BYLINE: Robert C. Jones Jr.

Newswise — Amid a setting of sutures and stethoscopes, bandages and blood pressure cuffs, medical successes and sometimes setbacks, Hudson Santos found his calling at the tender age of 9: nursing. 

His mother, unable at times to arrange childcare for her young son, would sometimes bring him along to the hospital in northeastern Brazil where she cared for patients on her rounds as a licensed practical nurse. “Her professionalism was imprinted on me at a very early stage of my life,” Santos recalled. “She inspired me, and nursing became our shared passion.” 

So he followed in his mother’s footsteps, becoming a nurse and caring for marginalized groups at clinics in Brazil and in the United States before conducting nursing-related education and research as an internationally renowned academician. 

Now, Santos, vice dean for research at the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies, has earned what he says is “the greatest honor of my professional career.” He has been named the next dean of the University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies. 

“In Dean Santos, we have a proven leader whose prolific portfolio is matched only by his passion for guiding colleagues and students to excellence in research,” said University President Julio Frenk. “His is precisely the type of vision our School of Nursing and Health Studies needs to continue its ascent to the top echelon of nursing programs nationally.”

Santos joined the University of Miami faculty two years ago as a tenured professor and the inaugural Dolores J. Chambreau Endowed Chair in Nursing. He was formerly the Beerstecher-Blackwell Distinguished Term Scholar and a tenured associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing, where he led the Biobehavioral Laboratory and was the founder and director of the Health Resilience and Omics Science Hub for identifying genetic risk factors affecting the neurodevelopment of children. He was also the Director of Training and Mentorship Division for the Institute for Environmental Health Solutions at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. 

Over the past 15 years, he has conducted extensive research on families, studying how early life stressors affect perinatal health and child developmental outcomes in high-risk populations as well as across socioeconomic status levels and racially and ethnically diverse communities. 

For Santos, it is an area of investigation that began when he was a nurse working in a clinical setting in northeastern Brazil and noticed that mothers with psychological issues and their developmentally delayed children were being treated at separate outpatient facilities. “I saw children who were struggling developmentally, and I wanted to know what was affecting their mothers. But the health care system was fragmented; they were being seen separately and at different locations,” he recalled. 

And that sparked his desire to learn more about maternal-child health and to raise awareness that the health of children begins before they are even born. 

Santos also has examined how environmental factors such as climate change can influence the health outcomes of mothers and their children. “Heat can negatively affect health, especially the health of families who lack basic necessities and are facing other adversities. So, we want to understand that and be able to use that information for prevention,” he said. “The whole idea is to foster a healthier family ecosystem early on instead of having to treat families for serious conditions later in life.” 

Santos is spearheading an ambitious $23.57 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) study examining how social and economic inequities as well as other stressors experienced by parents can biologically and psychologically impact their children. As part of that seven-year grant, the largest ever awarded to the Coral Gables Campus, the School of Nursing and Health Studies joins the NIH’s Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program and will enroll a racially and ethnically diverse group of some 1,250 pregnant mothers from Miami-Dade County, following their offspring from birth to age 7. 

Miami-ECHO is recruiting participants through UHealth—the University of Miami Health System, and Jackson Heath System, and will join several other cohorts across the nation to create a group of over 50,000 children and their parents. “While the big picture is to understand how early environmental factors impact child health and development, we’ll also be able to answer questions that are specific to Miami,” Santos said.  

Through his leadership, the School of Nursing and Health Studies has risen dramatically in national rankings—from 24th to 16th in NIH funding—nearly doubling its research footprint from $3,396,294 in FY 2022 to $6,061,945 in FY 2023. 

And over the course of his career, he has authored more than 110 scientific publications, securing upwards of $47 million in research funding as a principal investigator or co-investigator. 

“Dean Santos is an internationally known nurse leader and scientist who has transformed research at the School of Nursing and Health Studies in his short two years at the school,” said Guillermo “Willy” Prado, interim executive vice president and provost. “I am confident that his leadership and his vision for the school’s academic programs and research will elevate the school as a premier destination for both nursing students and faculty across the country.” 

Beyond his significant research portfolio, Santos has also demonstrated effective leadership, serving as acting director of the Ph.D. in Nursing Science program and interim associate dean of the Graduate School, Frenk and Prado pointed out in their message on Santos’ appointment to the University community emailed on Wednesday. 

Santos is passionate about diversity and inclusion, a philosophy deeply rooted in his own background as a Latino male nurse, a first-generation college student, and an immigrant to the United States. Born into poverty in Brazil, he and his siblings were confronted with severe adversity. “Survival was an achievement for us and thriving seemed beyond reach,” he said. “Yet, I discovered the transformative power of education in lifting individuals out of poverty.” 

As dean he will lead a nursing school that is home to the five-story Simulation Hospital Advancing Research and Education (S.H.A.R.E.) with on-site virtual and extended-reality simulation opportunities in a variety of clinical, research, and educational settings. 

Among his goals are to enhance the relationship of the nursing school with UHealth and Jackson Health System, expand the school’s strong national and international presence, and amplify its visibility by promoting innovative education, research and scholarship, he said. 

Santos currently serves as president of the International Society of Nurses in Genetics and is also a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, where serves as chair-elect of the Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science National Advisory Council. 

He begins his deanship on June 1, succeeding Cindy Munro, who last year announced she was stepping down as dean at the end of the academic year after leading the school for nearly seven years.