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ODU Nurse Practitioner Receives Fulbright Award

By Irv Harrell

Deborah Gray, director of the family nurse practitioner program at Old Dominion University, was recently chosen for a Core Scholar Fulbright Award.

The honor will give her an opportunity to work with the University of Botswana, in southern Africa, and the World Health Organization's Center for Nursing and Midwifery in Gaborone, Botswana, to increase access to health care and the number of advanced practice nurses in Africa.

To Gray, who lives in Virginia Beach, the award is truly a dream come true.

"It gives me the opportunity to follow my passion. One is to improve population health and empower other nurses and other people to get involved in doing that as well," she said. "Two, is to expand the scope of advanced practice nurses and that's what I'm going to be doing in Africa."

The Fulbright Program, which aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries, is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Fulbright alumni have become heads of state, judges, ambassadors, cabinet ministers, CEOs and university presidents, as well as leading journalists, artists, scientists and teachers. They include 59 Nobel Laureates, 82 Pulitzer Prize winners, 71 MacArthur Fellows, 16 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients and thousands of leaders across the private, public and non-profit sectors.

Gray earned a degree in health policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and considered going to law school. But something changed her when received a special grant through UNC that allowed her to visit other parts of the world.

"I visited Nepal in South Asia and that's where I decided I needed to change what I was doing," she said. "The lack of care, the need, the health issues. Things were very different. I wanted to work in health care and work with people who didn't have access to care."

From there she pursued and earned a Master's of Science in Nursing in 1986 at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. It would be in Canada that she would meet her husband, Dr. Brian Edmunds, a physical therapist and former assistant professor at Hampton University.

The couple headed south to Florida, where Gray received her post-master's to become a nurse practitioner at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Family considerations brought Gray and her husband to Hampton Roads in 1991, where they bought a house in Sandbridge. There, she worked in private practice, before teaching and working on a doctorate at ODU. She taught evening classes in pharmacology. She was also a teaching assistant for master's students.

Gray received her DNP at ODU in 2012, with expertise in primary care and preventive care, pharmacology, complementary and integrative health/medicine. She received the first DNP scholar award upon graduation.

In 2016, Gray led a delegation of undergraduate and graduate students from ODU to Guatemala, administering vaccines and delivering healthcare services to hundreds of children in need through ChildFund's community partner, Corazón de los Niños. In 2014, she was given the Nurse Practitioner of Excellence Award by the Tidewater Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners. The same year she was a finalist for Virginia Nurse of the Year.

Gray became an Entsminger Entrepreneurial Fellow at ODU in 2016 and received ODU's Outstanding Teaching with Technology Award in 2017. And this year she was selected to be a fellow of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

"Being a nurse practitioner is the best of both worlds. They have the holistic approach of a nurse, but they also have the diagnostic/thinking abilities of a physician," she said. "There are so many opportunities to work in so many settings. And Fulbright takes it to the next level."

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