The seeds of Margaret Fitzgerald’s long nursing career took root when she was 6 years old. Growing up in the 1950s, she tagged along with her aunt, a public health nurse who visited people who were quarantined in Boston.
“When I think back on it now, I realize that taking me on those home visits may not have been the best thing to do,” says Fitzgerald. “But my aunt was showing me the important role of a nurse.”
Added to this experience was her father’s encouragement to pursue an education. He fostered her interest in science, believing that girls should have the same opportunities as boys.
“He bought me a chemistry set and microscope,” she says. “In high school, I was one of three girls who took physics.”
When deciding on a career, Fitzgerald considered becoming a medical technologist or social worker. But she wanted to combine her love of science with social interaction, so she chose nursing and attended Northern Essex Community College to become a registered nurse.
While working for 16 years in the intensive care unit at St. John’s Hospital (now Saints Medical Center) in Lowell, she decided that she could do more to prevent patients from ending up in the hospital.
So she earned a master’s degree in nursing at UMass Lowell to become a nurse practitioner.
“I saw how important it was to help people avoid becoming ill in the first place,” she says. “UMass Lowell provided me with the knowledge and experiences to launch my career as a family nurse practitioner to help people stay healthy and out of the ICU.”
Fitzgerald began teaching courses for nursing programs at Middlesex Community College and UMass Lowell. When she worked as a nurse practitioner at Greater Lawrence Family Health, a student who was doing her clinical rotation there asked her for extra help to pass the board exams. Before they knew it, she was reviewing material with six nursing students around her dining room table.
While balancing full-time and part-time work and raising a family, she also launched Fitzgerald Health Education Associates in 1988. The business helps nurse practitioners achieve certification through exam review courses, as well as RNs through the NCLEX-RN exam review. To date, more than 120,000 nurse practitioners have taken the company’s review courses. Fitzgerald Health also provides continuing education courses for certified nurse practitioners and other health care providers.
“I’ve had about five different careers in nursing. I write, teach and consult, but one thing never changes: Everything I do is about improving the practice of nursing,” says Fitzgerald. She continues to work as a family nurse practitioner at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center and serves on UMass Lowell’s nursing advisory board.
“I was thrilled and humbled to be recognized, especially surrounded by many of my role models, mentors, co-workers and leaders who I mentored over the years,” says Fitzgerald. “The influence that the School of Nursing has had on health in the Merrimack Valley and beyond is extensive, and I’m proud to be part of its legacy.”