Harper named to Alabama Nursing Hall of Fame
“It is a privilege to be a nurse, a faculty member and a dean, and a dream to have the opportunity to lead UAB’s world class School of Nursing, and grow and develop smart, strong and skillful nurses for lifetime careers in nursing and nursing education,” she said. “And it is an honor to be selected for the Alabama Nursing Hall of Fame.”
Established by the University of Alabama’s Capstone College of Nursing’s Board of Visitors in March 2001, the Hall of Fame was created to honor nurses and others who, through their work and accomplishments, have brought honor and fame to the profession of nursing and the state of Alabama.
Since her appointment at UAB as Dean in November 2005, Harper has provided the leadership necessary to advance the UAB School of Nursing in its teaching, research and service missions “to be an innovate leader, to raise health-care quality, and to expand the educated nursing workforce in Alabama and around the world.” The school is ranked 13th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, which also ranked three of the School's master’s specialties -- Nursing Administration is listed 9th, Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner 12th and Family Nurse Practitioner 14th.
Harper has been an innovative leader in the development and implementation of two new programs in the School (Accelerated Master’s in Nursing Pathway and UA System joint Doctorate of Nursing Practice), eight new graduate specialties, and other educational opportunities for students (the VA Nursing Academic Partnership and Paul D. Coverdell Peace Corps Fellows Program).
Under her leadership, the UAB School of Nursing has more than doubled the number of student enrollments and graduations, highlighting her commitment to increasing the nursing workforce and its diversity; UAB graduated 28 percent of the states’ African American nurses and 19 percent of the men among state’s male baccalaureate prepared nurses last year.
A hallmark of the UAB School of Nursing with Harper at the helm has been interprofessional education and opportunities for students to study with world-renowned faculty in Alabama’s only nationally recognized Magnet hospital – UAB Hospital – and with other leading on-campus health care partners, Children’s of Alabama and the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
In addition, under Harper’s leadership the School’s research portfolio has grown significantly, with extramural funding in 2013-14 totals $6.4 million, representing funding from the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. State Department, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation among others.
Early in her career Harper said she learned one key point that helped her over the years that she works to impart on UAB School of Nursing students— everyone needs a nurse wherever they are —and the highly educated nurse can help guide patients and their families through life’s most difficult situations.
“Nursing impacts health across all settings, helping individuals and families to learn how to better care for themselves or cope with health conditions, whether in the hospital, home or community setting” she said. “Learning that all phases of life and their related events so often are part of the patient and family experience are opportunities for nursing to make a positive difference at every juncture.”
Harper’s scholarly work is focused on advanced-practice nursing in primary care through the development of community-based partnerships locally and globally. She is nationally known for her expertise in undergraduate and graduate nursing education, nurse-practitioner education, health policy, nursing workforce development, and the advancement of interprofessional education. In association with her interest in community-based partnerships, Harper served as principal investigator for W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Partnerships in Graduate Medical and Nursing Education Initiative. A recipient of the 2002 Achievement in Research Award, the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, Harper is also a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.
She has received numerous awards for her work as a nurse practitioner and was recognized as one of 25 Exceptional Nurse Practitioners for the 25th anniversary issue of Nurse Practitioner Journal in 2015. She also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Cornell University-New York Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association and was named one of Birmingham’s 100 Most Influential People by the Birmingham Business Journal in 2007. Her greatest honor, she said, was receiving the “Legend in White” award from the Birmingham Black Nurses Association for her contributions and commitment to creating a diverse nursing workforce at UAB and beyond.
“I believe that our nursing workforce needs to reflect the diversity of the population we serve to provide the highest quality care,” Harper said.
Harper recently served as a Board member of the American Academy of Nursing (AAN) and co-chair of the 2009 AAN Annual Conference. She is also a founding Board member of the Nurse Practitioner Health Foundation. Regionally, she serves on the Board of the Southern Regional Education Board, Council on Collegiate Nursing Education Direction. She chairs and serves on numerous university committees, advisory boards, and university-wide interdisciplinary research centers like the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the Center for Aging, among others.
She credits her parents with her career choice - both devoted their lives to health care delivery — her father as a biochemist who directed medical laboratories and her mother as a nurse whose career spanned public health, the Visiting Nursing Service and hospital and outpatient services.
“My mother imprinted me with nursing’s core values — though I didn’t know this early in my career,” Harper said. “She helped instill my passion for working with people, for a career focused on service and encouraged me to be a leader in all I did.”
Like many other leaders in this profession, nursing is more than a job for Harper — it’s a passion that has never wavered.
That passion and drive helped Harper become the nursing leader she is today and her family has supported her every step of the way. That support extended through her marriage to her husband, Bill, while they were both in college-and together they embarked on 40 year careers in public education- he as a teacher and later principal in secondary education and she as a faculty member, nurse practitioner and then nursing dean in higher education.
“Our career paths have paralleled and make for interesting dinner conversations. Most of all, we share our vision of leadership, and our belief that education and service to communities make our world a better place. And our three wonderful children and their families share these value in their lives today,” she said.
Prior to joining UAB, Harper served as dean of the Graduate School of Nursing at the University of Massachusetts Worcester (UMW). She began her nursing education at Cornell University where she earned her bachelor’s of science in nursing. Her first registered nursing position was as a home care nurse in the Child Development Center at Rhode Island Hospital and continues to inform her professional choices today.
“This was a dream job for me as I provided what today is known as ‘transitional care’ for children with developmental disabilities and their families in their homes, when they were hospitalized, and also in the clinics these children attended in the Child Development Center,” Harper said. “Having the privilege of supporting children and their families through medical and social crises, and following their care across settings, enabled me to coordinate the entire system of care for this population.”
Over the course of her career, this experience has lead Harper to be a leading advocate in building partnerships and creating interdisciplinary teams to address the complex needs of health care delivery across the health care continuum. At UAB, she has led the development of partnerships across clinical and community settings building on the clinical resources and opportunities at UAB’s world class Academic Health Center to help create three nurse-managed transitional care clinics, two with UAB Hospital and one with the Birmingham VAMC.
After completing her BSN, Harper completed her master’s of science in nursing with a focus on psychiatric-mental health nursing/anthropology from Catholic University and then her post-master’s certificate in adult primary care nurse practitioner and doctorate in human development/gerontology from the University of Maryland.
While she initially aspired to be a nurse, then a faculty member, the idea of being a dean of nursing in a major academic health science center like UAB came after she developed and led research and practice innovations as a nurse practitioner and assumed major organizational and leadership roles in the profession.
“Nursing is a career for a lifetime, one in which you can always open another door to the future through educational progression and professional development,” she said. “Nursing is the most interesting profession there is; it is a privilege and responsibility to provide care for people and their families, often at their most vulnerable times in life. Yet, to also share in creating an optimistic environment through health, illness and death. I can think of no better profession.”