An Entrepreneur and Global Leader in Nursing Education, Joins VinUniversity

May 4, 2020


Meet Professor Michele Upvall, VinUniversity’s newly appointed Vice-Dean of Nursing

A heart that is open to opportunities and a love of reading, nursing, and anthropology, have defined Professor Michele Upvall’s life, taking her around the world to learn and teach best practices in nursing as she developed her passion for global nursing. Of the origin of this passion, she said, “Reading would take me to faraway places. That’s the beauty of reading, you get outside yourself. So from a child, I was always interested in anthropology. Maybe if I were not a nurse, I would have been an anthropologist, but for me combining nursing and anthropology has always been the best combination.”

Professor Michele Upvall, VinUniversity’s newly appointed Vice-Dean of Nursing

Open to what the universe has to offer, Professor Upvall says that “when your heart is open to opportunities, and the opportunities are there, all you have to do is walk through the door.” This mind-set led her to Nigeria while an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania when a friend in the international club invited her home for break. Later while a doctoral student at the University of Utah, she was captivated by an article about a traditional healer in Swaziland (now known as Eswatini) who had been trained by the World Health Organization to offer a combination of healthcare systems to his patients. After studying with him and local nurses, she completed her doctorate in Transcultural Nursing.

Professor Upvall’s research in the field of Global Nursing includes such topics as: Collaborative Practices of Nurses with American Indian Healers, Integrating Care of Refugees into the Community Health Nursing Curriculum, and Perspectives of Global Health Partnerships from Nurses in Low Resource Countries. Her research informs her teaching of both nursing students and those already established in the nursing field. As the science of nursing continues to evolve with each new advance in medicine, Professor Upvall emphasizes using evidence-based practices to move away from practices based on tradition. For example, a current study she is working on looks at the practice of moving nurses away from using auscultation to verify placement of small bore nasogastric tubes. This practice may create harm and helping nurses understand reasons for no longer doing requires significant effort. For example, the traditional sponge bath given to patients by their nurses has actually proven to be harmful — an opportunity to expose patients to potential infection. 

Dr Upvall comes to VinUniversity from her most recent position of Director of the MSN Educator Program at the Florida College of Nursing. The new Vice Dean of Nursing is no stranger to starting new nursing programs in a variety of settings. In 1992 she was tapped to design and implement the first ever nursing program for the Navajo Nation, a native American population in northern Arizona. At the time the first class graduated, Professor Upvall was once more stirred toward international work, and from 1998 – 2003 she moved to Pakistan to direct the BScN program and implement the first MSN program in that country. Of her new role as Vice Dean of Nursing at VinUni, Professor Upvall said, “I’m excited about the opportunity to be a part of something new, helping to shape a curriculum, and to be part of watching the nursing profession grow in Vietnam.” 

Professor Upvall is looking forward to teaching the year-long interdisciplinary Healthy Living Class that every VinUni student will take in which they will be looking at their own health from a holistic perspective. “We want to be establishing those connections between nurses and students across the university from the very beginning. That was something that truly attracted me to VinUni was the desire to do that, interprofessional education. I think it’s really important.”

In addition to connecting with students from all VinUni colleges and disciplines, Professor Upvall will have the opportunity to partner with the faculty from the other colleges as she offers this class. 

Professor Upvall points out the VinUni model of everyone teaching at least one class a semester is really important in order to stay connected with the students. “I think that’s really important because you need to stay connected with students, you need to stay connected and grounded with what their challenges are, what their needs are, what the issues they are facing are.” 

Building and sustaining partnerships in Global Nursing is at the heart of Dr Upvall’s career, so much so that she co-edited the book: “Global Health Nursing: Building and Sustaining Partnerships”. This important contribution to the field is described as being, “an innovative text for graduate and undergraduate nursing students that fills a void in global health nursing literature by providing essential tools and strategies for building and sustaining productive international partnerships.” As Vice Dean of Nursing, she will be creating a curriculum that promotes global-mindedness in her students, as she wrote in a recent paper, “Nurse educators are responsible for the development of students as global citizens.” In future, Dr Upvall sees VinUni taking a leadership role in advancing nursing through partnerships within Vietnam and the region.