Kynna Wright, RN, Ph.D.: Making Her Grandmothers Proud

Profiles in Nursing

Kynna Wright, RN, Ph.D.: Making Her Grandmothers Proud

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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Her two grandmothers were lay nurses, and Kynna Wright-Volel caught the nursing bug from them. Both were largely self-taught — one with only a sixth-grade education — but now their granddaughter is teaching in one of the premier nursing schools in the country. Wright-Volel is not only an assistant professor of nursing at the UCLA School of Nursing, but also a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation nurse faculty scholar and a 2011 inductee of the American Academy of Nursing.

Wright-Volel is a Los Angeles native and went to school at UCLA, receiving her BSN in 1993, her MSN as a pediatric nurse practitioner in 1997, an M.S. in public health in 1999 and a Ph.D. in public health and community health sciences in 2006. She credits solid mentoring for much of her success. When Wright-Volel was in the prerequisite stage of her nursing education, she was guided by an outreach worker at UCLA School of Nursing, Rhonda Younger. All along the way, Wright-Volel has received help from others, including well-known child advocate Vivian Weinstein. Now, Wright-Volel hopes to do the same.

Always a Nurse

In keeping with the mandate from UCLA Dean Courtney Lyder, Wright-Volel maintains clinical involvement, despite her teaching and research roles. “I am always a nurse,” she says. She currently works with children being treated in a hematology/oncology clinic — a slight departure from her main research focus: childhood obesity and the relationship between poverty, environment and the chronic diseases of childhood.

Another of Wright-Volel’s interests is public policy. She has testified in Sacramento and participated in the effort to pass a cigarette tax initiative to provide funding for early childhood programs.

P.E. Programs for Kids

Newly awarded grants from the National Institutes of Health will enable Wright-Volel and her research team to focus on middle school children from 22 Los Angeles area schools, exploring the interrelationships of obesity, physical activity, body image and disease. The $1.2 million project, called Shape L.A., will reach 12,000 children through an evidence-based P.E. program and the mentoring of P.E. teachers educated in nutrition and physical activity: it will also provide new P.E. equipment for each school.

The Poverty-Disease Link

Wright-Volel relates how the light bulb first turned on for her about the connection between poverty and disease. A young boy in whom she had invested considerable time kept reappearing with asthma exacerbations. It wasn’t until she saw a cockroach crawl out of his ear that she understood the Herculean problems facing the child and his family.

How could she help? She didn’t know, and neither did anyone else. It wasn’t her problem — at least, that is what everyone said. But Wright-Volel, like many other good nurses, saw the interconnections and decided to do something about them. Her degrees in public health were the first step. Now, she feels equipped to offer the type of help that many patients need: the kind of help that nursing can offer in a distinctive way. “I am all about prevention,” she explains, “and what are we going to do to provide long-term help, not just quick fixes.”

How does she get it all done? “I have a passion about what I do and always try to remember what I am doing it for,” she says. When asked if either of her grandmothers has had the chance to enjoy her success, Wright-Volel answers, “Yes,” with great delight.  

Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN, is a
Working Nurse staff writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

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