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Dr. Antonia Villarruel is one of the few Latina nursing deans in the country, and the only one at an Ivy League School. Photo: Samantha Laub/AL DÍA News.
Dr. Antonia Villarruel is one of the few Latina nursing deans in the country, and the only one at an Ivy League School. Photo: Samantha Laub/AL DÍA News.

Dr. Antonia Villarruel to chair national committee tackling U.S. health disparities

The dean of UPenn’s nursing school will lead the advisory committee for the National Academy of Medicine’s Culture of Health program.

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On April 7, Dr. Antonia Villarruel, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing, was announced as the newest chair of the National Academy of Medicine’s Culture of Health program.

The effort, founded in 2015 with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, works to identify strategies to create and sustain good equitable health solutions across the country.

Amid COVID-19, the gap in equitable healthcare was laid bare as communities of color caught coronavirus and died at higher rates than others. It’s still rearing its head as the coronavirus vaccine rollout hits high gear. 

Four months in, communities of color are only now starting to get the access they need to the vaccine, especially considering a majority of them are essential workers that propped the country up as it quarantined. They also play a major role in its gradual reopening.

As a result of the last year and change, the National Academy of Medicine’s Culture of Health program stands to play a significant role in helping reshape a U.S. healthcare system that serves all.

“The Culture of Health Program is well-positioned to build and strengthen the evidence base to address structural racism. This work will be accomplished together with communities and the multiple private- and public-sectors that intersect to promote health,” said Villarruel.

She brings more than 30 years of experience in working to bridge healthcare gaps to the chairmanship of the advisory committee. Rooted in her Mexican background, Villarruel’s work and research has revolved around the Latino population, focusing primarily on youth.

As dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing, a position Villarruel took six years ago, she is one of the few Latina deans of a nursing school in the country and the only one at an Ivy League school.

At the National Academy of Medicine, Villarruel was the first — and still only — Latina inducted into the organization as a member.

Back in 2017, Villarruel was honored by AL DÍA as one of its pillars of leadership for its Hispanic Heritage Month Awards.

She is also a recipient of the President’s Award for Health Behavior Intervention Research from the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research, an inductee into the Sigma Theta Tau International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame, and won the Global Philadelphia Association’s Globy Award for Educational Leadership.

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