Early in her medical career, Wafaa Tali was inspired by the resiliency, strength and playfulness of her pediatric patients.
Now with help from two donor-funded scholarships, Tali is on her way to becoming a primary care pediatric nurse practitioner through the RUSH University College of Nursing’s Direct Entry Pathway Program.
The program allows students to obtain a master’s degree in nursing — which Tali is on track to earn in fall 2024 — then transition seamlessly to a Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP, program.
A commitment to helping children
“I have always had a passion to give back to people, but it really sparked when I started working with kids,” Tali said.
While studying pre-medicine at Boston University, Tali worked at a clinic connecting families experiencing food insecurity to resources and helping launch a fitness program for children diagnosed with obesity.
“The pediatricians wanted to encourage kids to take walks, play outside and get active,” Tali reflected. “But through that project, they found that there were so many obstacles in the way. Some of the children’s neighborhoods were not safe or had no sidewalks.”
This experience ignited Tali’s passion for helping children clinically while examining and addressing the root causes of health inequity. Following graduation and some work experience at Boston Children’s Hospital, Tali returned home during the COVID-19 pandemic and got a job at Nationwide Children’s Hospital as a clinical care assistant in hematology/oncology.
“That’s, by far, been my favorite experience,” she said. “I worked alongside a lot of nurse practitioners, and I loved what they did.”
From that point forward, Tali’s career goal was set — to work with children from systemically marginalized communities and make access to high-quality pediatric care more equitable.
“I love learning about and working with kids,” she said. “They keep you on your toes. They are funny and curious. They will say what’s on their mind.”
The journey to RUSH
Tali’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Morocco in the 1980s. Though her father earned a degree in Morocco, it was not well-respected in the U.S. Despite this, he achieved success as an international banker. Tali’s mother and father continually encouraged her and her younger brother to prioritize education.
“My parents have always been so grateful for the educational opportunities that this country gives to people,” Tali said. “I’m very grateful for their encouragement because I feel like it’s shaped who I am today. At first, I was a first-generation undergrad student, and now I’m a first-generation grad student. It’s a beautiful experience and very humbling to think about what my life could have been like if I didn’t go to school in the U.S. and have opportunities like coming to RUSH and going to the top DNP program in the country.”
When Tali found out she was the recipient of The Woman’s Board Endowed Scholarship and the Virginia K. Karnes and William G. Karnes Endowed Scholarship, she was surprised and grateful for the recognition of her hard work and potential.
“The scholarship has meant everything to me,” she said. “It was life changing. It’s a big reason why I’m here, and I don’t know if I’d be here without it.
Achieving academic success
While the coursework at RUSH has been challenging, it has also reignited Tali’s confidence in her academic and professional abilities.
“I’ve been learning a lot — not just clinically but about the therapeutic communication that applies throughout your life as a practitioner,” she said. “One thing I really appreciate about RUSH is it’s very diverse. Most of my professors are Black women. It has been phenomenal to have people who actually look like me teaching me.”
Tali applies approaches she learned from Angela Allen, DNP, RN, clinical instructor in the Department of Community, Systems and Mental Health Nursing, to her clinical rotation with patients.
“She embodies what a great practitioner should be,” Tali said of Dr. Allen. “She teaches that no matter what a patient is going through, if they are having difficulty with mental health, it will affect how they heal down the line.”
Dr. Allen views Tali as a critical thinker who is always willing to show up for her team.
“She is very professional, receptive to feedback and to patients, and very intentional in her learning and her motivation to go to the next level with things,” Dr. Allen said. “She will be an asset on a team as a player and a leader. I think she’ll go far in nursing.”