Partner Spotlight: Bernie Park

Bernadette “Bernie” Park, the daughter of Irish Catholic immigrants, was born and raised in Bronx, New York. Hard work and establishing a practical career were instilled by her family from an early age and many family members became nurses, teachers, police officers or fire fighters. In keeping with tradition, Bernie chose nursing as her career and earned her BS in Nursing from the College of Mount Saint Vincent. She subsequently earned her Masters degree in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing, as well as an Advanced Certificate as an Adult Nurse Practitioner, with a focus in Primary Care and Oncology, from Columbia University.


Bernie became involved in systems change within the healthcare system through her work coordinating families and administrators in a clinical setting. After moving to Connecticut, she commuted to New York City to work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for several years before switching to academia and joining the faculty at Fairfield University. As an adjunct clinical professor, Bernie taught diagnosis and management, and clinical assessment to nurse practitioners and nursing students.


After leaving the workforce to focus on raising her two daughters, Bernie returned to the field of nursing in 2018, earning a PhD in Nursing Practice from the Yale School of Nursing. A Partner of SVP since 2018, Bernie joined the SVP board in July 2021.


Why did you choose to return to teaching after leaving the field because of low wages?

There is a shortage of people to teach nurses and that motivated me. After I considered what I wanted to do after leaving the work force for so many years, I realized that I still loved nursing. It’s my passion. There is a huge bottleneck in workforce development because there is a lack of nursing educators. Academia requires doctorate to teach and get tenure at a university. However, teaching positions pay about a third of what you can make working as a practicing nurse, so there is a financial disincentive for nurses to obtain a PhD . This was already creating a crisis in the healthcare system, but it has been drastically worsened by the Covid-19 epidemic


What led you to get involved with SVP and workforce development?

A few years ago I was doing fundraising work with SVP Partner Rob Fried and he recommended I join to learn about making more impactful investments in the health care sector.


What have you learned during your time with SVP?

I joined SVP after creating a small family foundation, so I was initially very interested in learning about impactful investing. I have always worked with nonprofits and have specialized in fundraising. I was also naturally very passionate about helping women and children and improving early childhood education. SVP helped me to see that my time and my expertise are way more impactful than my financial donations are in leveraging SVP’s platform. Becoming more efficient at leveraging my own impact has made me more passionate and more involved in my philanthropy as well.


How does your professional background influence your perspective and help inform your work with SVP?

I am interested in narrowing the opportunity gap and improving economic development through a health equity lens. In today’s environment, your genes and your zip code are the primary determinants of your health. Early childhood education and workforce development are two powerful levers for ending disparity in health outcomes. I have dealt with the terrible ramifications in the ICU that can sometimes result from these disparities, and improving economic outcomes is key to ending them.


What are you looking forward to doing with SVP?

We are creating pathways to sustainable wage jobs, and training people for entry-level positions that are easy to get are key to staffing this pipeline. If I can get one member of a family started as a Certified Nursing Assistant with five weeks of training, I can then get them into a two-year nursing program degree. That one living wage can be enough to lift an entire family out of poverty. There are some roadblocks in getting through the two-year program, so I am working with the Governor’s Workforce Council on eliminating or restructuring some of those roadblocks.


What was most unexpected about getting into systems change?

That I am doing it! I opened myself up to the experience and have really been supported and mentored by the SVP staff. We’re really all in this together. I was able to put myself out there and be receptive to what is happening around me because I have gotten support throughout the learning process. We are able to do dramatic systems change when we put ourselves out there, work together, and just keep tackling it one step at a time.