Gail Carter Hamilton, ’98, RN, MSN, CSN, ‘09 found her passion for nursing and public health at La Salle University.
She remembers laying the foundation for her career in nursing through extensive coursework and training that included epidemiology and learning from faculty who took time to work closely with her and fellow students to make sure they understood the material.
Her participation in the Student Nurses Association of Pennsylvania and the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) her connection to the La Salle community that much more.
“Our close-knit classroom style allowed for a more intimate learning environment,” she said. “Where more one-on-one time with our professor helped prepare us for the rigors of bedside nursing. I truly believe that it is because of this unique atmosphere I was more than ready to face the challenges that lay ahead.”
Hamilton also was initiated into the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Phi Beta Omega Chapter serving Montgomery County following graduation.
Today, Hamilton is representing La Salle in the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) as its first Chief Racial Equity Officer.
“Our close-knit classroom style allowed for a more intimate learning environment. Where more one-on-one time with our professor helped prepare us for the rigors of bedside nursing. I truly believe that it is because of this unique atmosphere I was more than ready to face the challenges that lay ahead.”
– Gail Carter Hamilton
The creation of the Chief Racial Equity Officer came to be after Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, ’80, saw a greater need to address health disparities across the city. This position is being implemented in health departments in other major metropolitan areas, as well, including Los Angeles and Chicago.
Hamilton described the role’s focus in healthcare terms. The officer, she said, is meant to listen to the community, diagnose a problem, and then prescribe a solution, while keeping community members involved instead of telling them what will be done.
“The purpose of the role is to make sure that our department has equity at the center,” she said.
Prior to taking on the new role, Hamilton served as the Pediatric Partnerships Manager in PDPH’s COVID-19 Containment Division beginning in August 2020 until her new appointment in January 2022.
As the Pediatric Partnerships Manager, she was the primary coordinator for the implementation of the City’s COVID-19 guidance and regulations at schools and early childcare programs. She’s also worked as a nurse in Philadelphia schools and hospitals.
Hamilton hopes to accomplish two big initiatives while in this role: community engagement and mobilization.
“Many times, what happens is, people in government see the problem and they say, ‘A-ha, this is what will fix it.’ That’s not equity,” she explained. “Equity in part means that we’re bringing in the people who have the problem, to tell us how to help them fix the problem, not by us saying, ‘This is how you need to do it.’ Because that may not work for them. That’s a patriarchal society. What we really want is to decolonize the work to allow everybody to feel like they have a say in what happens to them in their communities.”
Working in the COVID-19 Containment Division showed Hamilton that some community members are afraid to seek help or guidance out of fear of a lack of trust. She said her goal is to create more trust with PDPH and the community through listening and fulfillment of proposed action.
A Philadelphia native, Hamilton said framing its citizens as assets and embracing its diversity will help improve its public health strategies.
As for her La Salle roots, Hamilton said she hopes to stay connected to her alma mater in a new way by possibly seeing nursing graduates working within framework of PDPH as new initiatives are implemented beginning summer 2022 and beyond.
“My job is to help shape and change the future of how public health is delivered,” she added.
— Meg Ryan