By Debra Anscombe Wood, RN
Many young people dream about the opportunity to change the world for the better. But few develop a strategic plan to do just that and convince peers and faculty that success awaits.
Rutgers University School of Nursing junior Zainab Poonawalla is one student who has set her sights on improving the global community and developed a plan to succeed. “I want to save the world,” said the 21-year-old Poonawalla, whose parents are from India.
Poonawalla, a Rutgers honor student, is pursuing a dual major of nursing and political science, an unlikely combination that makes perfect sense to the ambitious student. She calls political science a passion and nursing a career to facilitate her aspirations. “I want to put my two passions together and do something,” Poonawalla said.
Developing healthcare policy at the United Nations has become her ultimate goal. After her scheduled graduation next spring with a dual degree, Poonawalla plans to become an advanced practice nurse and work with Doctors Without Borders as a nurse anesthetist in Arab countries, while at the same time helping people in those regions understand their governments. She said that experience will give her knowledge of the situation on the ground.
“Now that I am deeply involved with both careers, I feel it’s the best choice I have made,” said Poonawalla, who would like to work in refugee camps in Jordan or Syria. “There are so many innocent lives lost.”
Poonawalla’s goals are not surprising to those on campus.
“She is a passionate nurse and will be a leader, probably on the global stage,” said Susan Norris, PhD, RN, an assistant professor of nursing at Rutgers University-Camden. “Her contributions are meaningful, and other students look up to her. She has great leadership skills and is a pleasure to be around.”
Poonawalla’s fellow nursing student, MiSook Mendonca, said they have fun talking about their dreams and fears. “I like her willingness to always do more,” Mendonca said. “It inspires me.”
Steven Goldstein, JD, an associate professor at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, and Poonawalla’s Campaigns and Elections instructor, called her an extraordinary person.
“She is the reason I love to teach,” Goldstein said. “She is so inspiring and has a drive to improve people’s lives.”
Poonawalla has traveled to many countries, something she said has been life changing. She went to India in 2012 and saw the way women were treated and the lack of healthcare. In Bolivia, she observed the trauma people experienced, yet people there appreciated life. She also has participated in humanitarian and educational trips to South Africa, Brazil and Thailand.
Nursing has shaped Poonawalla’s perspective, she said, because it opens doors. She calls it a working degree that guarantees a job. She will be the first nurse or healthcare professional in her family.
“I was lucky to be born and raised in America,” Poonawalla said. “I see how much opportunity I was given. I was blessed and want to give back.”
Poonawalla understands she may not accomplish all she wants to do, but trying will give her peace of mind. “If you dream big, you will be better off and you will be grateful,” she said.
Debra Anscombe Wood, RN, is a freelance writer.