Illustration of Kimberly Baltzell
Illustration: John Jay Cabuay

Kimberly Baltzell, RN, PhD ’05, MS ’10, calls the “nimbleness of nursing” health care’s best-kept secret. “There are so many meaningful ways to be a nurse,” she says.

Baltzell herself embodies that agility. She spent a decade working on Wall Street to save money for medical school. But she felt drawn to the bedside, pivoted to nursing, and has never looked back. Her career has taken her from UCSF’s medical center, where she cared for kidney-transplant patients; to Zanzibar, where she studied malaria; to Tennessee, where she’s promoting reproductive health for Black women. Along the way, she earned a doctorate in nursing and a master’s in global health sciences.

She’s now a professor of family health care nursing and director of UCSF’s Global Action in Nursing (GAIN) program, which supports nurses and midwives in underserved parts of the world. “I’m never going to retire,” Baltzell says, laughing. “I love it.”

The seeds for GAIN were planted on research trips she took to sub-Saharan Africa, where almost every provider she interacted with was a nurse or midwife. “In many regions, they are not only the front-line provider, they are the only provider,” she says. Nurses and midwives often bear huge responsibility but lack support, supplies, and adequate training. Later, in Malawi, which has a high maternal mortality rate, Baltzell and colleagues envisioned a way to help reduce that rate: offer intensive training and long-term mentorship to nurses and midwives.

She launched GAIN in 2017 in collaboration with the nonprofit Partners in Health. After its success in Malawi, the program expanded to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Baltzell then wondered if the same model could be used in the U.S. “We have the worst rates of maternal and neonatal outcomes in the developed world,” she says, noting that outcomes “are poorest in southern states and are worse for women of color, particularly Black women.”

Through Monica McLemore, RN, PhD ’10 – a friend of Baltzell’s and a fellow UCSF PhD grad and faculty colleague – GAIN recently partnered with CHOICES, a reproductive health center based in Memphis, Tennessee, to establish a 12-month fellowship for Black midwives. “I’m looking forward to deepening partnerships in places like Memphis, where hopefully we can help support not only nursing and midwifery but also women’s reproductive rights,” she says – another nimble move.

– Terri Leker for UCSF Magazine

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