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Phoenix Forward magazine

For Hazel Downing, leaving India for a nursing career in the U.S. was her ticket out of poverty

Hazel Downing

Growing up in Mumbai, India — where she lived with her family in a one-room house without electricity or running water — Hazel Downing believed school was her best chance for a successful career.

“My parents placed high value on education,” says Downing, who holds a master’s in nursing and a doctorate in educational leadership from University of Phoenix. “They paid our tuition even when we did not have enough to eat.”

While her mother raised Downing and her three siblings, her father worked in the Middle East as a mechanical foreman for an oil company to support them and pay for private school.

“My father educated himself [through his employer’s on-the-job training] and was able to move up,” Downing explains. She noted that family members saw him once every two years, but his hard work enabled them to move into a modern apartment.

Like her father, Downing knew that achieving her career goals would mean going abroad. She obtained her nursing certification in India and soon was courted by companies recruiting nurses to emigrate to the United States during the 1990s nursing shortage. “I was one of the very few [Indian] nurses who applied — two out of 100 — that passed all the required exams to work in the U.S.,” she notes.

My parents placed high value on education. They paid our tuition even when we did not have enough to eat.

“In India, nursing was not a respectable profession in comparison to many others, but it is very respected in the United States,” Downing continues. “The U.S. is truly a land of opportunity, and the opportunities to grow are endless.” She eagerly headed for America, landing in Midtown Manhattan.

Early on, Downing’s U.S. nursing colleagues noticed she had talent and encouraged her to pursue additional education. She took their comments to heart, earning her master’s. She then worked as a critical care nurse in intensive care units in New York City and elsewhere. She also taught in hospitals and later as an adjunct instructor of nursing at a university in Hawaii, where she lives.

“The [master’s] degree allowed me to understand the overall leadership, legal and ethical roles of a nurse,” Downing says. But she wasn’t satisfied.

“I wanted to become a full-time nursing professor, and that required a doctorate,” Downing says. She thought she might have to give up her job as a bedside nurse if she had an inflexible academic schedule.

After considering several traditional universities, Downing chose to return to her alma mater, University of Phoenix, where she learned curriculum development and instruction techniques at the School of Advanced Studies.

“When I first started teaching nursing as an adjunct, I had very little understanding of how to translate my clinical nursing knowledge to the classroom,” she explains. Studying educational theory at the doctoral level helped her learn how to do that, she says, and now she is a full-time tenured nursing professor, sits on academic steering committees and develops content for nursing textbooks.

“[Getting my doctorate] has helped me gain confidence in my career and develop professional leadership,” she says. “[And] the University embraced my desire to learn.”

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Knowledge really is power

Hazel Downing describes her life journey, from poverty in India to a successful nursing career in the United States, and how education played a major role.

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