Who, What, Why: Oulaya Louaddi on building community for nursing students

The fourth-year nursing student, who is about to graduate and start work in a cardiac intensive care unit, has been heavily involved in the Minorities in Nursing Organization all four years at Penn.

Oulaya Louaddi.
Oulaya Louaddi, a fourth-year student in the School of Nursing, has been heavily involved in the Minorities in Nursing Organization her four years at Penn.
    • Who

      Oulaya Louaddi, a fourth-year School of Nursing student with minors in global health and East Asian languages and civilizations, is preparing to begin a graduate nurse position in a cardiac intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, near her hometown of Revere.

      She says that being a daughter of immigrants from Morocco is a big part of who she is, that she felt her parents had given her so many opportunities, and that it was up to her to decide what to pursue. Her parents, Louaddi says, have been supportive but their lack of higher education, coupled with her attendance at a public school with limited resources, meant she had to be resourceful in navigating the college landscape.

      In her second year of high school, she took a dual-enrollment course at Salem State University on health care in the U.S., and the instructor talked about health care workforce shortages and how nurses could fill the gaps in rural communities. Louaddi says this stuck with her, and she knew she wanted to go into medicine, but she didn’t yet know what. Participating in the Agress Summer Health Corps Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center convinced Louaddi that nursing was the best path for her.

      “There’s a lot of flexibility, a lot of options with what you want to do. You’re never pigeonholed into a certain specialty, which is great,” she says. “There’s also a lot of opportunities to take leadership positions in the hospital and to go back to school to become an advanced practice registered nurse.”

      After arriving at Penn, her first research experience was through the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program, working in the Annenberg School for Communication’s Health Communication & Equity Lab on projects about a tobacco flavor ban in Massachusetts and anti-tobacco marketing to LGBTQ teens. As a research assistant at Penn Nursing, she helped create motivational interviewing workshops to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among health care providers. Louaddi has also been involved in the Arab Student Society and Muslim Students’ Association.

    • What

      Four years ago, shortly after coming to Penn, Louaddi became a liaison to the Minorities in Nursing Organization (MNO), letting the board know where first-year students could use the help of third- and fourth-year students, such as with a vital signs assessment or microbiology exam.

      She became vice president for half a year and then president for two years. Transitioning to the top job, Louaddi picked up the work of her predecessor in planning the Red and White Ball, a semi-formal charity event bringing together Penn Nursing faculty and students. She thus helped revive an event halted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Louaddi also worked to eliminate barriers to involvement in MNO and says she slowly started seeing more attendance at events. That includes study breaks, panel discussions for difficult classes such as anatomy and physiology, Christmas card writing for nursing home residents, and an event with the ReAwakening Agency to create self-care packets for formerly incarcerated people reacclimating to society.

    • Why

      Nurses are “the first person that a patient sees and the person that spends the most time with the patient,” Louaddi says, “so beyond the science a lot of it is making people feel safe, making people feel that they’re heard and that they’re seen and that their worries and concerns and stresses are valid, seeing a person for who they are as a whole and not just one illness or one symptom.” She has learned this from MNO and hopes others are, too.

      Louaddi says she never had a lecture class before coming to Penn or the pressure of a course grade relying on one test, but in MNO she found people from similar backgrounds. They helped each other, and she says amid the most difficult classes the group provided stress relief.

      As president of MNO, Louaddi says she also wanted to advocate for fellow Middle Eastern and North African students, having not always felt seen in a group that hasn’t even had a census designation, but also to build a space that was welcoming and provided support to everybody.