Phyllis Sharps has made it her life's work to improve the lives of vulnerable patient populations by addressing their community health at large and advancing the cause of minorities in the medical field, starting with her nursing students.

Sharps began her nursing career in the U.S. Army. After leaving active duty, she knew which population she most wanted to help: mothers and children. Her initial inclination was to become a midwife, but her mission was bigger than the birthing room.

“I realized that the health of a baby is determined long before the baby arrives at a birthing center, so I moved into working with communities and families and trying to work with mothers who may have limited access to prenatal care, aiming to increase their access,” she said.

She has been the principal investigator for two National Institutes of Health-funded grants. One, the Domestic Violence Enhanced Home Visitation Program, is currently in trial across three states, testing home visit interventions by public health nurses to reduce the effects of intimate partner violence against pregnant women and their newborns. Additionally, she received funding for a study on the abuse status and health consequences for African-American and Afro-Caribbean women.

Believing in a holistic approach to treatment, she has participated in initiatives addressing the cardiovascular risks of the urban environment, weight management and smoking cessation efforts for abuse victims, and looking at overall health disparities for victims of partner violence.

“When you have a dual nursing and military career you have to be an expert in your field, but also a leader,” Sharps said.

Now an associate dean for community and global programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Sharps is advancing the cause of minorities in medicine by directing and coordinating global nursing educational and capacity-building initiatives, as well as faculty exchanges. She has been published 79 times, and mentored over 200 students in addition to being a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and a 2013 inductee into the International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame.

“If we improve the health of family and communities, we improve the health of a nation,” she said, “by making sure everyone has access to the right information to make decisions about what works best for their families and their communities.”