DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos is making history as the first Hispanic and the first male dean of the Duke University School of Nursing. He wants to change the way we think about health care and says nurses are at the center of that change.

As Dean of the Duke University School of Nursing, Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos looks forward to watching nursing students shape the future of health care.

It’s a career he loves, but it isn’t the job he initially imagined while growing up in the South Bronx.

“I didn’t see myself being a nurse,” he recalled.

He did know he wanted to help his community, and as he studied social welfare and public health, he realized the two go hand in hand.

“There were a lot of sexual and reproductive health issues young people were facing – things like unplanned pregnancy, sexually-transmitted infections, HIV,” he noted. “I saw that embedded around those issues were things like housing instability, poverty, food scarcity, problems with transportation, and so that really led me to nursing.

Along the way, mentors encouraged him, but few of them came from a similar background or culture.

“I had fewer mirrors, where I could really look out and see myself reflected back,” he said.

Still, he was determined to make a difference in his community and the field of health care.

“Today, I’m a nurse practitioner; I specialize in the care of adolescents dealing with HIV. I work here in Durham downtown. In addition, I’m a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.”

He’s also the dean of one of the best nursing schools in the country. In his role at Duke, he emphasizes that health care isn’t just treating a physical problem.

“It’s about thinking—not just about a particular disease or a body part,” he said, “But, who is this person, and how do we help them to optimize their health?”

“We’ve got to start thinking about how we can improve the social conditions people live in. That’s a big part of my mission,” he added.

It’s a mission that depends on nurses. “Most health care is delivered, across our planet, by nurses,” Ramos explained.

As students from all kinds of cultures and communities work to become nurses, Dean Ramos hopes his success will inspire them.

“Hopefully, I’m a mirror for people, when I interact with students, to say ‘Hey, Dean Ramos, he’s like us. He too had those experiences, and we too can achieve even greater things,'” he said.