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Ruth McDermott-Levy ’96 MSN, ’08 PhD, RN, associate professor and director, Center for Global and Public Health

How this nurse scientist advances environmental health internationally and with her students




Ruth McDermott-Levy, in front of Watercolor background

Ruth McDermott-Levy discovered her niche in nursing even before her career officially began. Her curiosity about the relationship between environmental factors and patient wellness developed in the early 1980s as an undergrad at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where she encountered coal miners with black lung disease.

“Ever since I was a student, I have been interested in the influence of the environment on people’s health,” Dr. McDermott-Levy says. “Studying the impact of climate change allows me to look at that on a global scale.”

As an associate professor and director of the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing’s Center for Global and Public Health, Dr. McDermott-Levy explores with her own students this relationship between human health and the health of the planet. She works closely with them, looking at the impact of climate change on their health, the health of their communities and global health. 

Receiving the Fulbright-Saastamoinen Foundation Health and Environmental Sciences Award this past year gave her the perfect opportunity to explore these issues in the field. In collaboration with the University of Eastern Finland and the Finnish Nurses Association, Dr. McDermott-Levy conducted multiphase research to measure the health consequences of climate change in Finland, where the temperature is rising faster than anywhere else in the world. 

“We asked nurses to describe the impact of the environment on their patients. This supported the research, but also helped them see connections with climate change and nursing,” Dr. McDermott-Levy says. She didn’t waste any time in exploring new ways her international experience can inspire Nursing students to take action on these issues.

Upon her return to the University, she co-authored a paper with leading climate scientist Michael E. Mann, PhD, on the health risks of climate change in older adults. Now she’s busy developing an e-learning course, “Global Perspectives for Climate and Health,” to enable nursing, medical and public health students from Finland, India and Nigeria, as well as from Villanova, to learn together in an online platform.

“Fulbright does not end when you leave; for me, the in-country experience was just the beginning,” Dr. McDermott-Levy says. “Fulbright is about diplomacy, and my relationship with colleagues in Finland will continue as we collaborate on environmental health projects.”

Making a Global Impact 

Dr. McDermott-Levy joined her PhD student Sister Jackline Mayaka, FSJ, ’15, ’17 MSN, RN, at the United Nations for the third annual International Nurses Day in May. It was a momentous day for both, as Dr. McDermott-Levy spoke about her recent Fulbright research on the health impact of climate change in Finland and Sister Jackline received the Inspiring Nurse Award for her global impact.

Dr. McDermott-Levy as a Mentor

“Dr. McDermott-Levy’s global vision and commitment to public health continually shaped and expanded my evolving perception of my role as a nurse and advocate. Her commitment to practical mentorship helped me to develop foundational skills and insights that I have relied on throughout my professional career and during my own Fulbright grant in Lesotho.”
—Patrick Smith '16, RN