Instead of growing crops, Greg Bowman set out to cultivate health.
Bowman, whose childhood home in Indiana was surrounded by farmland, knew he wanted to help people flourish, so he quickly became drawn to a career in nursing. After moving to Chicago, Bowman enrolled in the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Rush University’s College of Nursing and is now helping Rush Faculty Practice attend to COVID-19 in shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
Bowman recently talked about his upbringing and values, as well as his COVID-19 work and his goals for the future.
Tell us about your background.
Greg Bowman: I grew up in rural central Indiana – between a bean field and a corn field. We had a few beef cattle and a large garden, but we weren’t farmers by trade.
Growing up in a rural area was a character-building exercise. Compassionate hard work and other values were instilled in me from a young age. That was central to my upbringing and really formed the foundation of my nursing career.
I received a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2010 from Indiana University in Kokomo, which is one of the school’s satellite campuses. That’s when I started my nursing career. Most of my work has been in family and primary care medicine, and a lot of that was health education and triage on an outpatient basis. I also worked in neurosurgery for three years at Rush.
In 2019, I started work on my DNP at the Rush University College of Nursing. And since July of 2020, I’ve been working with Rush Faculty Practice as a community health nurse providing care for people who live in shelters.
What was it like to transition from living in a rural area to one of the biggest cities in the world?
GB: My wife and I lived in Oak Park, Illinois, when we first moved here, and it took some time to settle in. There are so many sights and sounds that I was just not used to. Then we moved to Humboldt Park in the city, and we really got our city legs underneath us. Living in the city has been so enriching for me. I grew up in a very homogenous community, so this move has been really, really healthy for me.
What are some fulfilling projects you're working on?
GB: Earlier in 2020 I was invited by Rush Faculty Practice to take on a new role working with Heartland Alliance Health, which is a nonprofit humanitarian organization. Heartland Alliance Health is a federally qualified health center that specializes in care for those experiencing homelessness. In this new position, I focus on preventing COVID-19 outbreaks in shelters for people experiencing homelessness and for those in single room occupancy hotels that are affiliated with Heartland Alliance health.
We attempt to prevent outbreaks in these populations by providing COVID testing, staff and resident education, and consulting on questions about infection control. A second objective is to expand primary care services in these settings, where these services are sorely needed. Many of these folks lack access to regular health care and suffer from unmanaged physical and mental health illnesses.
I’ve had really good collaborators, especially Dr. Angela Moss. As associate dean of Faculty Practice, she’s my work boss. But she’s also my academic adviser. She gave me the opportunity to work with Rush Faculty Practice and has been really instrumental in a lot of my success. She’s a fantastic mentor.
What motivated you to pursue nursing as a career?
GB: Compassion for the poor was a value that my parents taught when I was growing up, and it’s a value I can carry over as I pursue my nursing career. Some of that comes from a religious context, which was really foundational for me. I saw my parents demonstrate compassion for the poor. They are generous people. I remember stopping at a hotel during a road trip to California, and my dad saw an immigrant worker sweeping in the parking lot. My dad gave me $20 and told me to give it to the worker.
Why did you choose Rush?
GB: The DNP program I’m in is consistently ranked at the top or near the top of U.S. News’ rankings. That was more than enough reason for me. Aside from the College of Nursing’s rankings, Rush has a reputation as a top academic medical center nationwide, which was very appealing. So when I do clinical rotations, I’ll have a chance to follow some of the best clinicians at Rush who also happen to be some of the best in the state and the nation.
And I'm a Rush employee, so it's convenient to go to school and work at the same campus. Actually, I didn't apply anywhere else. I was fortunate.
What has your experience at the College of Nursing been like overall?
GB: It's gone very well. The course instruction has been outstanding. I especially enjoyed my Advanced Physiology class with a brilliant man named Dr. Farrokh Asadi. I also really enjoyed Advanced Pathophysiology with Dr. Amber Kujath. The third class that has really stood out to me is Health Care Economics, Policy and Finance with Dr. Josephine Howard-Ruben. They all significantly added to my knowledge base and made me a much better critical thinker.
What do you see yourself doing after you graduate?
GB: I'd like to continue to work as a primary care nurse practitioner, and I’m definitely open to working in a shelter for people experiencing homelessness. There's a huge need there. It is amazing to see how many are sick and have unmanaged illnesses in shelters. They don't have access to the same resources that others might.
Also, access to health care in rural areas is a major concern, so I can see myself going back to an area like the one I grew up in. A report from Modern Healthcare said around 25% of rural hospitals were facing financial strain, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. They have had to make all of these capital investments in changing their facilities to accommodate COVID, so many of their usual services have been drastically reduced. They lost a big chunk of their revenue. It's a problem for hospitals everywhere, but I think it will disproportionately impact rural hospitals that were already struggling to get by.
I'd also like to be involved in some way in the formation of health care policy, with an emphasis on creating more health care equity.
What advice would you give someone following a similar path?
GB: To my younger self and younger students, I’d tell them that failure is a necessary part of the growth process. Don’t fear failure. It’s a normal part of the human experience. Don’t let it paralyze you or dissuade you from following your interests. In my 20s, I was fixated on doing things perfectly, so I missed out on some excellent opportunities.
Also, consider working with underserved populations. The wealth and opportunity gap are growing in this country. Due to job losses, we expect homelessness to grow. There will continue to be a need for nurses and nurse practitioners in underserved communities.