‘Where I wanted to be’

DNP student Taylor Bell, BSN, RN, reflects on the journey that made health care his calling

By Kyle Chambers

At the age of 15, Taylor Bell saw his mother lead an example he knew he wanted to follow for the rest of his life.

An accountant for many years, Bell’s mother, Violet, decided to return to the books and pursue nursing school after she began to feel an overwhelming desire to make a change and help those in need. Violet never fulfilled her dream of becoming a nurse because she tragically passed away during her final semester in 2010.

Of Jamaican immigrant descent and “the most selfless” person Bell has ever known, Violet instilled in Bell one of Jamaica’s core values: to give the best of yourself to others. Motivated by his mother’s hard work and dedication, Bell began to think about ways he could follow in her footsteps once he graduated high school, eventually deciding to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Spanish at the University of Florida.

But during a gap year following his UF graduation, he felt unsure about his path. The Gator grad began to feel as if something “more” was calling his name.

Bell decided to work as a patient transporter at UF Health Shands following his graduation. There, he was able to observe how UF Health nurses served patients at the bedside and beyond, leading him to discover his drive for life.

“I had the chance to observe how the nurses worked around the clock to make sure their patients were well taken care of, even when they weren’t at their side” he said. “I knew right then nursing was where I wanted to be.”

Bell decided to enroll in the UF College of Nursing’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program — for students with a baccalaureate degree or higher — and graduated in 2018. He served as a nurse in the neurosurgery and orthopedics units at UF Health before being inspired in 2019 to return to the College of Nursing once again to further his education through the Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Charting his path

Bell did not realize his passion for mental health care until he began his doctoral studies, originally enrolling in the DNP family nurse practitioner track. Fascinated with helping vulnerable young people outside the hospital, Bell declared his intent to pursue the DNP psych-mental health track after speaking with a College of Nursing graduate program director. In the summer of 2020, Bell attained a position as a psychiatric nurse at UF Health Shands Psychiatric Hospital.  

“Switching into the psych-mental health track was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done as a nurse,” Bell said. “I want to help people when they need it the most — this is my calling.”

Now entering his third year, Bell continues to excel in his academic career. He was selected to deliver a Black nursing history presentation during Black History Month for the College of Nursing’s student organization, Nurses Leading Change (NLC). He participated in the College of Nursing’s EMBRACE program — a group dedicated to providing unique research and leadership opportunities for nursing students from underserved backgrounds — as an undergraduate and earned the Florida Nurses Foundation Scholarship from the Florida Nurses Association. In the service of other students, Bell has worked as a graduate teaching assistant and peer tutor in the College of Nursing, in addition to co-leading the LGBTQ+ Student Interest Group.

However, his accomplishments go beyond the books. In 2021, Bell was awarded the inaugural Deborah E. Trautman Future Nurse Leader Scholarship from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, or AACN, where he has the opportunity to participate in leadership development with AACN president and CEO, Deborah Trautman.

“AACN’s Future Nurse Leader Scholarship was developed to recognize and reward outstanding graduate nursing students with strong leadership potential,” Trautman said. “Taylor Bell embodies the spirit of this award given his clear commitment to advancing scholarship, teaching, community service and innovation. We are so proud to count Taylor among the inaugural recipients of the Future Nurse Leader Award, and I look forward to contributions he will make as an expert clinician, patient advocate and mentor to future generations of nurses.”

Helping hands

Like most nursing students, Bell did not travel his path in the College of Nursing alone.

College of Nursing Clinical Associate Professor Sandra Citty, PhD, RN, APRN-BC, met Bell after he enrolled in her pathophysiology course during the BSN program. She was immediately struck by his curiosity, and Bell credits her with opening his mind to the idea that nurses were not only caregivers — but scientists as well.

“Taylor has been one of my favorite students,” Citty said. “He wants to impact health outcomes and equity for all people. He radiates joy for the nursing profession, and it is a joy to have him as a former student, colleague and friend.”

Rene Love, PhD, DNP, PMHNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP, associate dean for academic affairs in graduate clinical education in the College of Nursing, is Bell’s DNP faculty adviser and has helped him craft the focus of his research. His DNP project examines biases toward the LGBTQ+ community that currently exist in health care. A member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, Bell plans to review current literature in the field before developing educational materials and making practice recommendations for rural providers to help LGBTQ+ individuals feel more welcome and respected in the health care setting.

“Taylor serves as an example for the college and as a Gator Nurse through engagement at both the local and national level,” Love said. “He can be summarized with the following three words: intelligent, engaged and a leader.”

Bell also credits his success in the college’s DNP program to support from college professors emeriti Jo Snider, EdD, RN, and Jodi Irving, APRN, CS, who showed him through his individual and family psychotherapy courses that nurses can be highly skilled and effective psychotherapists.

“Whether it’s the other students in my cohort or a professor, each semester I have someone I can turn to.” Bell said. “I’m so grateful for that sense of community.”

The future calls

Following graduation in 2023, Bell hopes to eventually establish his own clinical practice, focusing on mental health care for LGBTQ+ individuals. Now, serving as a volunteer crisis counselor and in-house trainer at the Alachua County Crisis Center, Bell gets a firsthand look at what his post-grad career may have in store. He also hopes to enter the world of nursing academia to continue sharing his passion for health care with future generations of nurses.

A hip-hop dancer by trade with 10 years of experience, Bell also hopes to incorporate one of his favorite ways to destress into his future nursing practice. He believes dance may be an effective treatment for some patients looking to find creative and healthy ways to cope with their troubles.

But to Bell, all of his hard work is to meet only one goal: to set himself up for a bright future that would make his mother proud.

“Her memory motivates me,” Bell said. “I like to keep myself busy doing one million things at once, but sometimes I take a step back. It’s to take care of myself like I know my mother would want me to.”

Watch Taylor share how participating in student interest groups benefitted his college career: