Gator Nurse takes International stage in Miss Universe competition
Gator Nurse and Miss Universe contestant Pascale Bélony (BSN 2018) has made it her global mission to inspire women. The reigning Miss Haiti, Bélony has used the international stage to serve others, especially those in her native country, through health education and advocacy.
Bélony competed in the Miss Universe pageant on Dec. 16 in Israel. Although she did not receive the crown, she said the best part of the experience was meeting and learning from the other women in the pageant, as well as representing her home country of Haiti.
“The greatest aspect of nursing is being a direct advocate for everyone we serve,” Bélony said. “I connect that with the pageantry stage by encouraging women to not only take care of their physical and mental health but also to pursue the dreams of their heart’s desire. Women have and must continue to infiltrate every aspect of society, and I live to encourage, inspire and advocate for women.”
A Difficult Journey Leads to a Beautiful Destination
Though Bélony walks across the stage with grace, her journey has not always been effortless. She and her family immigrated from Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, to Miami as refugees when she was 11 years old to escape political persecution and violence.
Moving to Florida was both exhilarating and challenging for her. None of her family members could speak English, and Bélony said she was bullied in middle school. But she refused to let that hold her back. She spent hours reading books and translating using the French-to-English dictionary. She watched the Disney channel to learn the language.
And it paid off. She went from English for Speakers of Other Languages courses to honors courses. She was later accepted to the University of Florida, where her heart was truly set. After a first bachelor’s degree in health education from the College of Health and Human Performance in 2015, she was accepted to the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in 2017.
When she stepped foot in the College of Nursing for the first time, she said it felt like home. Her mother was a community nurse leader in Haiti, actually giving birth to Bélony while in nursing school. Bélony recalls following her mother on visits in their native community.
“I learned from an early age that nurses are highly respected leaders in the community,” Bélony said. “My mom, Rose, was a pillar in our community, and she was how I was introduced to health care. She inspired me to become a nurse.”
Learning to Care, Lead, Inspire
During her time at the College of Nursing, Bélony said the rigorous program challenged her, but she was grateful for the opportunities. One opportunity in particular was the college’s EMBRACE program, which provides leadership opportunities through research and mentorship for undergraduate nursing students from underrepresented backgrounds.
As the faculty adviser for the EMBRACE program and the college’s associate dean for diversity, inclusion and engagement, Jeanne-Marie Stacciarini, PhD, RN, FAAN, remembers Bélony as a passionate and very determined student.
“Through EMBRACE, Pascale saw that global health disparity is an area of tremendous need,” Stacciarini said. “She truly had the heart for it, and we were able to motivate her to follow that passion.”
Bélony said she connected with Stacciarini, who is a native of Brazil, because they are both women of different cultures. Stacciarini has continued to serve as a role model and mentor even after graduation and throughout Bélony’s entire journey.
“I remember going into Dr. Stacciarini’s office and admitting to her how difficult the program was and that I didn’t think I could do it,” Bélony said. “She then shared with me how hard her transition was from being a nurse in Brazil to the U.S. As a student, it was reassuring to see someone from a different culture thrive in the nursing field. Representation matters. Dr. Stacciarini supported me with constant motivation and always emphasized the importance of self-awareness and self-regulation. I credit a lot of my confidence to her and her mentorship and caring.”
With experience as a UF Cicerone from her first undergraduate degree, Bélony was also active in the College of Nursing as a Gator Nurse Student Ambassador. As an ambassador, she volunteered at college events, serving as student host and interacting with alumni and supporters of the college. She is also the grateful recipient of The Jo Annalee “Jodi” Irving Scholarship.
“I am very grateful for my time at the College of Nursing because it challenged me not only because the program is rigorous, but because the college prepares you to be a global leader and ambassador,” Bélony said. “My heart was and is still full of gratitude that I was able to receive the Irving scholarship and that there are supporters of the college who want to see students like me thrive. I want to pay it forward one day when I can.”
