Dr. Santa Maria, DrPH, RN, FAAN is the dean of the Cizik School of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). She is a fellow in the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, new fellow in the American Academy of Nursing (2019), and a former Visiting Professor at the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies. She earned her BSN from the Ohio State University, MSN in Public Health Nursing from Case Western Reserve University, and DrPH from UTHealth School of Public Health. Her expertise is in conducting research and developing programs focused on marginalized, disenfranchised populations that are often hidden, hard-to-reach, and whose risk behaviors are often stigmatized by society. Specifically, Dr. Santa Maria’s work is primarily with youth and young adults who are experiencing housing instability or homelessness (YEH), a population with intersecting risks and a high prevalence of substance use and mental health needs.
Dr. Santa Maria has conducted multiple studies with YEH using mobile technology (e.g., daily diaries), qualitative, and quantitative methods. She has examined mental health, substance use patterns, and developed a predictive model using ecological momentary assessments that found that the odds for sexual activity were notable for same day drug use and high sexual urge. Her recent pilot study of a just-in-time adaptive intervention found that a brief, just-in-time adaptive mHealth intervention reduced substance use, urge for sex, and stress among YEH. Her current randomized trial, funded by NINR, is testing the effects of a nurse case management HIV prevention intervention among YEH and the barriers, facilitators, acceptance of point-of-contact PrEP adherence tests, and adherence levels of PrEP among youth who identify as LGBTQ. Dr. Santa Maria is a founding member of a national Homeless Youth Research Collaborative (www.realyst.org) that is dedicated to promoting health equity among at-risk youth and YEH. She draws on her research to inform her education, advocacy, and health policy efforts. She has authored several position statements by the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine advocating for improvements in sexual and reproductive healthcare services especially for adolescent males and for increased access to PrEP and long-acting reversible contraceptives for youth.
Prior to her academic career, Dr. Santa Maria worked as a medical-surgical nurse, health educator, Indian Health Services director for Community Health Nursing, and began her nursing career as a Peace Corps Volunteer.