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New Nursing Dean Reflects on the Art and Science of the Profession

Leslie Neal-Boylan Envisions Growth for Nursing school through Collaboration

Leslie Neal-Boylan, new school of nursing dean
Leslie Neal-Boylan was named dean of the Solomont School of Nursing and Vice Dean of the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences.

By Karen Angelo

Even though Leslie Neal-Boylan’s mother and grandmother were both nurses, she had other ideas about a career. After graduating from high school, she joined the U.S. military’s first coed basic training company to prepare for enrollment at West Point. 

Neal-Boylan’s brother was at the military academy, and she was intrigued by the idea of joining him. But after one year, she needed to either make a commitment to the military or choose another career. It became clear that nursing was her calling after all. 

“I realized that nursing was my passion,” says Neal-Boylan, who was named the new dean of the Solomont School of Nursing in August. “I decided, why fight it? I wanted to help people, and nursing was in my blood.” 

She started her nursing career in medical-surgical nursing. After she married a man in the military, she taught childbirth classes for the American Red Cross while working on an obstetrical floor in Wiesbaden, Germany. After returning to the States, she worked in home health care as a rehabilitation clinical nurse specialist. Later, as a family nurse practitioner, she worked in family practice, rheumatology and internal medicine. 

Neal-Boylan earned a master’s in nursing at San Jose State University in California and a Ph.D. in nursing at George Mason University in Virginia. She has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles and more than 10 books, and has two books in press. In “The Nurse’s Reality Shift: Using History to Transform the Future,” Neal-Boylan examined how the profession has evolved and documented many of the challenges that nurses face. 

“UMass Lowell is making a difference in our local community and beyond, and I’m honored to be here to build upon the great work that’s been accomplished.” -Nursing Dean Leslie Neal-Boylan
“Nurses still struggle with their professional image and treatment by colleagues,” she says. “Nurses today are scientists and play a major role in the advancement of health care and in health care policy. Anyone who has ever needed a nurse knows how much we need to know to provide safe, competent and cutting-edge care. Yet, we still encounter popular images of nurses that contradict who we really are and how much the public relies on our expertise.” 

With her first semester on campus under way, Neal-Boylan talked to us about her vision for the nursing profession and for the Solomont School of Nursing. 

Q. Why were you interested in coming to UMass Lowell? 

A. I was attracted to UMass Lowell because of its reputation and because it’s a research-intensive university. In nursing, we need more scientific studies that lead to the best health-care outcomes and disease prevention. Nurses must prepare the public for a future of climate change-related illness, more frequent global infections and advancements in technology that will help our patients and change how we deliver care and genetics-based individualized treatment. 

The Solomont School of Nursing is fortunate to have both a Ph.D. in Nursing and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. These programs graduate researchers, leaders and scholars who will set the standard for the future of health care. These experts identify issues, find evidence-based solutions and handle complex situations. UMass Lowell is making a difference in our local community and beyond, and I’m honored to be here to build upon the great work that’s been accomplished. 

Q. What is your vision for the School of Nursing? 

A. Nursing is consistently ranked the most trusted profession according to Gallup surveys, and we need to keep it that way. While we can embrace technology, we need to always provide care and comfort and keep the human side of nursing front and center. 

I plan to collaborate across the campus with the other colleges, think innovatively and plan for the future. I’m eager to learn and meet people and am very open to new ideas. We could work on projects that involve assistive devices, robotics and interprofessional education opportunities. Nurses have a lot to offer to faculty and students across campus with regard to research and education. 

One of my goals is to expand and establish relationships with our clinical partners. I’d like to grow collaborations and partnerships in research and scholarship as well as add to our clinical placements. It’s a two-way street. We provide our clinical partners with the best nursing graduates in the state, if not the nation, and in return, they help educate our students and add to the growing body of knowledge that improves patient care. 

I also look forward to working with our Nursing Advisory Board and our alumni to increase financial support for student scholarships and our research activities. Alumni play a very important role in schools of nursing and are often a significant factor in a school’s ability to grow and sustain programs. 

Q. What can UML do about the likelihood of a continued shortage of nurses? 

A. Our faculty and staff excel at providing an outstanding education to our students at every program level. We have many more students who apply to our bachelor’s and master’s programs than we can possibly admit, due to a lack of sufficient faculty and clinical placements. Many other nursing programs across the country are in the same situation. 

To some degree, we can be creative about clinical placements, since nurses practice in a wide variety of settings, and we can use our simulation technology to supplement clinical experiences. However, doctorally prepared nursing faculty have their pick of many great schools. We must help prospective faculty see the great things happening at UML and within the Solomont School of Nursing and the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences

If they see the opportunities we have for interprofessional research and teaching and the wonderful culture at UML, they won’t want to work anywhere else. We also need to attract more doctoral students to the DNP and Ph.D. programs. These are the graduates who will lead us into the future. And we want them to graduate from UML. 

Q. How has the nursing profession changed over the years, and what challenges do we face in the future? 

A. The nursing profession has always been an art and a science. However, the knowledge one has to have to be an effective nurse today far exceeds what we needed to know in any other time in our history. 

My mother and grandmother worked six 12-hour days, prepared patient meals, provided what we now know as physical and occupational therapy, educated the patient, cleaned the floors and instruments and still found time to sit and hold a patient’s hand and listen to their concerns. Today, we are fortunate to work with dietitians and therapists so we can focus our care on evidence-based treatments. 

We no longer clean floors or instruments, but we understand the science behind the sterile wound care we provide. We use science and technology to understand the causes of disease and work within interdisciplinary teams to assist our patients to peaceful, painless and dignified deaths or to improve the quality of their lives. We are scientists who never forget that the art of nursing is often just as important to the patient’s outcome as the medicine we administer or the procedures we perform.