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Nursing PhD student works to ensure English-language learners thrive as nurses

Zareen Barry inspired by her mother and her students

By Colleen Locke

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

October 25, 2021

Zareen Barry didn’t always want to be a nurse educator.

Growing up in Worcester County, the PhD student in the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing at UMass Chan Medical School watched as her single mother, an immigrant from Pakistan, enrolled in an associate degree nursing program while raising four children. When it came time to go to college, Barry wasn’t ready to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Yet.

“When I was younger, I just had a dream to save the world. So, I studied environmental health, because I was going to save the world through cleaning water,” Barry said. “I didn’t start nursing until my late 20s.”

Barry studied history and biology at Boston University as an undergrad before earning a master’s in public health from Boston University School of Public Health. She got a job as a clinical researcher at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center but craved a direct connection with people. Wanting to stay in health care, she enrolled in Boston College’s direct entry master’s program and became a nurse practitioner.

By this time, Barry and her husband had a daughter, Laila. After they adopted daughter Rania from Central Africa, Barry needed a more flexible schedule. She started teaching in a community program that connected people who lived in Section 8 housing to health care jobs, the same housing that she had grown up in. She was immediately able to connect to her students and her mother, Nafisa Kabani, who worked in obstetrics for 25 years and currently works in psychiatric services at UMass Memorial Health – Harrington in Southbridge.

“Coming over as an immigrant and getting her degree here, she always promoted the importance of education,” Barry said.

Barry began teaching in an associate degree nursing program in Massachusetts, just like the one Kabani completed as an English-language learner.

“My students taught me so much. I was supposed to be their teacher, but they were also teaching me. And that’s one of the things about the PhD program in the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing: The teachers here are so open and they’re looking to learn from you as well as teach you,” Barry said.

She is doing her dissertation on English-language-learner nursing students and their transition into nursing education.

“When I was teaching in the associate degree nursing program, I saw some inequities with the English-language-learner nursing students. I wanted to see how I could help those students succeed in the nursing workforce,” Barry said.

Barry’s interests are in academics and in research. After earning her PhD, she would like to continue teaching as well as do research on diversity, inequities in health care and nursing education and health care disparities.

“I’m saving the world, but in a different way now,” she said.

The Student Spotlight series features UMass Chan Medical School students in the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing and T.H. Chan School of Medicine. For more information about UMass Chan Medical School and how to apply, visit the Prospective Students page.

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