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Jewish Alliance for Women in Science

Helping Women Enter Careers Related to Science and Medicine

JAWS Highlighted Feature

Visit Mentors' Round Table to read our interviews of women in the fields of science and health. These are women of varying levels of experience and backgrounds, brought to the table to answer your questions about everything from work-life balance to financial management. Read on, be inspired, and leave them (and us!) a comment!

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March 2010

Marla Oros


Marla Oros was born and brought up in Randallstown, Maryland. Trained as a nurse and nurse administrator, at just 39, Oros currently serves as Associate Dean for Clinical Practice and Services at the University of Maryland, School of Nursing. In this capacity, she oversees several programs including four full service mobile health clinics know as "Wellmobiles", a nurse managed primary care community facility ("Open Gates"), a pediatric ambulatory center, 15 school based health centers, the Healthy Child Care Maryland Program and the Southwestern Family Support Center. Oros' work, both professional and voluntary, in the field of health care and educational access, has taken her into the poorest and most under-served areas of west and southwest Baltimore as well as across Maryland. Her work encompasses groups as diverse as children, low income families and prostitutes.

In 1993 she helped start a clinic called Open Gates Community Health Center with a grant from the Middendorf Foundation. This unit provides health services to under-served and uninsured Baltimoreans using nurses as primary health care practitioners with diagnostic and prescriptive powers. - Oros has helped champion this innovative idea. Now a thriving practice, the clinic will be housed in a new and larger facility in 2003 with the help of Oros' fundraising efforts and a personal contribution from Oros and her husband David Oros.

Marla Oros' commitment to healthcare access for all was the driving force behind the creation of Connect Maryland, a non-profit formed by Oros and her husband David. Supporting initiatives in health care across the state, particularly in places of social distress or geographic isolation, the organization has made a $600,000 annual donation to the Wellmobile initiative.

Seeing that the future of our cities and state lie in opportunities for children, Marla Oros co-founded and directs "Community Impact Baltimore," a youth development program for children and young adults from middle to high-school age and beyond. In 2000, this non-profit awarded college scholarships and plans to expand its activities in the coming years.

Oros was given community wide recognition by Baltimore Magazine for her numerous civic endeavors when she was named "Baltimorean of the Year" for 2001.

Marla Oros, with her husband David, has two children and resides in Owings Mills, Maryland. 

Marla Oros, March 2002

Permission for use granted by Maximilian Franz to JWA

Marla Oros Quotes:

On Jewish values;

"I really believe in rebuilding the community, giving back to the community and the whole Tikkun Olam. I feel strongly that a big part of why I do what I do is really that it's what we're supposed to do, and I feel like I have certain gifts that God has given me and that this is what I need to be doing with those gifts. I really do feel like it's almost a duty and an obligation as part of my religious identity."

"I would say we were Reform to Conservative; not so observant, but with a very strong Jewish identity ... I think when you have children, it really reinforces the need to be aware of passing on your culture and values to your children, so I think that that has been reaffirming to me."

On Family Upbringing;

"My father worked primarily for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a federal department...and was involved in managing a number of low income housing programs, particularly the senior housing programs that provided supportive housing for low income seniors across this state particularly the city. My mother who was originally trained as an elementary school teacher changed careers when I was in third grade and became a social worker, and for years worked as in-field, on the street for Baltimore City Department of Social Services social workers. She actually was the pioneer of the single parents service when teen pregnancy became [of] extremely huge prevalence in Baltimore City and the need to provide support; she helped developed that program. [It] provided a lot of direct counseling services and services from Children's Unit helping to keep families who were at risk for foster care, so they would prevent removal of the child from the house."

My father grew up very religious. He went to the Talmudical Academy and was actually enrolled in the Rabbinical College until he met my mom who is also Jewish, but wasn't terribly observant. And there was a lot of re-negotiation during the dating years around what level of observance they would have and my mother won and the Rabbinical College was abandoned!But my father has a wonderful gift of a voice as well as being a teacher for children with learning differences, so I grew up for years with him being both a Hebrew School teacher at Randallstown Synagogue Center [as well as] conducting Junior Services during the High Holiday Services for Beth Israel among other synagogues. But in particular for years and years he provided tutoring and lessons for children with dyslexia and learning differences for their Bar Mitzvahs. He taught them their haftarah and these were children who never could read Hebrew and people would say they could never learn to read Hebrew and he would essentially start from scratch and they did beautifully. And so we had this steady stream of children coming in my house as I grew up ... I grew up hearing the haftarahs."

 On role models;   

"I think that those values [of my parents' work], and particularly my mom's involvement as a social worker, I think, were very strong foundations for me because I grew up hearing the stories of people in Baltimore City and the plight and what she was doing and the needs, and so I think I grew up with a recognition--and I think a very non-judgmental recognition--of that these are families just like any other families. ...So I think that really was something that shaped the work I do now."

