When she was a young girl, Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow—now one of the nation’s top academic nurse administrators—wanted to grow up to be a lawyer. But then her grandmother, an Irish immigrant, was diagnosed with skin cancer and underwent a botched surgical procedure, and Glasgow decided to change course and become a nurse. “It made me realize I wanted to take care of people and advocate for patients,” Glasgow says. “I knew I could do that, and have a real impact, as a nurse.”
That dream has certainly come true. A clinical nurse who later rose quickly through the ranks of academia—from faculty member to associate dean at Drexel University—Glasgow, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, is about to take on her most influential position yet as the new dean of the school of nursing at Duquesne University. She assumes the position in August.
In some ways, the new post is a kind of homecoming; Glasgow earned her doctorate at the Duquesne School of Nursing a decade ago and is returning now as its chief administrator. “I’m very excited about it,” she says. “This is an institution where students come first. I found a home I really believe in.”
The position caps a career that has spanned three decades and has included positions in virtually every area of the field: clinical practice, research, education, administration and now leadership.
Glasgow has aspired to become a nursing school dean for several years, and credits the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellows (ENF) program for helping her achieve that goal. Several members of her ENF cohort (2009-2012) are nursing school deans, and they rallied around her upon learning of her desire to join their ranks. Together, they helped prepare her to interview to become dean at Duquesne, even holding a mock interview so she could rehearse answers to potential questions. To Glasgow, that illustrates the value of the program’s deep support for its fellows and of its vast and supportive network.
“The RWJF ENF Program was a transformative experience for me,” Glasgow says. “I lead differently as a result of the fellowship, and I am also very fortunate to have established many close, supportive professional relationships.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree at Gwynedd-Mercy College in 1983, Glasgow landed her first full-time job as a staff nurse on the oncology unit at a hospital in Philadelphia. She went on to earn her master’s degree and then doctoral degree while continuing to work in clinical practice and teaching nursing classes—an area for which she had a particular passion.
To advance her career as an educator, Glasgow realized she needed to earn her doctorate degree. So she enrolled in a program at Catholic University, in Washington, D.C.—some two hours by train from her home in Philadelphia—and began coursework in 1996. During her doctoral work, she broke her ankle and was no longer able to manage the commute. So she transferred to Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, where she enrolled in an online program that enabled her to complete her degree from a distance.
The memory of her oncology patients stayed with her during her studies. While working in the oncology unit, she had met many patients who were diagnosed with diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma and who were in desperate need of bone marrow transplants. Unable to find a donor match, many of these patients—and particularly African Americans—perished.
“It was a problem that needed to be solved,” Glasgow says. So she set about solving it. She wrote her dissertation on barriers to bone marrow donation among African Americans and found deep levels of distrust of the medical community and a great need for assistance among potentially willing donors. “If a single parent works, and she doesn’t have child care, she’s not going to think about donating bone marrow,” Glasgow says.
The issue has since garnered attention among health researchers and in the national news media, she says. That is thanks, in part, to her pioneering work on the subject.
A Quick Rise
After earning her doctorate, Glasgow remained on the faculty at Drexel University and rose quickly through the academic ranks. She earned tenure, became director of undergraduate nursing programs, and then associate dean. During this time, she gained a reputation as an innovator in nursing education for: developing a cooperative program that allowed students to combine work and school; creating an accelerated-degree program and an online education program; and infusing technology into the nursing school curricula. She also wrote two textbooks and numerous articles that have appeared in peer-reviewed nursing journals.
When Glasgow became an ENF, she took on projects to improve interprofessional education and quality and safety in nursing education. Early on in her fellowship, she decided she wanted to be a dean when she finished the program—yet another goal that she has realized. She completes the ENF fellowship in September, one month after she assumes her deanship.
Her first goal as dean is to lay low. “I need to go there and do what a good dean should do, which is not much in the beginning. I need to get the lay of the land and assess the school before making any big changes.” But she already has her eye on some major changes. She wants to create some innovative nursing education programs; help faculty stay abreast of new knowledge and master new technology; and cultivate the school’s commitment to service and social justice—a mission for which Duquesne, a private, Catholic institution, is well known.
One thing is for sure: Glasgow will be busy. “I consider myself a happy workaholic,” she says. And she doesn’t see that changing any time soon.