Historic Gift Advances Duke University School of Nursing Mission

Historic Gift Advances Duke University School of Nursing Mission

Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) alumna Bettye Martin Musham has committed $8 million to the School to address the most pressing issues of wellness and prevention, to reduce health inequities, to develop community-based educational programs, and to transform health care delivery. Her gift is the second-largest donation by an individual in the School’s history and the largest ever for faculty, students, and programs.

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Bettye & Bill Musham
DUSON Class of 1954

Musham’s gift, via her estate, allots $5 million to endow the William and Bettye Martin Musham Professorship and $3 million to endow the William and Bettye Martin Musham Fund. The bequest will be transformational to the School, cementing the creation of a DUSON learning and research center that places nurses at the core of transforming health care. 

“Bettye’s inspiring commitment to the School supports our shared vision for nursing’s positive impact on the future of health and wellness,” said Interim Dean Michael Relf, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN. “I am extremely grateful for this transformative investment, which brings visibility to the School and our leadership in nurse-led models of health care.”  

Disparities in health between different groups are often the result of systemic, avoidable, and unjust policies and practices. This lack of equal opportunity and access to health care and also education are detrimental to society as a whole, Musham said. 

“People don’t seem to understand that has an impact on the economy, on everything,” she said. “If more people have better health, then they can accomplish more things.” The evidence-based nurse-led model of care promises to shift the health care paradigm, narrowing the gaps in access and opportunities, improving health outcomes, and lowering costs.

The professorship endowment will fund a scholar who will collaborate with students and faculty across DUSON and Duke University. The nurse-led framework is founded in multi-disciplinary collaboration, including professionals in health care as well as those in family planning, mindfulness, nutrition, physical therapy, and health policy. 

Nurses interact on many levels with patients, families, and other health care providers in the community, Musham said. They are uniquely situated to effect change because not only are they members of the most trusted profession, they often have the most face-time with patients and their families, which can yield important insights. 

“We’re going to have to take on new roles, and the new role is going to have to be one that has leadership abilities,” Musham said. “We need leaders who understand that they’ve got to look at the whole community and be able to coordinate all the people that are delivering health care. 

“It’s all about collaboration, taking advantage of new knowledge and being open-minded to new ideas.”

A class of 1954 graduate and Guilford, N.C. native, Musham remembers her years at Duke with fondness. She shared a room with fellow students in the back of Baker House, which led straight into the hospital.

“It was a wonderful atmosphere,” she said. “Duke at that time was such a warm, hospitable community, it just made you think anything was possible.” 

After graduation, Musham traveled to England for a year with Duke colleagues and studied midwifery at Hammersmith Hospital. She returned to the U.S. and worked as an OB/GYN nurse in New York before deciding to pursue a different path. “What the School of Nursing did for me was it made me open to the fact that people were willing to help, that if you were open to looking at a lot of different scenarios, anything was possible.” 

Musham’s varied career over several decades included stints as a stand-up comic and a representative for a photographer, and she spent many years in the advertising industry, co-founding Gear Holdings Inc., a branding, design, marketing, and communications firm in New York. In the 1970s, she was the first woman executive at Louis Vuitton North America. Also an author, Musham has served on various corporate boards and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Musham resides in New York City and Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Her late husband, William “Bill” Musham, graduated from Purdue University, and attended Harvard Business School and business school in Chicago. He was an admired business leader and in his retirement started the Center for Learning & Living at Marymount Manhattan College and taught at Delaware County Community College. Bill Musham later suffered from Alzheimer’s, inspiring Bettye Musham’s book, “The Thing I Miss Most Is My Mind: An Insider's Guide to Achieving Positive Results When Confronting Alzheimer's.”

Musham has supported Duke University through her leadership and gifts for many years. She has served on the School of Nursing Board of Visitors since 2017. She was a founding member of the Duke Islamic Studies Center advisory board and served many years on the Nicholas School of the Environment Board of Visitors. 

“Bettye Musham’s generous bequest honors Duke University, its students and our community,” said Provost and Chief Academic Officer Alec Gallimore, PhD, MA, BS. “Bettye’s loyalty and dedication to her alma mater is remarkable, and the impact of her philanthropy will be felt for generations.”

Throughout her life, Musham has been a leader and a philanthropist, remembering those people and places that made a difference in her own life. 

“People were so helpful to me, and I admired strong people and I wanted to be like them,” she said. “There’s so much new knowledge and I think that nurses have the ability to be influential in the community-based delivery of not only health care, but helping people become part of society.” 

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