Professor working towards better health care in conflict zones

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Associate Professor for the School of Nursing, Asma Taha, Ph.D., has 26 years of nursing experience as well as 11 years as a professor. (Adriana Najera / Daily Titan)

As a child, witnessing the struggles of her diabetic father—having to administer his insulin shots on a daily basis—Asma A. Taha, Ph.D., associate professor for the School of Nursing at Cal State Fullerton, was exposed to the world of healthcare at an early age.

Now, with more than 26 years of nursing experience and 11 years as a professor of nursing, Taha has an avid passion for expanding global health in the Middle East and preparing her students for a successful career in nursing.

Taha received her bachelor’s degree in her homeland at the University of Jordan while working to support herself and family. In between classes, she worked at the university hospital as a nursing aid, the university library and at a private hospital.

Following undergraduate school, Taha extended her stay at the University of Jordan for another year as a clinical instructor for pediatrics. The following year, she moved to Qatar where she taught for 10 years.

In 1999, Taha decided to move to America, where she immediately continued her education and received her master’s and doctorate degrees in pediatric nursing at Azusa Pacific University.

Ruth Mielke, assistant professor for the School of Nursing at CSUF, a long time friend of Taha from APU, has witnessed her ambition to succeed firsthand, during the Ph.D. program at APU.

“The Ph.D. program is really hard to get through in four years, and Asma did it, she got through in four years, and I got finished in five years. She is quite a go-getter, very well organized,” Mielke said. “Asma really had come alongside me and I’m sure other people, and really helped support their work. I don’t want to say its unheard of, but its not typical. She is very collegial. It really has been a blessing.”

An effort to go above and beyond for those around her, in the past, Taha has planned outreach trips for her former nursing students of Cal State San Bernardino, to expand their horizons and learn to work in culturally different environments, with limited resources. One outreach trip in particular was a 10-day mission trip to Jamaica in 2011.

“I love the students, it’s really a privilege to be a part of their lives. I think it’s also a big responsibility that we get to mold them in a way that we want them to be excellent nurses,” Taha said.

Taha is in the process of working on a proposal to hopefully identify some students who will be willing to help her collect data on children with physical instabilities and looking into the quality of life, spirituality, coping or depression among the kids and caregivers. They would be interviewing the children and their parents, Taha said. She expects to be assigned to Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, where she has continued her practice since 2005 in pediatrics and neurosurgery.

Taha hopes her students “take this opportunity of being nursing students and make the best out of it,” she said. “They can be excellent caregivers in acute care and community health, and the global outreach. I think they are privileged to be in a program that will prepare them to basically meet the needs of our community and the globe.”

Jennifer Vargas, nursing major, recalls a time during clinicals at Kaiser Permanente in Fontana, when she was enlightened by Taha’s devotion for caring for her patient in particular.

“I had a patient and we were in there giving medication and usually when you are in there with your instructor, they are focused on that task. (Taha) had concerns for the patient regarding his coloring,” Vargas said. “That impacted me because I saw how she was really caring for this patient, not just passing medications—she was looking at the bigger picture and being a patient advocate.”

Beside being an associate professor, Taha recently spoke at a conference held in Aqaba, Jordan, mustered by Jean Watson, M.D., and Watson Caring Institute; the event was held in Jean’s efforts to bring nurses together in the middle east to unite for peace.

At the 3rd Annual Human Caring in a Time of World Crisis: Transcending Culture and Boundaries conference, Taha spoke about caring in a conflict zone. Her presentation was based on research she conducted by looking at healthcare challenges in a highly-geopolitical atmosphere, which nurses in war zones have encountered during more than six decades of conflict between Israel and Palestine.

The purpose of the study was to explore the experiences of nurses practicing in the West Bank, according to Taha’s abstract for the conference. Taha conducted an interview sample of 17 registered nurses working at an acute hospital in the West Bank between 2012 and 2013.

The interviews, ranging from 60 to 90 minutes, were guided by two main questions which aimed to reveal the experiences of the Palestinian nurses practicing in conflict zones.

Through Taha’s findings, two main themes emerged: “a sense of duty and a sense of accomplishment. Both themes highlighted the factors that foster the nurses’ ability to continue to care regardless of the countless structural, political and environmental barriers.”

“I have noticed from day one that their experience is different than our life in the western world as nurses,” Taha said. “I’m trying to give voice for nurses in other parts of the world where they are not as privileged or they don’t have the resources that the western world have,” Taha said.

Taha has been volunteering in the West Bank since 2006, and goes back at least once annually. There she works with local nurses and helps care for children with complex needs.
“I think its very important to be concerned with social justice issues, not only at the local level, but at the global level. Especially because I have that background and I have that education in the U.S., so I feel like I kind of bring out the voice of those nurses,” Taha said.

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