Leading the Vanguard: Arie Nettles

Arie Nettles smiling

Arie L. Nettles, Ph.D., NCSP, HSP, is a longtime VKC member who serves as associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics within the Division of Developmental Medicine and Cleft Craniofacial Program.  For the past few years, she has expanded her focus within the workforce and is currently serving as director of the Office of Inclusion and Health Equity (OIHE) with Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital Administration.

In the interview below, Nettles shares what inspires her research in developmental disabilities, what she’s learned through her work, and how membership with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center helps her achieve her goals.

Tell me about your attraction to developmental disabilities research. Do you have a personal connection to disability?

Growing up as the daughter of a special education K-12 teacher and a pastor, the importance of serving others was embedded within me from an early age. My heart for guiding others to reach their fullest potential led me to become a seventh grade teacher, and later a psychologist and university professor. Although I initially thought I could best serve students as a teacher and ultimately as a school superintendent, my interests began to shift. I realized that to make a difference for others, I had to first begin with myself. With this new perspective and change in focus, I entered the George Peabody College as a graduate student and American Psychological Association Minority Fellow in the Transactional Ecological Psychology program specializing in clinical and school psychology. Through my research and psychological assessment experience and practice, I began to see how society immediately begins to place limitations on individuals diagnosed with developmental disabilities. My response to this is, “Let’s talk about the person’s strengths; let’s not put them in a category to define them.”

What are your current research interests and what challenges do they address?

Given my specialty in clinical psychology and assessment and my passion for health equity, I am committed to developing a climate of cultural awareness, sensitivity, and reducing bias among diverse populations across settings. Taking advantage of the opportunity to join a year-long executive training program at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University, Disparities Solutions Center in 2010, the blueprint for the Office of Inclusion and Health Equity (OIHE) was developed. The model was presented to Vanderbilt University Medical Center leadership who saw a need for infrastructure within the Department of Pediatrics to better support increasingly diverse patient populations at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital.  Quantitative and qualitative analyses are underway to examine patient satisfaction and behavioral change among the workforce.

As founding Director, OIHE was launched in December 2011 with four long-term goals: to ensure Vanderbilt employees have the education and training to deliver high quality care that is culturally sensitive and aware; to support more efficient continuity of care and better outcomes by improving patient and family satisfaction through enhanced cross-cultural communication; to expand the program medical center-wide so that it becomes an integral part of the VUMC fabric, aligned with its credo and mission; and to research, quantify, and publish the program’s results so that its work can be studied and replicated by others.

Do you have a story that illustrates the impact of your work?

One of my patients that I followed from age 7 to 18 years successfully applied to VUMC Project SEARCH (i.e., filling business needs with qualified people living with developmental disabilities since 2005), graduated from the program, and is currently still employed. As he delivered his graduation speech with confidence, he acknowledged me as playing a major role in his accomplishment.

What are your reasons for becoming a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) Member?

As a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center member, I am honored to be in the company of exceptional thinkers, innovators, and influencers.  In January 2018, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam appointed me as the chair of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) Statewide Policy and Planning Council (SPPC).  I have served on the Council as the Child Advocate since 2014.  Through these endeavors, I continue to expand my commitment to care for children and adults with intellectual, developmental disabilities, and craniofacial neural disorders, and to further the research and policies that improve their lives.

Elizabeth Turner is associate director of VKC Communications.

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