"Dr. Claudia Smith, who was my community health instructor and really, I think, got me interested in community health in Nursing School, was actually a very wonderful and continues to be a wonderful role model for me. Ilene Lavery and Mary Partridge who were community health nurses that I enjoyed the privileges of working with for many years who we were wonderful nursing role models."

On being a woman activist;

"I haven't found it to be really an advantage or a disadvantage which is a good thing. I suppose because I'm a nurse people expect me to be a woman, so I haven't found it really to have an impact."

On work and family;

"Well I have a wonderful husband who, despite the fact that he is a very busy and successful corporate CEO, is equally attentive to our family as our number one priority. And so I think we really do share in the responsibilities and negotiate how to make it work, so that we aren't compromising our family while doing this work, so I think that's the main thing. I've been blessed with wonderful childcare over the years! And I have my parents, who live here, and now my in-laws who live here, so that's helpful.

But I do try to do as much work as I can during the non-working hours, you know, when I can at home and at a time that doesn't compromise family life and that does mean being up in the middle of the night which I am quite frequently, and people who know me get e-mails from me at 4 a.m. in the morning! But I really I think it's having the support of a wonderful husband, sitter, family and figuring out how not to compromise the time you have, the important time you need to spend with your family and spend it on that time."

"I think that [my children] are truly inspired and committed to [activism] as well. I think that they're grown up with this and they've taken it to heart, it's part of their growing values. My husband has been, I think, very involved with me in a number of these projects both personally in funding them, his company funding them, but also helping in securing additional funding through his own business and corporate network. He's been a real advocate for these programs and so I think that my passion is certainly something I live with that has become really part of just our family culture and I hope that, and I know that those are values that my children are growing up with."

On path to activism;

"The Governor's Wellmobile program is a program that was started here at the University of Maryland, School of Nursing through my department which is the Office of Clinical Affairs and it was one of the first clinical initiatives that the School was involved with and I became involved with the Wellmobile program within the first year of its development here at the School. Essentially the Wellmobile is a mobile health clinic that provides primary and preventative health care services using a nurse practitioner model of care to medically under-served committees around the State and it grew from one Wellmobile to now four Wellmobiles.

I'm really passionate about the Wellmobile since working in it because I've gotten the opportunity to travel around the State of Maryland, to see how severe the barriers to access to health care that are faced both by the urban populations as well as the rural populations of our State, and how a program like the Wellmobile that goes into communities or goes into a school or a community center can make the difference in providing care to folks who would otherwise not get it."

"I have spent [much of] my career on the streets of primarily West Baltimore from being a community health nurse directly on the street providing healthcare services in the homes of families in West Baltimore, to being a hospital administrator of an inner city community hospital Bon Secours and doing their business development (which is really community health program development because of the nature of the service area). During this work I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Jim Rouse -- the former Jim Rouse who as you know started Harbor Place and Rouse and Co., -- [who] at the end of his career thought that we could take a community in a country (this was ten years ago) and try and change all the systems, recognizing that it wasn't the people who were in poverty [that] were broke, but the systems [were]. And not just one system but all systems: that poor people don't just need a good school, or a good job, or access to health care and a good house, that they need all those things because it really takes all of that to make a person whole, so [what's required is] neighborhood transformation.

Sandown-Winchester was the community I had been working in, at Bon Secours, [and it] was one of the first demonstration programs in the country to try to do a comprehensive community revitalization. I met Jim through Bon Secours and was very captured by his vision of neighborhood transformation and I actually left Bon Secours, with their blessings, to join Jim at the Enterprise Foundation as a consultant. He really is a major inspiration to getting me back into directly working in the community and really trying to revolutionize how we think about systems and changing systems to be more supportive of families in disadvantaged communities." 

Marla Oros (right) with Barbara Heller at the 2002 Community Service Award ceremony, University of Maryland

On impact on self;

"I've become recently involved with The Associated, and Jewish Family Service in particular. I've recently joined that board as well as the Board of my synagogue, Beth El. I think what has been affirming to me has been, so much of the work I do is working in communities where really I'm an outsider and I have worked really hard to be accepted for the values and the contributions and the vision and mission. I have to try to make improvements along with the community residents, but you are never, you're always an outsider. And what's been heartening about becoming more recently involved with my synagogue and particularly with The Associated is that I am a member of the community and it's really a very different, wonderful feeling to really participate as a real member and with other members of your own community."

"[My activism is] really about promoting health care access, which is what my passion is. I passionately believe that the community nurse practitioners play major roles in bridging that. I've tried to demonstrate the role that nurses can play in that, and the very different roles nurses can play, especially in light of the current shortage we are facing and the need to attract new men and women into nursing and to see nursing as an exciting career. I feel that I've been blessed by having an exciting career in nursing.

I think that my real passion is ... everybody deserves healthcare and without health care you can't go to work and can't go to school and really can't do anything if you don't have your health... I hope that I'm a role model for future nurses that might be doing this."

