Dorinda Welle, PhD

Assistant Professor, RWJF Nursing and Health Policy Collaborative at UNM

Dr. Welle is an anthropologist who has conducted ethnographic and mixed-methods studies of public health issues, including homelessness; in-patient and community mental health services; drug treatment programs for women; alternatives to incarceration; and HIV prevention and treatment for adolescents. Her first research documented the role of rural nurse midwives in the Kenyan independence movement. Throughout her work she has utilized life history methodologies to understand how people make sense of their lives in the context and in the margins of health care systems, institutions, epidemics and economies.

Dr. Welle participated in the preliminary and evaluative research of the first U.S. Census count of street homeless people in 1990, which became a model for subsequent Census counts. Her account of staying with homeless people in Penn Station has been published internationally in a special issue on race, and was featured in The New Yorker, in news coverage on the Australian Broadcasting System, and at conferences in Ireland and Italy.

Dr. Welle earned her MA in Medical Anthropology and her PhD in Cultural Anthropology from The New School for Social Research:  a university founded by European exiles during the 1940s and known for scholarship addressing questions of public policy, national politics, and democratic participation through the lens of race, ethnicity, gender and class. From 1994 to 2006, she studied behavioral HIV risk at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York City. From 2003 to 2005, she led a team of physicians, nurses and sociologists at Kunming Medical College in a study of HIV risk behavior among indigenous youth in Yunnan Province, Southwestern China.

Before joining UNM, Dr. Welle served for four years as a program officer in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights at the Ford Foundation’s U.S. headquarters. There she developed and funded two initiatives: one to support sexuality education in US public schools, and one to support policy-relevant social science research on youth health, sexuality and rights. She collaborated with Foundation health policy initiatives in Mexico, Brazil, China, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt. She has been honored for her support of the Iina Ways of Life Council, comprised of Navajo health and education leaders.

At UNM, Dr. Welle teaches a course on Health Disparities and Policy, and has designed and taught Independent Studies for students interested in policy change and tribal policy. She is writing up her longitudinal research funded by the National Institutes of Health on adolescents growing up in the AIDS epidemic in the United States.

Her current research, School-Based Nurses and Public Policy in New Mexico, will collect life history narratives of school-based nurses from all regions of New Mexico in order to identify nurses’ policy concerns, pathways to policy engagement and policy involvement. School-based nurses practice in a policy-dense environment shaped not only by health policy but also by educational policy, school district policy and tribal policies. Dr. Welle notes that while U.S. policy has been influenced by nurse leaders, we understand little about how nurses become involved in policy advocacy or the unique type of nursing knowledge that health policy represents.