Newswise — Sally Rives doesn’t do straight lines. A very suburban kid from Greensboro, NC, who’d never really been outside her home state, Rives nonetheless has thrown herself into opportunities to serve needy communities in West Africa and Peru. And of course, here she is in urban Baltimore, working her way through the MSN: Entry into Nursing Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and toward what she expects will be a career in health care research.

“In some ways I feel like my path has been linear,” she explains, “but it really hasn’t been at all.”

A lifelong athlete herself—“soccer, swimming … whatever was out there”—Rives had set herself on a path toward a career in sports-related physical therapy. It made sense. “Then I went abroad for a summer in West Africa … Benin.” There, she got to sit in on community public health education activities “and that got me excited.” Scratch the PT. It was on to health research.

First, an undergraduate adviser at Wake Forest University got her involved with a diabetes study. Then she joined a company working on research funded by the National Institutes of Health. “As the entry-level person, they let me test out a few different things,” Rives says, meaning, of course, that they “let” her do the grunt work. “I got to learn all these little details, and so that helped me develop even more of a passion for research, just this idea that we can always improve our policies and our practices.”

But what really caught her attention? “We worked with a lot of research nurses and their protocols—they are really at the intersection of health care research and delivery. That really appealed to me.”

The patient-care part? That’s growing on her too. “Clinical days are the most terrifying days of the week for me,” Rives explains. “Just because I don’t have as much past experience in patient care, I feel out of place sometimes—but also very supported. I begin each clinical day terrified, and I leave with the biggest sense of accomplishment. So it’ a good kind of scared.”

After her MSN, Rives figures she’ll move into research and teaching. Both parents are in higher education: Mom teaches innovation and entrepreneurship and Dad’s a chemistry professor. “I like to think my goal has always been the same: to work in health care and promote health. But where I thought I was going with that has changed a little bit.”

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