On impact on world;

"Hopefully [there is an impact] in the communities [in which we work]. I would hope that they feel that there's been an improvement in the access to health and other educational services in a way that's been respectful and mindful and responsive to their needs and wants, and I also hope that I'm making an impact on future nurses and other professionals. I do teach and enjoy teaching and feel grateful that I've had an opportunity to give real live color commentary to the content in real examples. I'm able to have students with us in all these programs [who] can really see this work and hopefully will get inspired to continue this work and work with disadvantaged communities."

"Open Gates is near and dear to my heart. It's the first clinical practice that the School of Nursing developed and it grew out of work that faculty have been doing for years and years in the Pigtown-Washington community of South West, Baltimore literally less than a mile from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The community is very socio-economically depressed and the health care access particularly at the time, 8 1/2 years [ago], when the clinic was developed, was not very available. There were no physicians directly in the community except for a very large, busy practice that served primarily seniors; and although the University of Maryland Medical Center system was less than a mile, the Martin Luther King big thoroughfare was like the Mississippi River for the families that lived in South West Baltimore who needed to tow baby carriages and so forth, so they weren't going.

Women and children in addition to the homeless folks that we had been serving through a Band-Aid clinic that students had been operating in concert with Paul's Place, a soup kitchen in the neighborhood, began to access the services of the nursing students because they knew they were there. And it became apparent that there really was a health care need, so the school got together with residents of the community and some board members of Paul's Place to form a new non-profit organization called Open Gates Inc. (which I now Chair), to start the clinic.

And the School of Nursing was able to obtain federal funding to operate the clinic, and then the Mittendorf Foundation provided $250,000 capital grant to purchase two row houses on Washington Boulevard, to equip them with a clinic, and we've been in business ever since. And we've grown and grown and grown and we've grown to the point where we are bursting at the seams.

We just completed a successful $2 million capitol campaign and are under construction for a brand new Open Gates facility which will be located just a block from our current facility and it's scheduled to open in the Spring [2003] and so I'm really proud of that. I'm really proud of the community participation and the faculty and the staff that were involved in that, [and] certainly my board that I've had the privilege of working with."

"Community Impact is a new organization that my husband and I started two years ago and it's the first replication site of a program 'Community Impact DC' that has been going on in Washington for about 10 years... I became chairman of the board... We've started working in South West Baltimore, principally with a community group called Operation Reach Out, South West and ... we've given out scholarships to over 25 kids over the last two years to go onto college....

We've also been very interested in extending our work down to the Middle School level to a much younger age group and have been working in partnership with Baltimore City around how to do some level of school reform, particularly at Diggs Johnson Middle School. This year we became the recipient of the Turning the Corner Achievement Award, which is a very large $2.5 million grant that we received. [It is] funded by Eddy and Sylvia Brown and their foundation through The Associated Black Charities and the Baltimore Family Foundation to do after school programming focused on improving academic enrichment and leadership over 5 years [for] over 105 young people in West Baltimore."

"Y.A.N.A., stands for 'You Are Never Alone' and it is a wonderful organization started by an amazing woman called Sid Ford who was a social worker who started Y.A.N.A. because of her desire to provide outreach and support to prostituting women in Baltimore City, recognizing from news experience she had seen that there was really no support out there for these woman and that there was a lot of need. YANA place was created on Pratt Street in West Baltimore and I became involved with it through work that I had been doing as a consultant, and immediately when I heard about the mission of YANA asked Sid how I could be involved and I have been a board member ever since.

I'm just really extremely committed to the work that they do...I have helped the organization in a number of ways, providing the usual board governance and direction and oversight policies procedures, planning, but in addition, was very helpful along with the Director and another board member to procure substantial funding from the Open Society Institute. In fact it was the largest grant the Open Society Institute had provided at one point, a very generous grant that we were very appreciative of, [and] that allowed Y.A.N.A. to really get its services to be more operational, so I was very involved in that. Actually worked on the design and implementation of the actual work that was funded through Y.A.N.A. So I continue to be very active."

On challenges;

"I think [the biggest challenge] is the resource support. It's really making sure that you don't take on too much, that you're growing within a reasonable period of time. I think we've been challenged to some extent by the blessings we've had around the ability to grow programs and so its been tough and we're still struggling with immediate growth and some of the start-up associated with that. I think those are ongoing challenges that you have with managing community based programs, where even though we are funded, being able to be sure that you are managing and keeping your programs within a reasonable magnitude and manageable scope so that you can deal with them within the resources that you have."

On rewards;

"At our campus here at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, every year President Ramsey hosts a Community Service banquet and the Health Center [Open Gates] was awarded a Community Service Award for distinguished involvement in the community in 1999. I was proud of that... The Wellmobile received it 1998 and I was very honored to receive the Community Service Award this year [2002]."

"I think seeing the impact; seeing kids get care, seeing them go to school and be healthy and seeing families smile when you get them a house, seeing kids, families come off the Wellmobile getting health care where they're never had it before. I mean that's the real goal. Seeing parents at Community Impact who are really excited about the program and want to be involved when we hear so much about parents who don't want to be involved, so I think that being there and hearing from the folks that we're serving that it's making a difference."

Credit for this page goes to Jewish Women's Archive.