Vo makes history at National Cancer Institute

Photo of Jacqueline B. Vo

By Amanda E.H. Pritchard

University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing alumna Jacqueline B. Vo, PhD, RN, MPH (BSN 2014, PhD 2018), has been appointed Assistant Clinical Investigator for the Radiation Epidemiology Branch of the National Cancer Institute. This is a historic moment for Vo as she is the first nurse to be appointed to this position within the NCI.

“Being here provides me a unique opportunity to develop my research with incredible resources and brilliant scientists that I collaborate with,” Vo said. “They’re very supportive of my clinical expertise.”

Growing up in Springville, Alabama, a small town 30 miles northeast of Birmingham, Vo was drawn to nursing because of the compassion she was shown at a local clinic.

“My mom didn’t speak much English, so I would go to the clinic with her to translate for her,” Vo said. “There was a nurse practitioner there who was very patient with us and took the time to help me interpret for my mom. I was very inspired by her kindness and from that point on, I wanted to be a nurse when I grew up.”

In the eighth grade, Vo wrote a letter to her future self that she opened when she was a senior in high school. In it, she said that she hoped she’d be going to UAB to study nursing.

“When I opened the letter, I had just been accepted to the Dean’s Nursing Scholars Program at the UAB School of Nursing,” Vo said.

During her time at the School of Nursing, Vo was a proud recipient of a number of scholarships.

“These scholarships were fundamental for my ability to attend nursing school, as they provided tuition support,” Vo said. “It is imperative and very impactful to continue scholarship funding for future nurses because it creates opportunities for students to attend school while mitigating financial hardship.”

Fast forward to her current role as Assistant Clinical Investigator, Vo examines treatment-related cardiovascular disease and health inequities among cancer survivors and the disaggregation of Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals.

“That’s why I love where I’m at,” Vo said. “I work with very interdisciplinary scientists but I’m the only one that comes from a nursing background. To be able to visualize science through the eyes of patients is something you just can’t do without that background experience. We need more nurses who go into science. There are seats at the table for them.”

Renowned nurse scientist and beloved UAB School of Nursing Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Scholarship Karen Meneses, PhD, RN, FAAN, who passed away in 2018, served as Vo’s primary mentor and inspiration for pursuing her passions in nursing.

“Dr. Meneses really pushed me outside of my comfort zone to be the best nurse scientist I could be,” Vo said. “She’s the reason why and the person who recruited me to pursue a PhD. I wouldn’t be here today without her.”

Making her mentor proud and walking in Meneses’ leadership footsteps, Vo received the 2021 Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics Cancer Health Disparities Research Award. She also earned the NCI Director’s Award – Champion Award for Emerging Leaders.

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