Heidi Wheeler balances her work as a nurse, doctoral student and clinical nursing instructor, but still finds time to pursue her passion for healthy communities and racial reconciliation.

As a highly regarded clinical instructor, Heidi Wheeler, MS, RN, ANP-BC, has been Adjunct Faculty for Concordia School of Nursing for nearly five years. Heidi loves watching students transform and gain confidence, and expresses her joy in teaching as she relates, “with experience, teamwork, and a safe and stimulating learning environment, nursing students make connections and realize what they’re capable of accomplishing.”

But throughout her twenty-year nursing career, Heidi has also been committed to change for the greater good of society. Through fostering her own curiosity, she has become a lifelong ‘question-asker,’ and eventual change agent and activist. Over the years, this has resulted in multiple large-scale healthcare initiatives, research, and publications. Most recently, it has been playing out as an advocate for important change in her own community.

Heidi moved to Wisconsin five years ago for her husband’s job change. When they settled in a suburb north of Milwaukee, she was surprised to see little diversity (95% white) in her community. Heidi boldly asked the question: “Why?” After beginning conversations with a Black woman at church, the two became friends and formally partnered to host podcasts, community conversations, education, and action around racial reconciliation. Thus began a critical grassroots effort, aptly named, Bridge the Divide, which has since elevated its significance to be featured in Time Magazine.

When speaking about her work, Heidi shares, “This is not easy, but it is vitally necessary. Exposing the truth about racial history and brokenness in our country is always going to bring some tension to personal identity, relationships, and systems.”  Although she has learned much about the facts and history related to racial discord, she explains that as followers of Christ, we can start by looking inside our hearts to seek humility and empathy. She believes that even if it is painful to see, we can be transformed to love others because of God’s grace: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (I John 3:1).

As a current UW-Milwaukee Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) student, Heidi’s doctoral project will be developed in response to the national call for action to improve healthcare disparities, by increasing the presence of minority groups in nursing. Diversity in Wisconsin nursing is still greatly under-represented, with over 94% of nurses identifying as white, only 2% Black, and under 6% representing other minorities (Wisconsin Center for Nursing, 2018). Heidi is interested in, and dedicated to, how nursing academia can actively support students with diverse backgrounds to be successful, as well as mirror the populations they serve. She has been working on her project with a Wisconsin pioneer nursing leader, and the first Black president of the American Nurses Association, Dr. Barbara L. Nichols.

Congratulations Heidi, on this exemplary work to bring people together in the communities we serve, and thank you for your dedicated efforts to advance diversity in nursing education to prepare the workforce needed for the future.

For more information on Bridge the Divide, go to www.bridgethedivide.life or email bridgethedividecburg@gmail.com

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