After Breaking New Ground in AIDS Research, a Scholar Turns His Eye to Rutgers College of Nursing
New dean wants to create urban health centers in New Brunswick and Newark
During the late 1970s, Bill Holzemer relocated to San Francisco to do research at the University of California and pursue a nursing degree. He had no idea he’d encounter the most serious public health crisis of the late 20th century.
“I trained during the time we saw the first AIDS patients – and many, many people died,” he said. “I had gone back to school because I was interested in developing a clinical research program – and there it was right in front of me.”
Three decades later, Holzemer, an acclaimed scholar and AIDS researcher, is the new dean of Rutgers College of Nursing. And he comes with a vision for nursing education that’s shaped by his experience working on the front lines of the HIV crisis.
“I think HIV is the place where we saw the empowerment of people affected by illness,” Holzemer said. “It taught us that sometimes the patient knows more about his condition than the provider.”
Now halfway through his first year at Rutgers, Holzemer is laying the groundwork for an urban health institute in which the college, with its schools in Newark and New Brunswick, would deepen its relationships with the people in its home communities. The approach calls for building partnerships with a range of stakeholders – from established institutions like hospitals and nursing homes to neighborhood clinics and citizen groups.
The institute would be a place where undergraduates do service learning projects – such as providing health information to underserved minority populations. It would also allow graduate students and faculty to perform advanced care techniques, treating and assessing patients. And, there would be plenty of opportunity for research, on AIDS or other topics.
“What will an urban health institute look like in the college of nursing?” Holzemer mused recently from his office on the Newark Campus. “It will probably have more than one physical location, but ultimately it’s a virtual institute of bringing people together.”
One location that the college is already focusing on is the Family Health Center of St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick. A Rutgers assistant nursing professor, Karen D’Alonzo, has already developed some intriguing programs at the center, including the training of 13 Latino women to promote women’s health among other Latinas.
Under Holzemer, the college has applied for a federal grant that will build on D’Alonzo’s work and create a three-way partnership between the college, the hospital, and the Latino community.
“What we want is for students to become engaged in the issues facing urban communities, particularly underserved minority communities,” D’Alonzo said. “We want them to get out in the community and see first-hand the kinds of problems people have and kinds of barriers people are facing in getting healthcare.”
In his AIDS research, Holzemer’s work was similarly people-focused. He examined the day-to-day struggles patients had with their medications and in dealing with the stigma of the disease.
“When we began our work, there were two camps in AIDS research – prevention and treatment,” he said. “Nobody was really focusing on what it was like to live with HIV. And as nurses, that’s what we do. We help people live with their conditions and maximize the quality of life.”
One project he did in Africa produced a symptom management manual geared to the patient that has been translated into about 10 African languages.
“When you get neuropathy, where you can’t feel your feet or your hands, what do you do?” Holzemer asked. “The truth is that medicine may not have any answers.
“We come along and say, well, here’s how you might be able to live with it a little better.”
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Holzemer served as associate dean for international programs and director of the International Center for HIV/AIDS Research at the School of Nursing at University of California, San Francisco.
He has bachelor degrees in psychology and nursing, a master’s degree in education/counseling and a Ph.D. in higher education administration.