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Holditch-Davis Leaves Lasting Legacy at DUSON

Friday, August 28, 2015

Her advice to nurse researchers is simple: “Do what you are passionate about, and it will sustain you through the rejections and setbacks until you achieve your goals and the success that you desire.”

Throughout her more than 40-year career, Diane Holditch-Davis has followed that advice. On August 31, she steps down from the role of Associate Dean, Research Affairs for the Duke University School of Nursing and begins her transition toward retirement at the end of December.

Holditch-Davis came to DUSON in January 2006, from her role as Director, Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing. In August 2007, she assumed the role of Associate Dean for Research Affairs (ADRA) following the death of Jody Clipp. Her vision for the fledgling research function when she took over was to create the infrastructure to support research in the School of Nursing and develop the Office of Research Affairs as a center of support for faculty. “Jody had built relationships across campus for the School of Nursing. I wanted to do what I did best and build the organization that would support research. With the exception of Robbin Thomas, everyone in the Office of Research Affairs was hired during my watch,” Holditch-Davis said.

Adding staff and building the School’s research capacity helped DUSON move from its 30th place in National Institutes of Health-funded research in 2007 to its current ranking of number 10. In addition to more funding, the Office of Research Affairs provided direct support which encouraged nursing faculty to pursue academic research. “The regulatory aspects of research can be a real hassle and discourage faculty from pursuing research grants,” she said. “We wanted to provide the structure and support that brought transparency and helped remove those barriers.”

Former Dean and Helene Fuld Health Trust Professor of Nursing, Catherine L. Gilliss, asked Holditch-Davis to take the ADRA role. She remembers that time at DUSON. “When Diane assumed the role of Associate Dean for Research Affairs, there was a pent up demand among faculty for research assistance. Diane carefully shepherded the research enterprise from one of infancy in 2007 toward the maturing enterprise that has supported our School to break into the top ten in NIH-funding,” Gilliss said. “She took over in very difficult times and gently and effectively coached us into the level of success.”

The role of coaching and guiding colleagues and students was also at the center of Holditch-Davis’s passion. No less than four members of DUSON’s faculty-- Deb Brandon, Brigit Carter, June Cho and Robin Dail--were all mentored by Holditch-Davis. “Diane was my dissertation chair at UNC-CH starting in 2001 through my graduation in 2006,” said Robin Dail, DUSON Associate Professor. “She has been a valuable resource in reviewing all of my grants and manuscripts, always offering editorial and conceptual help since her background is in neonatal research. I would not be as successful nor the researcher I am today if it was not for her mentorship,” Dail said.

Mentoring and encouraging others motivate Holditch-Davis: “You can learn research through mentorships or through trial and error. Trial and error is expensive and time consuming,” she said. “To be a good mentor, you need to put your own desires on hold and work with the mentee to help them achieve their goals. To mentor faculty, you need to build on what they are bringing to the relationship and help them find resources and navigate the system to help them succeed. On the other hand, with mentoring students, you are guiding them and helping them focus on their research.”

Having focus and being persistent have paid dividends for Holditch-Davis. Being able to find value and purpose in your work after initially being faced with hurdles or rejections is all part of the process. “In research you deal with a lot of failure; probably 80 to 90 percent of grants are not accepted. Researchers must build the self-confidence to continue. Of my more than 180 publications, I don’t think there is one that has been accepted on the first submission. Rejection is not a comment on quality but more often about fit,” she said.

Persistence has paid off for Holditch-Davis. Her 2011 article co-written with M.S. Miles, M.R. Burchinal and B.D. Goldman entitled “Maternal role attainment with medically fragile infants: Part 2 relationship to the quality of parenting” was named Best Research Paper Published that year by Research in Nursing & Health, but not until after being rejected three times.

Success continues for Holditch-Davis. Just last month she was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame. “To have my work recognized at that level, to be a part of the Hall of Fame is remarkable. I was inducted with some of the people who I have looked up to my entire career,” she said.

For Diane, the transition out of the associate dean role is not about looking back but about what lies ahead for her and for nursing research. “Currently there is a strong trend for nursing research to focus on biological measures. Nursing has traditionally been behaviorally- focused, and I believe eventually the current trends will swing back that way,” she said. “Over the next 10 to 15 years, we will continue to see funding diminish and the importance and emphasis of publication and dissemination, in whatever form that is, grow.”

Over the next few months, Holditch-Davis will continue to work at DUSON consulting with faculty and starting a writing group to encourage and support academic writing. “The response to the writing group has been very positive. More than 13 faculty members have expressed an interest in participating,” Holditch-Davis said. “At our level, we need to be constantly involved with at least one writing project. Helping each other by sharing critiques and offering suggestions will strengthen the quality of our work.”

And what is next for Diane in retirement after December? She plans on traveling with her husband and getting involved with local volunteer work. She may work with a cat rescue and foster kittens. “My nursing career has involved caring for infants. I have taken little pieces of all of those experiences with me along the way. While certainly not the same thing, caring for kittens requires the same around-the-clock attention that maybe now I will have the time to provide.”

Diane, thank you for your leadership and helping the Duke University School of Nursing become the research institution that it is today.