Presidential Scholars - Kadeeja Murrell

Presidential scholar strives to create identity safety cues in healthcare research

Please introduce yourself, where are you from?

My name is Kadeeja Murrell and I’m a doctoral student and researcher.

Where did you go to school before ASU? What was your major and minor?

I lived in Michigan my entire life before moving to Arizona this past July. I went to Michigan State University for my bachelor's degree in Kinesiology. After that, I went onto my master’s degree in Exercise Physiology at Central Michigan University. While in my master’s program, I was trying to figure out what to do next, whether that was cardiac rehab or something else…but eventually, I realized I didn’t want to do cardiac rehab. I had always been interested in doing a PhD but hadn’t really taken it seriously so, I thought I should look into it. I talked to my professors and they told me that you go into a PhD program to do research, and you don't go to get your doctorate degree and if you’re going to go into teaching, you should be passionate about it.

At the time, my passion was research related to cardiac rehab, but I quickly realized that my real passion was the population I was working with, which was Black women. I came across an article about cardiac rehab and Black women by Dr. Rodney Joseph, a professor here at ASU. I reached out to talk about his research and we met via Zoom and in the end, he encouraged me to apply. He said I don't have to be a nurse to be in this program, so I figured I would apply. I applied and here I am!

What’s something you learned during your professional or academic journey that surprised you or changed your perspective?

I’ve learned you really have to do what's best for you. Yes, you have advisors and professors that tell you which direction they think you should go, but ultimately, the decision is up to you. They might tell you, “Hey, you should take this class.” And because it’s coming from an advisor or professor you may think, “Wow, I really have to take this class”... but you don't. Literally do what you want to do: it's really that simple.

What types of problems do you work on? Why do you think they are important?

My research is with Black maternal mortality. I am so open to any research that pertains to the Black community because that is my population of interest. We need to get Black people off the floor [metaphorically, in society], that's just how I feel. That goal is definitely what drives me to keep going. I think the important thing is to close disparity gaps and I'm very interested in health disparities for black people in all settings, but particularly the healthcare setting. I feel the one thing that is not being addressed enough is the health of black people, period. And although I have previously focused mainly on Black women, I'm also interested in working with Black men and children.

What are some of the methods you use to support your research?

I have never conducted my own study but in the future, one thing that needs to happen is that I need to be out in the field, making connections with the people that I want to work with and the people that I want to serve. Lack of diversity is a reason why people don't want to do research because [researchers in this field] are usually White people. When White people approach them asking “do you want to participate in my research?,” historically, [Black people] are not agreeing to that. So, I feel like if I get out and show my face and people see who I am and that I'm Black, I can actually get them to want to participate in research. I feel there's not enough identity safety cues [cues that just make Black people feel comfortable and welcomed in a space] when it comes to these things.

As far as  Black morality in childbirth and healthcare: why do you think these problems exist?

I think it's all about history. Black people have never been treated fairly or equally — and honestly — not even humanely in a lot of cases. Yes, there's a lot that is different now but we are still recovering from all the damage that's been done over the years. That's why these health disparities exist, and why they're so broad.

As a Presidential Scholar, are there any events, initiatives or funding opportunities at the Graduate College that you’re excited about?

Events at the Graduate College are always very helpful to me. They always have something going on. I usually try to attend the webinars; there was one on time management that was really helpful. The scope of the webinars are so broad, they have one for every subject. I think of Graduate College events as a bonding activity!

Congratulations on being named a Presidential Scholar - what does this honor mean to you?

I definitely love full funding and I appreciate it very much!

What advice do you have for students who are interested in your field or higher education?

Yes, if anyone wants to do a PhD or research: apply to more than one school. See who's doing what research and talk to all of them, don't just go with one and run with it. Look into the career path, find out who's doing research in your line of work and what you're interested in and then go from there. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. If you're applying or thinking about applying for a program but you're not exactly there yet and you have some time, I would work on getting a first publication and trying to get field and research experience. I think that would set you apart from others. Also, make sure that you take time for yourself, because pursuing higher education can drive you crazy. Two things can drive you crazy: babies and a PhD.

What are some of your long-term professional goals?

I'm really going with the flow type person, I never thought that I would be here. To be honest, I just kind of ended up here. I'm also religious, so I feel like this is where God wants me to be. I don't know where life is going to take me but if I'm able to get my nursing degree, my goal for that would be to work in obstetric settings and get experience in the field of maternal health.

I think that in working as an obstetrician nurse and experiencing things firsthand, it will greatly inform my research. Particularly, I have been thinking about how I don’t want to work at a hospital, in which the majority of patients are Black; I want to work with a mix of people. So, I can see whether there are real differences in how folks are being treated. I feel like a lot of people want to help Black people, so they go into settings that are majority Black already. And that's great, because help is needed everywhere, but I think it's important to distinguish between what's right and wrong. In most cases, the places that are predominantly Black just are not up to par and the standards are not there and that is something that needs to be addressed. In a place that is more racially diverse, you can address and point things out — which makes it more likely that you will see change. My goal is to work as an OB nurse and come back to my research, informed by what I saw.

Why is it important to network with your cohort?

Honestly, because you just never know who you're going to meet or where they're going to take you. I met Dr. Joseph and I didn't think that was going to go anywhere…and here I am. Networking is just very important; it may not seem important at the moment but it always ends up coming back up.


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Interview conducted and edited by Marjani Hawkins