism. The economic aspect definitely played a role in switching my major, as I was a young mom and needed a secure profession. But that being said, I loved Nursing, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to stay with it for this long (9 years) and have joy in my work. 

What drew you to the UA College of Nursing?

Completing my Master’s Degree at the UA was a very positive experience. I also was drawn to the Nursing focus on addressing health disparity, equity and population health. Additionally, Dr. Michelle Kahn John, who is now my advisor, is from the area where I live and I was drawn to her work and approach. I was able to talk to her early on and knew that I wanted to work with her.

What features of your program are you especially passionate about?

I really appreciate being able to work with faculty with shared values. I think the focus on equity is very important, not just to me, but to my entire cohort. That, and a commitment to social justice issues. As I tell my students, social justice issues are health justice issues. As nurses, whether at the bedside or in our communities, we see the end result of inequity and social injustice in the health and wellness, or lack thereof, in our patients. And in ourselves too, in all honesty. 

Share your favorite memory from your time at the CON.

I’ve had a great experience so far with the CON. My advisor, Dr. Michelle Kahn John, is supportive and really motivates me to achieve, even during difficult times. Dr. Rosenfeld was also wonderful, as is Dr. Loescher. Actually, I’ve felt that the faculty have been outstanding.  My favorite experience has been attending the Western Institute of Nursing Conference this April with six other members of my cohort who were also first-year attendees. It was great to reconnect with everyone and see how people’s interests are evolving.

How do you intend to build better futures?

There are several ways I hope to do this, and so many relevant ways in which this can be done. I would hope not to attempt to build anything on my own, but to work towards health equity and justice in solidarity and as an ally with others with shared values and goals. I hope to apply the skills gained in doctoral study to partner with Indigenous and Mestizx communities in supporting health and wellness using decolonized and strength-based approaches and by supporting cultural determinants of health, focusing on inherent strengths. Although it is important to recognize health deficits and disparity, I truly believe that strength- and asset-based approaches have the potential to address health and wellness in a more optimal way, and in a manner respectful of many individual’s and community’s value systems.  

Another aspect that is very important to me is to maintain a reciprocal relationship with my community. I work with NAU’s American Indian Nursing Program. I love teaching and it’s really awesome to see our students learn and grow, and to support their learning and potential along the way. Another area relevant to this question is partnering for better futures via policy and legislation. As we speak, there are a number of legislative and policy related decisions being made that will directly and indirectly affect health and wellness.  Nurses are in a unique and well-positioned role to have a strong voice in these conversations and decision making processes. 

Where are you from originally? 

I was born in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, lived in different States as my Dad was in the Marines and Army, then grew up in South Dakota, and have lived in Navajo Nation for most of the last nine years. So, kind of all over. 

Do you have any other degrees?

I received my BSN from South Dakota State University, and MSN from the UA. After this, I’d like to consider a MPH.

Are you funded by a scholarship?

I am a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Future of Nursing Scholar in Cohort 4. This has been an amazing opportunity and an honor. I am the parent of four children ages 5-17, so being an FNS Scholar with the associated grant has made a huge difference in being able to pursue this dream. Additionally, the resources, networking, webinars, and intensives associated with FNS have contributed greatly to my personal, professional, and academic growth.