Ann Kurth, PhD, RN, CNM, MPH is a leader in higher education and health—with a passion to improve the world. She is the dean and Linda Koch Lorimer Professor of Nursing at Yale School of Nursing (YSN) and a professor of epidemiology of microbial diseases at Yale School of Public Health. Dean Kurth’s trajectory includes education at Princeton (BA magna cum laude); research in sub-Saharan Africa; public health training at Columbia University and clinical education at Yale; and work in sectors both private (hospital systems, nonprofits, and leading universities) and public (health departments and academe). She earned her epidemiology PhD from University of Washington.

Dr. Kurth’s skillsets have enabled her to work around the world with colleagues to improve the health of people and the planet. As an epidemiologist and clinically-trained nurse-midwife, Dr. Kurth’s research focuses on HIV/reproductive health, and global health system strengthening, in the context of climate change and other planetary stresses. Dr. Kurth understands the mandate to leverage science to advocate for individuals, communities, and populations, to bend towards justice and equity. Dr. Kurth believes deeply in the power of universities—and nurses—to make a difference.

Dr. Kurth states that “nursing continues to be the most trusted profession year after year, and nurses can leverage this trust not only to provide guidance to patients and families, but to partner with local decision-makers in identifying at-risk populations, crafting emergency plans, and monitoring population health. Nurses have the skillsets needed to address pandemics as well as the climate crisis and related health threats: leadership in research and health care delivery; the proclivity and stamina to advocate for the voiceless; and optimism in the face of despair.”

Climate change, like pandemics, affects all humans, but not equally. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates climate change will cause 250,000 additional deaths between 2030 and 2050 due to malnutrition, heat stress, and malaria. COVID-19 has shown in glaring detail that communities of color and low-income communities consistently suffer greater impacts, in terms of both morbidity and mortality. As health systems work to adapt, nurses will be leaders in this space.

Of late, the media has been highlighting and portraying nurses as “heroes” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses have always been heroes, if that definition means fighting against constraints to improve care for people and populations: Florence Nightingale, Annie Goodrich, Virginia Henderson, Rhetaugh Dumas, and Lauren Underwood, to name a few; nurses during the 1918 pandemic and the HIV and Ebola crises; and the nurses and midwives that show up every day for their patients, without hesitation.

Nurses are educators, front line providers, policy makers, health systems leaders, and scientists. We can help in the global response to novel pandemics, climate change, and other environmental stressors. Let us take a pause to recognize our interconnectedness with all living things on this Earth, and be grateful for the energy, evidence, and creativity nurses bring every day.