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Our Nurses of the Week are UCLA School of Nursing professors Christine Samuel-Nakamura and Mary Rezk-Hanna who have both received grants from the UCLA Academic Senate Council on Research to conduct research projects inspired by their heritage. After earning their doctorate degrees at UCLA Nursing, both nurses were welcomed as assistant professors at the university.

Samuel-Nakamura grew up on the Diné (the indigenous name for Navajo) Nation reservation in New Mexico where she was the youngest child in a large family that raised its own livestock and crops. Her experience growing up on the reservation made Samuel-Nakamura aware of the challenges facing her tribe, including poverty and chronic health problems like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She later decided to help address these issues by becoming a nurse.

Samuel-Nakamura earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of New Mexico, then pursued her Family Nurse Practitioner Master of Science in Nursing degree at UCLA. She tells Newsroom.UCLA.edu:

“I wanted to be able to work with communities on their health issues and empower people to help themselves…As a researcher, you investigate and explore what you see in clinical practice and develop some type of explanation for it and find a way to address it. Clinical practice informs research which, in turn, informs clinical practice.”

Samuel-Nakamura worked for several years in the clinical setting in the federally run Indian Health Service and in tribal hospital clinics on the Diné reservation in Arizona where community elders appreciated her ability to speak with them in their native tongue. She recently received two one-year grants to re-evaluate environmentally contaminated sites in Los Angeles County (home to the largest urban American Indian population in the United States). One grant comes from the American Indian Studies Center in the UCLA Institute of American Cultures and the second is from the UCLA Academic Senate Council on Research.

Mary Rezk-Hanna found inspiration for her research program growing up in Alexandria, Egypt, where both of her parents worked as physicians. She shadowed them as they treated patients, which influenced her decision to become a nurse. One thing she remembers from growing up in Alexandria is looking down from her apartment balcony and being fascinated by the popular hookah cafes across the street.

Rezk-Hanna’s family moved to the US when she was 13 and she later earned her associate degree in nursing and worked as a registered nurse where she became interested in the physiological effects of smoking in young adults with tobacco-related illnesses. She then obtained her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from George Mason University, and while pursuing a Family Nurse Practitioner Master of Science degree at UCLA, she was selected to conduct a community research project about a local population health concern.

Rezk-Hanna found that two of the largest hookah lounges in LA are within one mile of UCLA and considered a major community health concern. She noticed most customers were young adults, with a large portion of them being females, and decided to conduct a study to assess young adult hookah smokers’ attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs toward their choice of smoking, and to identify predictors of hookah smoking. She found that the majority of subjects believed that hookah smoking is not harmful to one’s health.

Rezk-Hanna tells Newsroom.UCLA.edu, “These data could be used to inform young adults about the dangers of hookah smoking as well as provide evidence to guide policy specific to hookah and other alternative tobacco products and nicotine delivery systems.”

Rezk-Hanna is building on her recent findings by studying other evolving hookah tobacco products and their effects on heart health. She has received three grants to investigate the potential cardiovascular toxicity of electronic hookah use among young adults: one from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, one from the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and one from the UCLA Academic Senate Council on Research.

To learn more about UCLA Nursing professors Christine Samuel-Nakamura and Mary Rezk-Hanna and how their heritage has inspired their research, visit here.

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