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Leading Care: Dr. Mary Ellen Glasgow and the Duquesne University School of Nursing

In this interview, Mary Ellen Glasgow ’87 MSN, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, ANEF, FAAN discusses her leadership in advancing nurses and health care through higher education. 

She is Dean of the Duquesne University School of Nursing. 

Dr. Mary Ellen Glasgow

How did you rise to this leadership position?

I had progressive academic administrator experience at my prior university, Drexel University in Philadelphia, which provided invaluable leadership experiences. I served as Director, Assistant Dean, Chair and then Associate Dean. I was also fortunate to participate in two executive fellowships:

Bryn Mawr College and Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) Mid-America Summer Institute for Women in Higher Education Administration, Bryn Mawr, PA. The program accepts women leaders who are actively seeking to increase administrative responsibilities and provides training in the management and governance of institutions of higher education with special attention to accounting and budgeting, long-range planning, information technology, decision-making processes, and policy implementation.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellows Program, a three-year advanced leadership program that allows participants to gain experiences, insights, competencies and skills necessary for executive leadership positions. My mentor was Thomas J. LeBlanc, PhD, the former Executive Vice President and Provost, University of Miami, Miami, FL. who is now the President at George Washington University, Washington, D.C 

Who influenced you?

I was greatly influenced by my parents, Frank and Nancy Smith, who taught me to treat everyone with respect and do the “right thing” even when it is difficult and to advocate for those less fortunate and powerful. I was also greatly influenced by strong leaders during my RWJ Fellowship such as Tom LeBlanc, Shirley Chater, Donna Shalala, and Jan Bellack and many others who showed me how to develop a vision and move an organization forward while caring for your faculty and staff’s personal needs.  At Duquesne, I admire Sr. Rosemary Donley who is the Jacques Laval Chair for Justice for Vulnerable Populations. She has been a Dean and Executive Vice President and has a great deal of wisdom and experience.

Why is it important to you? Why are you enthusiastic about your work in this role?

On a day to day basis I have an opportunity to impact the lives of nursing students and faculty and help them grow professionally. It is such a privilege. I know they are doing great work. In a larger sense, I am and always will be a nurse: my career is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of our communities. All of my work is in the pursuit of that goal.

What are the issues you deal with and what’s the biggest challenge in your area?

I believe nursing still suffers from being regarded as a female profession. I do not believe nurses receive the recognition, investment, and support that they deserve for what they bring to healthcare and society in general. We must pay more attention to how nursing is represented within organizations and in our society at large, to ensure that nurses are seen as the critically important professionals they are.

How are you effective in your role? What’s critical to your success in the role?

I believe I am effective because my faculty, staff and colleagues know that I truly want what is best for them and work diligently to achieve those goals. I advocate for others when necessary. I am politically savvy but not a politician. I will speak up for others when necessary even when it is difficult. I work for not only the success of my school but also for that of the entire University, realizing that as a dean I am one of those who is “at the table” and can make a difference.  As a woman, it is especially important that I demonstrate my values, leadership abilities, and professional competence.

How does innovation fit into your role as leader?

I consider myself an academic innovator and visionary. I know that it’s important to educate students who are ready to meet the needs of a changing health care environment. I have worked with faculty to create the development and growth of one of the largest online nursing and health related course offerings in the US; incorporated the co-operative model of education into all undergraduate programs; served as a leader in technology and simulation infused education (mobile devices, e-books, virtual reality, telehealth etc.); developed a Dual Biomedical Engineering/BSN (first in the U.S.); and a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Ethics (online, first in the U.S.)

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently on your rise to this position or while in it?

I pride myself on being someone who is willing to take (calculated) risks in leading my school and faculty, and I know that some innovations work and others don’t, but there is always something learned. I wish I’d taken a few more risks in my own career trajectory by taking on things that I felt like I wasn’t quite ready for and that would have really challenged me earlier in my path.

What’s your advice to someone who wants to be a leader in their area of interest?

Care about quality “first” no matter what your role is. Do your homework. Do not bluff. Make data informed decisions considering equity and fairness of those involved and the outcomes you wish to achieve.  Do well in the job you are in. If you do a good job, the accolades will follow. Do not search for them. And when they come, own them as something you earned and deserve.

What is your leadership philosophy?

My leadership philosophy is to be your authentic self. You always need to put the organization’s interests over your own. People will respect you for that because they will know you are doing your best to serve students, faculty, and the school.  Be as transparent as possible and fair and equitable. My faculty trusts me to lead, which leaves them free to focus on our students and their work, and I don’t do anything that would jeopardize that trust.  In short, integrity is the foundation for that trust, confidence, and success.

What’s your hope for our profession?

My hope for the profession is that nurses are given more autonomy and can have a greater impact on health. As I recently read,” if you enhance nursing, you enhance health care.” I also hope that we become much more diverse as a profession and the public sees the intellectual capacity of the nurse, meaning that the public sees the intellectual rigor and thoughtfulness that we bring to health care.