Ms. Berthilde Dufrene
What is your occupation and academic background and how did you come to work in this field?
I am the Chief Nursing Officer for the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Corrections Based Operations. It sounds like a mouth full because it is. I direct all nursing services across the state for the incarcerated who suffer with mental illness. Over the past several decades, we have seen a proliferation of prisoners with mental illness. That’s due, in part, to the deinstitutionalization movements of the 1950’s that did not deliver well on its promises for community-based care for this vulnerable population. I hold a Master’s of Science in Nursing Education and am currently working on my dissertation for a Doctor of Nursing degree in Nursing Leadership.
What is the biggest challenge of your work?
The biggest challenge I face as a nurse leader is impacting public policies that affect patient outcomes for the mentally ill population. I challenge the status quo to transform mental health care in prison, by serving as a committee member of several key councils such as the NYS Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services Commissioner’s Nurse Advisory Panel, Clinical Outcomes Review Committee. As the Education Chair of the NYS Office of Mental Health Chief Nursing Officers Organization, we inform change through education and investments in our most valuable resource, the nurses.
Identify one or two of your proudest achievements?
I played a key role in advocating against injustice for my fellow Haitian nurses when an employer published an illegal, unethical and discriminatory ad, suggesting that “no Haitians” need apply. I am equally proud of having founded the Haitian American Nurses Association of Rockland County. It has been doing instrumental work serving our local and global communities, and more specifically, my homeland, Haiti.
What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most? Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I am inspired by many leaders, and much of what I do is motivated by my most admired leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. He said that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” As such I look forward to having a more significant voice in public health policies, nursing practice and in improving communities in the next decade.
What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have impact?
My advice to the youth is to take every opportunity to learn, grow and serve. Opportunities are available in every encounter; invite and welcome opportunities to teach and be taught, to mentor and be mentored, to help others and have others help you.
Did you have a mentor or do you mentor someone else? How has that experience changed you?
My life and career have greatly benefited from having mentored others, as well as having been the mentee. Mentorship relationships have helped me advance my knowledge base, grow my personal and professional network, in addition build my confidence and interpersonal skills.