Few can keep up with this Jones
By Dan Heuchert
Randy Jones may be the Class of 2005’s most highly sought-after graduate.
On Sunday, he will walk down the Lawn for the third time in five years, this time to receive a doctorate in nursing. By his own estimation, he will join a tiny fraternity of African-American males with nursing Ph.D.s — “probably less than 20” in the United States, he said.
“My guess is that Mr. Jones is correct about the numbers, but I don’t know of any way to actually verify them,” said Vanderbilt nursing professor Randolph F.R. Rasch, who describes himself as the first black male to hold a Ph.D. in nursing.
According to figures compiled by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, only 16 of 412 doctoral nursing degrees awarded nationwide in 2004 went to men, and only 28 to African Americans.
Add to that the dearth of doctors of nursing in general, and that Jones will graduate from a well-regarded university, and you get “hot competition” for his services among the nation’s nursing schools, said Jones’ doctoral adviser Ann Gill Taylor.
“We would very much like to keep him here,” she added.
Jones has interviewed for a faculty position at U.Va. He also is considering offers from The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Virginia Commonwealth University and a New York healthcare consulting firm. “I’m still waiting for all of the offers to come in, and then I’ll make a firm decision,” he said. “It’s an exciting time.”
If inertia plays any part in his decision, U.Va. ought to be in good shape. Jones, 28, first came to the University seven years ago after graduating from Hampden-Sydney College with a biology degree, eschewing medical school to seek a second bachelor’s degree in nursing.
His change of career path came after he participated in a program that allowed him to shadow doctors. “It wasn’t quite as appealing as I thought it was,” he said. “I wanted to do more patient care.”
Jones finished U.Va.’s undergraduate nursing program in 2000.
Interested in pursuing research, he accepted a fellowship from U.Va.’s Center for the Study of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. He went on to earn a master’s degree, a nurse practitioner’s certificate in mental health nursing and finally his doctorate — all in five years, while working part-time in the U.Va. Medical Center’s mental health unit.
His dissertation focused on the use of complementary and alternative medicine by African-American men with prostate cancer. Although some herbal medicines may interact with conventional drugs, he found that the chief alternative therapy employed by the 14 Central Virginia men he surveyed was prayer.
“We need to be more open to talking about spirituality,” Jones said. “In health care, we put up barriers. We just want to give out meds. We need to move toward a more holistic approach.”
His interest was fueled by an uncle who developed prostate cancer and later died. African-American men are three times as likely to suffer from the disease as whites, Jones noted.
Despite an interest in science, “nursing was the furthest thing from my mind in high school,” said Jones. The native of Prospect, Va., near Farmville, said he targeted medicine then because he thought the career outlook was brighter.
With his later change of job paths, he also found a radical change in educational culture surrounding him. After attending an all-male college, U.Va.’s female-dominated School of Nursing was another world, he said.
But he also found the scale comfortably familiar. “It was more of the same feeling of a small school,” he said. “Everyone was pretty open, gave good advice and seemed to want to help me get to the next level.”
U.Va. nursing professor Courtney Lyder, who believes he is the only African-American male in the world to hold an endowed nursing chair, has been particularly inspirational, Jones said. The two lunch together regularly, and Lyder brought Jones along with him to last fall’s American Academy of Nursing conference, where Jones made valuable contacts.
Wherever he ends up, Jones plans to continue researching the disparity in health care outcomes between whites and African Americans.
“Research is the foundation to try to change health care,” he said.