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Donna Hathaway Has Shaped the College of Nursing and the Profession

After 35 years in the College of Nursing, Dr. Donna Hathaway is retiring in January. During her tenure as dean of the college, she established the first Doctor of Nursing Practice program in the country. (Photo by Natalie Brewer/UTHSC)

Donna Hathaway has some simple advice for nursing students and professionals: You are judged by the company you keep.

She certainly knows what she’s talking about. Dean of the College of Nursing from 2000 to 2011, she holds BSN, MS, and PhD degrees. A nurse, educator, scientist, and University Distinguished Professor, she has had an impressive impact on her peers, students, the college, and the profession of nursing.

“If you want to be successful, you should hang out with successful people you’d like to emulate,” Dr. Hathaway said. “Ride along their coattails, take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, enjoy the journey, and then provide the same opportunities for those who follow in your wake. Ultimately, you’ll accomplish more than you ever dreamed possible.”

After 35 years in the College of Nursing, Dr. Hathaway will retire in January.

Her journey to nursing started early. Dr. Hathaway grew up on a farm near Trenton, Missouri. When her father became ill, her mother pursued a teaching degree to support the family. “This was in the early 1960s when older students were an oddity on college campuses and the women’s movement was still years away,” Dr. Hathaway said. Her father’s health improved and both parents eventually received bachelor’s and master’s degrees, cementing their daughter’s desire to attend college.

Dr. Hathaway focused on nursing after meeting two student nurses at her high school health fair. While still in school, she got a job as a nurse’s aide and continued in the position until pursuing her nursing degree. She received Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Nursing degrees from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and a PhD in Nursing from the University of Texas at Austin, becoming one of the first members of the doctoral nursing program there.

After two successful years as a head nurse, Dr. Hathaway wanted to transition into academia and moved to Memphis. She was hired by then-UTHSC College of Nursing Dean Michael Carter, now Distinguished Professor Emeritus, not only to teach, but to start a nursing research program. This was new territory for her.

“I learned so much from so many different respected individuals as the team grew and we collaborated on research that expanded into important work that was moving science forward,” she said. “It was along this journey that I learned about being a scientist, working long hours because you get so engrossed in the work that you lose track of the time. But the payoff is great in many ways — those big grants that come through, the excitement when your data shows some unexpected surprises, publications and presentations in prestigious places, and traveling around the world.”

Dr. Hathaway was appointed professor of Transplant Surgery in the College of Medicine, where she held a position as director of Clinical Transplant Research. She has also served as director of the PhD program.

Her research focus has been primarily dealing with the effects of transplant for patients with kidney disease and pancreatitis. Her research has been conducted as part of an interdisciplinary team that involved collaboration with a variety of basic and clinical scientists, as well as multiple clinical disciplines. Her work, which was federally funded for over 25 years, included studies examining outcomes following organ transplantation related to autonomic neuropathy, cardiovascular function, obesity and weight gain, new-onset and long-term diabetes, adherence to pharmaceutical regimens, and quality-of-life-related outcomes of other co-morbidities. Her work has been published in more than 200 publications.

Dr. Hathaway’s determination and work ethic have pioneered many successful outcomes for both patients and students in research. She has led the way for new and established nurse scientists. She continues to successfully mentor health care students and to advocate for all those working toward better patient outcomes. Her work has changed the process of care for patients and will continue to have an impact on the nursing profession.

A Leader of Many Accomplishments

Under Dr. Hathaway, shown here earlier in her career, the DNP program graduated more DNP’s than all of the other programs in the country combined.

Under Dr. Hathaway’s leadership as dean, the College of Nursing achieved much. The first Doctor of Nursing Practice program in the country was established by the college during her tenure. The program graduated more DNP’s than all of the other programs in the country combined.

“When I became dean, I inherited Michael Carter’s dream, a true Doctor of Nursing Practice program,” Dr. Hathaway said. “His dream was shared by Deans Mary Mundinger at Columbia University in New York and Carolyn Williams at the University of Kentucky.  Although our program was the first to open, it was quite an experience for those of us on the front lines, as many wanted to put a stop to DNP education across the country. But we prevailed. Dreams have become a reality and are continuing to change the face of health care.”

In addition to her research contributions in the fields of nursing and organ transplantation, Dr. Hathaway is well known for her leadership and advocacy in creating innovative nursing education programs, building interprofessional experiences for students and faculty, and her professional leadership and mentoring activities.

She has served on numerous National Institutes of Health review panels and workgroups, as well as the National Institute of Nursing Research Directors Advisory Council. Prior to her election to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Board of Directors, Dr. Hathaway chaired the DNP Essentials Task Force for the AACN, which developed “The Essentials for Doctoral Education for Nursing Practice,” a document that has transformed the education of advanced practice nurses.

Other achievements during her watch include:

  • The introduction of new specialty tracks
  • Reactivation of UTHSC’s BSN program introducing dedicated education units in partnership with practice partners
  • A post-baccalaureate masters-entry program
  • An undergraduate research internship opportunity

As Dr. Hathaway prepares to retire, the College of Nursing is seeking to fund a legacy in tribute to her leadership and work. The goal is to create the Donna Hathaway Endowed Research Chair to fund a faculty position within the college. The endowed chair will allow the college to continue Dr. Hathaway’s outstanding contributions in educating future nurse-scientists. To reach this goal, the college must raise $1 million. For information on how to contribute, please contact Michelle Stubbs, director of Development for the College of Nursing at mstubbs@utfi.org or 901.340.1048.

This story was first published in the latest issue of Nursing Magazine.