Jewish Iranian-American Jessica Nooriel believes her graduation from the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory fulfills not only her dreams, but also those of her parents, who were forced to flee Iran.

Nooriel studied nursing at Emory because of the program’s accessibility to undergrads and her interest in medicine, she said. “I knew I wanted to do something related to medicine and knew Emory was a great place for that. I did not know if I wanted to go to medical school or pursue public health but knew that’s where I wanted to start.”

Emory’s nursing program was rigorous, Nooriel said, and the content was challenging. But more important was changing the way students thought. “We were supposed to think not just like students, but nurses,” she said. “If they tested me just on content, I would have gotten a 100 on every test, but we were tested on how we could use the content, which was the hardest part.”

Nooriel said her cultural background influenced her work ethic in college. “I think my parents’ story and their inability to achieve their dreams as Persian Jews back in Iran motivated me to work even harder,” she said. “I am obviously doing what I am doing for myself, but I am also doing it for my parents.”

Because Nooriel’s mom is Jewish, she was not allowed to attend medical school in Iran, Nooriel said. Yet mother and daughter still have conversations about medicine and nursing because they share that passion.

Jessica Nooriel is a graduate of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory. (Photo courtesy of Jake Rosmarin)

Atlanta native Nooriel attended Greenfield Hebrew Academy and Yeshiva Atlanta before they merged into Atlanta Jewish Academy. Her family attends the predominantly Persian Congregation Netzach Israel in Toco Hills. Part of the reason Nooriel said she chose Emory is because of the heavily Jewish population.

Nooriel was involved in Emory Hillel and served on the student board as vice president for the High Holidays programs. She also served as an engagement intern and was involved with Emory’s BUNDLE program, which encourages students to discuss diversity in the workforce for nurses and how diverse patients require diverse nurses.

One of Nooriel’s highest accomplishments was working with BUNDLE for her senior capstone project. She investigated health care before and after incarceration and discovered that while most people received excellent care in prison, most returned to old, poorer habits once they left.

Nooriel presented her findings to nearly 60 DeKalb County probation officers, encouraging them to focus on helping ex-convicts find not only homes and jobs, but also proper health care.

The presentation was the first the DeKalb probation office had received and is being used as a template for other Georgia counties, Nooriel said.

Out of a class of 1,400, Nooriel was one of 100 seniors nominated for her leadership and scholarship in the community. She is now in the job market and is open to a nursing career in any city but said she is looking for the best fit and wants to work in a hospital that will support her growth.

If she had not entered medicine, Nooriel said, she would have studied education. During her first year at Emory she began working for Jewish Kids Groups and eventually became the Hebrew director. That experience helped with her creativity and leadership skills, she said.

She later worked for In the City Camp and interned for JScreen’s marketing team. Nooriel helped translate brochures from English to Farsi to better reach the Sephardic community, who may think Jewish genetic diseases are more of an Ashkenazi problem.

Jessica Nooriel’s mortarboard at graduation reflects her interest in medicine.

As a Jewish Iranian-American, Nooriel said she loves her dual identities but has found it trying at times to express them. “I am very proud to have this other culture which is a part of me and excites me so much because of what my parents have shared with me over the years, but, living in America, I have this Jewish-American identity, which I have struggled with,” she said. “I am sure everyone has who feels like they have more than one identity.”

Nevertheless, Nooriel said college helped her discover a lot of things about herself and accept her identity because she was able to meet like-minded people.

She said the best part of graduating is looking back and seeing what you accomplished not just for yourself, but also for and with the people around you. “I am leaving Emory knowing that our Jewish community, friends and leadership positions are in good hands,” she said. “I am excited to see where it will go, and some of my best memories are of the friends I have made at Emory. I am very grateful for all the support my friends and family have given me.”