ANA Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation® Spotlight - Uzoamaka Nwankpa, DNP, MSN-PH, RN 4783

ANA Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation® Spotlight - Uzoamaka Nwankpa, DNP, MSN-PH, RN


Nurse uses Indigenous healing methods to boost health providers' mental health — as well as her own

Author and poet Dr. Maya Angelou once said, I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

As a #healthynurse dedicated to supporting the needs of others, Dr. Uzoamaka (Uzo) Nwankpa embodies this sentiment. Originally from Nigeria, Dr. Nwankpa draws from an ancestral culture rooted in music and dance to heal others, and herself.

Discovering the Healing Powers of Song and Dance

Raised in Enugu, Nigeria, Dr. Nwankpa immigrated to the United States at the age of 15, accompanied by her 17-year-old brother. Their parents wanted them to have an opportunity to live, study, and thrive in the U.S.

Our parents sold their land and their car and put us on a one-way ticket,” she says. As a young girl living in Nigeria, West Africa, I didnt have much power. Here, as an adult, I have power.”

Dr. Nwankpa first lived in Maryland, then moved to Florida to attend nursing school. Adjusting to life in a foreign country as a teenager wasnt easy. Dr. Nwankpa turned to the cultural healing practices of Nigeria to cope.

I had my hands on many different things in a quest to discover how to heal my own feelings of disconnection, anxiety, and depression,” she says. The songs and dances [of Nigeria] brought a sense of home for me, attempting to live and survive on this land.”

Dr. Nwankpa earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at Barry University in Florida. She then moved to Tucson, AZ and received a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from Grand Canyon University. She received her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, CA.

Serving Postpartum Mothers in New Zealand
After receiving her MSN, Dr. Nwankpa spent time in New Zealand helping groups of women in their postpartum phase of motherhood. She shared her ancestral songs and dances with the mothers and their babies. She also invited the groups to share movements that felt old and natural to them.

I measured the well-being of postpartum women who were experiencing depression and anxiety,” she explains. I studied how they felt before and after engaging in these sessions.”

The results were fascinating. Dr. Nwankpa discovered that sharing music and dance together enhanced the mothersphysical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.

It was their social well-being that needed the most support,” she says. It was fulfilling for them because they got to be in a positive, sharing space with other mothers and babies.”

The RICHER Model Takes Form
Dr. Nwankpa returned to the United States and, using the knowledge she gained in New Zealand, developed the RICHER Model for wellness.

The Model combines ancient Nigerian healing arts with the APIE nursing process (assessment, planning, implementation, evaluation). It consists of 5 separate elements:

Reflection assesses how people are feeling at the beginning of a session. This part is documented,” Dr. Nwankpa says. It can be documented verbally, visually, or artistically. But its explicitly asked.”

Integration of mind, body, and spirit often means channeling that which is greater than you,” says Dr. Nwankpa. Combining music and motion is a way to elicit a mind-body-spirit connection, she says. Other ways include practices like yoga, meditation, and visualization.

Doing something together as a group can create that sense of cohesion among us all,” she says. Whether its humming a song or stomping together, very childlike and playful, it disarms us and is heart-centered and heart-opening.”

Choreography makes up the CH” in RICHER. Within the model, the facilitator choreographs movements for the group. While Dr. Nwankpa uses music and dance, movements can take any form. This includes painting, gardening, or anything else the facilitator chooses.

We always evaluate the sessions for safety,” says Dr. Nwankpa. When children are with us, it is part of a group agreement to ensure every child is safe.” In addition to safety, the facilitator evaluates the groups physical, emotional, spiritual, and social state and makes adjustments as necessary.

The end of the session includes a final reflection on how participants feel. For one particular experience, we had pieces of fabric, different colors,” says Dr. Nwankpa. We had mothers choose a fabric and write their feelings on it. We turned the fabric into a beautiful tree, using expressive arts to tell a story about our time together.”

Using the RICHER Model with Health Care Providers
At the start of the pandemic, after the killing of George Floyd, Dr. Nwankpa saw an opportunity to create a healing space for herself and other Black health care workers.

There was all this tension, this collective grief,” she says. I invited Black health care workers to engage in communal healing sessions using the RICHER Model. And it didnt surprise me that this was a space that was needed.”

The first RICHER Model sessions for health care workers happened virtually over Zoom, due to social distancing restrictions. When the pandemic ended, the concept expanded to group meetings in local clinics, at professional development events, and in hospital settings.

Its a moving program,” says Dr. Nwankpa. It can be used as a tool for team building and connecting staff. It has been used in shelters with women who have experienced domestic violence, as a healing space during their rehabilitation.”

As the health care industry deals with a shortage of nurses, mental health care has never been more important. Dr. Nwankpa sees her wellness program as a respite and mental health intervention.

She plans to grow the RICHER Model by training others to facilitate groups wherever a need exists. Everyone has an ancestral connection,” she says. Everyone has an indigeneity from somewhere. Together, we can honor our ancestral gifts.”

Uzo Nwankpa, DNP, MSN-PH, RN, is an assistant professor at the Samuel Merritt University College of Nursing. Dr. Nwankpa developed the RICHER Model wellness system for health providers.

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Blog #healthynurse Spotlight 07/08/2024 9:03am CDT

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The #healthynurse Spotlight is a shout out to nurses who are making changes in their lives to improve their health and wellness. You can too! Read their stories for inspiration here.