A Giving Heart
After graduating in 2018, Bélony took her first job as a registered nurse at UF Health Shands on the medical-surgical unit. She then moved to South Florida to follow her passion for public health and worked in a maternal clinic with the Florida Department of Health, followed by a role with Nurse Family Partnership, a national program. She describes this role, where she gives at-risk mothers the best possible clinical care, as well as provides newborn and child education, one of her favorite jobs.
Bélony also used the skills she learned at UF to make a difference back home in Haiti. Since graduating, she has returned to Haiti every few months to volunteer. She is deeply invested in P4H Global, a nonprofit organization that focuses on eradicating poverty in Haiti through education. Bélony is a founding board member and even served as the organization’s communications and publicity director between 2012 and 2020.
During that time, she led more than 400 UF students to Haiti during spring breaks and was instrumental in recruiting and training the students, as well as organizing health education workshops that served more than 1,000 Haitians in Cap-Haïtien. Today, Bélony continues to serve on the P4H Global board of directors as their youngest member.
“Pascale has been critical to our advancement as a nonprofit,” said Bertrhude Albert, PhD, CEO, and co-founder of P4H Global. “For over a decade, Pascale has stood by our side and helped pioneer change in Haiti. Her magnetic personality and unmatched wisdom have been crucial to our advancement. She helps to bring a powerful Haitian perspective to all we do as a nonprofit.”
In addition, Bélony serves as a health education consultant for the Hope for Haiti organization and an ambassador for MamaBaby Haiti, a nonprofit organization that is focused on lowering the maternal and infant mortality rate in Haiti. Not only does she assist in clinics, provide education and perform maternal postpartum assessments, Bélony also performs hospital outreach to donate supplies and uses social media to advocate for the Haitian people and national organizations.
“Through the pageantry platform, I have been able to expose people internationally to the needs of Haiti,” Bélony said. “Haiti has the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the Western Hemisphere. By sharing this information and telling stories of the women in Haiti, I have been able to engage people and get them interested in the health and wellbeing of these women.”
Stacciarini said Bélony follows through with her passions and uses the pageants and competitions to further elevate her message.
“In everything Pascale is doing now — for example, the Miss Universe pageant — she is being a leader,” Stacciarini said. “She demonstrates what nurses can do to help women in disadvantaged positions to overcome their barriers and achieve better health.”
Setting Her Sights High
By participating in the 70th Miss Universe pageant in December, Bélony was able to achieve a dream she has had since she was 8 years old. She remembers watching the Miss Universe competition as a child and hoping that could be her one day.
“I was a very observant child,” she said. “I always paid attention to how people moved and their behavior. I remember watching Miss Universe and thinking how beautiful those ladies were. I told myself I would one day be on the Miss Universe stage and tell the story of Haiti. But we didn’t have this type of pageant activity for young girls growing up, so I buried it in my heart.”
After graduating from the College of Nursing in 2018, Bélony unearthed the dream she had buried and told her family and friends that she was going to apply to compete in the Miss Haiti competition.
Putting her observational talents to work, she watched pageants on YouTube and taught herself how to walk and move like the contestants. In 2019, she stepped foot on her first pageant stage and won second place in the National Miss Universe Haiti Pageant.
In August 2021, Bélony competed internationally in the Miss Supranational competition, taking home the Miss Caribbean crown and placing 14th out of 58 contestants.
She is currently a travel nurse administering COVID-19 vaccines with dreams to return to nursing school to become a Certified Nurse Midwife in order to help mothers and babies and encourage others.
“My hope and sincere expectation is that Pascale will continue to shine her bright light everywhere she goes,” Albert said. “Pascale is a source of power and strength to everyone she encounters, and I just know her name will be remembered for generations to come!”
As passionate as Bélony is about pursuing her own passions, she is also passionate about motivating others.
“I love to say this statement, particularly for women: ‘We are dynamic beings with dynamic backgrounds and interests.’ We were meant to pursue life at its fullest. So I ask people: What are the things that set your heart on fire?” Bélony said. “Are you going to let them just be ‘things’ or are you going to pursue them? Find your purpose. Find your why. Mine is to serve others through my education, talents and gifts. It’s scary at first, but courage is going against the grain.”