Inyene Essien-Aleksi believes nursing is a vocation, not a job. And as an assistant professor in nursing at Merrimack College, she says her duty is not just teaching and research but also service to the wider community and nursing profession.
“If we do not have good health, we have nothing,” said Essien-Aleksi, who joined the School of Nursing and Health Sciences faculty in fall 2022. “When you need immediate care, you need providers that are knowledgeable, compassionate and up-to-date with best practice.”
For Essien-Aleksi, her service has been to change how opioid addiction is addressed and how patients are treated. That includes working in the Merrimack Valley area to help implement a quality improvement project to increase the uptake of evidence-based practice for opioid addiction treatment in the hospital setting.
“If someone has hypertension, we don’t tell them to fix it themselves,” she explained. “We provide support and treatment with lifelong medications. We need to similarly treat opioid addiction with compassion and effective therapeutics.”
Through her research, Essien-Aleksi is focused on finding solutions to overcome the difficulties of treating opioid addiction. She sees nurses as an untapped resource. Not only do nurses make up the largest workforce within the healthcare industry, she said, but they also have the knowledge and skills available to collaborate with other healthcare teams to treat conditions such as opioid addiction.
Essien-Aleksi has a doctorate in nursing with a focus on health promotion from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and years of clinical experience as a nurse practitioner in hospitalist medicine. But she started her career at Siemens, a leading biomedical company, due to her interest in applied science and research and from working in a lab as an undergraduate student at Providence College.
“I tell students they don’t need to be the best, but during their undergraduate years they need to step forward and be involved,” she said. “Even if you don’t have a career plan, it’s always valuable to explore and use available resources in your institution to expose yourself to what may be possible.”
As a native of Nigeria who immigrated to the U.S. to attend college, Essien-Aleksi added she knows the increased barriers immigrant students face living and learning in unfamiliar environments. Over the past academic year, she says she has met more and more Merrimack students from different backgrounds and encourages anyone who wants to learn about her experiences to meet with her.
“As an immigrant, you often have a limited perspective on what you can do or become when you arrive in a different country,” Essien-Aleksi noted. “Most of us migrate to the west with very limited resources, and some are sent to pave a better pathway for the next generation of their families.”