Mentoring with a passion
Growing up in Oakland, Sheree Criner learned resilience from her grandfather and a ‘sky’s the limit’ attitude from a host of strong women in her family. Both attributes supported her on the journey to a nursing career and now drive her to role model for other African-American women she hopes to inspire through her studies at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis.
From serving as a certified nursing assistant and a licensed vocational nurse, to completing both an associate degree and bachelor’s degree in nursing, to embarking upon her master’s degree in leadership, Criner has done it all, achieving supervisory roles in each position.
“I never really had a mentor to help me realize that with my passion to help others and my strength in science I could become a successful nurse leader,” says Criner, a master’s-degree leadership student at the School of Nursing. “If I had a better education plan, I would have had a more focused trajectory. Now my mission is to mentor girls, so they are more prepared than I was.”
Currently, as nurse manager, Criner leads a team at the UC Davis Spine Center and Neurosurgery Clinic. Her career spans duties as a bedside nurse in a psychiatric hospital to a clinical nurse coordinator for an ear, nose and throat clinic, earning promotion and new titles along the way. She credits her hard work ethic to her grandfather, who went from tractor driver on an Arkansas farm to business owner and community leader in Oakland—all with a seventh-grade education.
“I was blessed to be part of a loving, supportive family who offered me opportunities others did not have,” Criner recalls. “I’m truly a sum of all of my experiences. Each has prepared me to take on anything as a nurse leader. Now I want to be that mentor for others who may not be as fortunate by improving the education pipeline to prepare future nurses at an early age.”
According to a 2013 survey conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers, African-American nurses represent 6 percent of the workforce. That’s more than 50 percent less than the overall population. Recruitment of under-represented groups into nursing is a priority for health leaders and educators at the School of Nursing.
“Our nation’s health professions have not kept pace with changing demographics. The result is greater health disparities and poorer outcomes,” explains Kupiri Ackerman-Barger, assistant clinical professor and 2017 recipient of the UC Davis Health Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring. “Students and nurses, like Sheree, illustrate the great achievements that are possible when ambition, talent and drive are nurtured early in the educational process. Mentoring plays a crucial role in that evolution.”
As an African-American nurse and mentor, Criner aims to get young women of color interested in the health sciences and show them what a nurse leader looks like. She also hopes to be a transformative leader for health care.
“I went from having no mentors to landing in this environment and being surrounded by faculty and peers who are all here to support me and help me grow,” Criner adds. “At the end of the day, I want the fulfillment of knowing I’m the kind of woman I want my two daughters to become.”