A Year Later

Dr. Merwin stands next to a portrait of Ann Henshaw Gardiner, director of nursing education at Duke from 1930 to 1940.

One year ago, Dr. Elizabeth Merwin stepped into the role of executive vice-dean at Duke University School of Nursing. She left behind a successful career at the University of Virginia where she was widely known for her teaching, academic excellence and research, especially in improving health care for underserved and rural populations.

She came to Duke to take on the challenge of being the School of Nursing’s first-ever executive vice-dean (EVD), a newly created position that is a result of the rapid growth of the School and the need for a highly skilled administrator to oversee its research and academic enterprises. With her arrival, Dr. Merwin was also named as the acting associate dean for academic affairs while the School searched for a candidate.

While some might have found maintaining two high-profile positions a challenge, Dr. Merwin, who recently sat down to talk about her first year at the School, said it has all been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It was a really outstanding opportunity to serve as both the executive vice-dean and acting ADAA (associate dean of academic affairs). The two positions gave me a fantastic opportunity to really develop relationships with faculty and students and really get to know our program leaders. I’ve been directly involved in many projects that have given me great insight in to the School.”

During her first year, Dr. Merwin oversaw academic affairs during a year where DUSON faced the massive project of the reaccreditation of the School’s ABSN, MSN and DNP programs as well as the PhD self-study required by the University and the accreditation of the Nurse Anesthesia Program.

“Through this process I had an up-close view of the strong collaborations among program leadership and the faculty governance organization, as well as the contributions of individual faculty and staff,” she said. “The entire community is united in achieving academic excellence which provides a solid foundation for the future.”

Additionally, Dr. Merwin travelled to China as part of a delegation of School of Nursing researchers to participate in an international forum for global health and taught a course on Effective Leadership in the DNP program.

Just recently, Dr. Janice Humphreys was named as the associate dean for academic affairs, allowing Dr. Merwin to focus solely on the EVD role. When asked what attracted her to Duke, Dr. Merwin said becoming the EVD seemed like an incredible opportunity to make a bigger difference combining her interests in leadership/management, education and research.

“I knew this would be an opportunity to grow, experience leadership challenges and establish this new position at a very impressive organization,” she said. “I am always looking to make greater strides in academics and research and work with remarkable people.”

Dr. Merwin was recently named the Ann Henshaw Gardiner Professor of Nursing at Duke. A graduate of the Bachelor of Science degree program in nursing at Radford College in 1976, she received an Outstanding Alumni Award from the School of Nursing at Radford in 2013. She earned a Master of Science degree in nursing in 1979 and a PhD in health services organization and research in 1988, both from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). She received a Visionary Leader Award from the VCU School of Nursing also in 2013.

As someone who has seen the field of nursing evolve during the past 35 years, Dr. Merwin said the role of nurses will continue to expand.

“Nurses, when they can practice to the full scope of their education, are key in preventing health problems, improving overall well-being, expanding access to health care, improving health outcomes and making health care more affordable,” she said. “Nurses are challenged to be innovators and to take advantage of unprecedented opportunities presented by health care reform to develop and evaluate new clinical interventions and changes in practice that will allow the health system to be more effective and efficient in improving patient outcomes.”

ABOUTA diverse community of scholars and clinicians, Duke University School of Nursing is educating the next generation of transformational leaders in nursing. We advance nursing science in issues of global importance and foster the scholarly practice of nursing. In 2011, U.S. News and World Report ranked Duke among the top seven graduate schools of nursing in the nation. The National Institutes of Health awarded $4.3 million in research funding to the Duke School of Nursing (Oct. 1, 2011 through Sept. 30, 2012) making it one of the top 10 nursing schools engaged in NIH-funded research. The School offers masters, PhD, and doctor of nursing practice degrees, as well as an accelerated bachelor of science in nursing degree to students who have previously graduated from college. More than 840 students are enrolled in the Duke School of Nursing, one of the largest numbers in the School's 80-year history.

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