Assistant professor Nakia Best, PhD, has a knack for diving into a venture — whether it’s a career or a new hobby — and going with the flow to see where it leads.
Take, for example, the Richmond Marathon in Virginia in 2017.
“I joined a running group and we just started running farther and farther,” she remembers. The group started signing up for 5K races, then a half marathon.
“And the next thing I know, I’m training for the Richmond Marathon. All I wanted to do was run a 5K!”
Hooked on nursing
Her nursing career came to fruition in a similar way.
“I always knew I would go to college, but my dad said I needed to fix my grades if I was going to do that.”
Best’s parents also noticed how much she cared for others. They suggested she look into nursing as a career.
“They wanted me to have stability. There’s always going to be a need for a nurse. I’ll always have a job somewhere.”
In her senior year of high school, Best enrolled in a course that introduced her to the many career options in healthcare.
“I was hooked,” she says.
Bringing more nurses into schools
After receiving her master’s in nursing, she was encouraged by her department chair at the University of Chapel Hill — North Carolina to go for her PhD. She earned her degree in 2018.
Best’s dissertation was an examination of school nurse data in North Carolina. Through her work, she forged a strong working relationship with the state’s school nurse consultant supervisor.
Together, they applied for a grant to continue the work of alleviating the shortage of school nurses in North Carolina.
Effecting change in Orange County
Today, Best is doing the same work in Orange County. The school nurse shortage is a national problem: 40% of all schools in the country only have a part-time nurse while 25% have no nurse at all.
The issue has become even more pressing as schools seek to reopen safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People are trying to get their schools reopened and they’re realizing there’s no healthcare person to answer their questions. COVID is horrible, but it’s bringing to light the shortage.”
Good data leads to good knowledge
The best way to illustrate the need for nurses in schools and effect change, Best says, is with data.
“I have to show what school nurses do. You’ve got to have good data to give you good information, knowledge and wisdom,” she says. “I’m trying to help people get to wisdom.”
Best loves every facet of nursing, including research and teaching.
“It’s an honor to be able to share my knowledge and passion for nursing with students.”
A multitude of hobbies
Best brings the same level of passion to her personal life as she does her professional one.
She’s a new plant mom who is particularly taken with air plants. Best also recently adopted a vegan diet and is currently reading about how to adopt a more plant-based lifestyle.
She also likes to volunteer at school drives and food banks. “I’m still trying to find things I can do safely.”
Best gets her social fix these days watching people online play video games. “You can chat with them. I’m alone, but I’m with people.”
She still likes to run, even though there haven’t been any races in 2020. She misses the camaraderie of it.
“Running brings all different kinds of people together who wouldn’t necessarily hang out.”