Conway-Welch to retire as dean

VU nursing leader has been key in elevating program, university on national stage

Colleen Conway-Welch has told her Vanderbilt University bosses and peers she will retire as dean of its school of nursing at the end of the current academic year.

Conway-Welch has long been one of the most visible representatives of Vanderbilt in the community. She has led the VU School of Nursing for more than 28 years and has built the school from less than 100 students to almost 1,000 during her tenure. She will continue as a member of its faculty past next spring.

"Colleen has done things as a dean that really have not been done in any other place. She sets the bar, particularly for private school deans, for the scope of things we should be involved in beyond academics, research and a little practice," said Linda Norman, the Valere Potter Menefee Chair in Nursing and senior associate dean of academics. "She has really pushed what contributions a school of nursing can make in a community and society at large. And we’ve been one great big demonstration project."

Conway-Welch began her career as a labor and delivery nurse at Georgetown University in the 1960s. She later also worked in Honolulu, San Francisco, Virginia, New York City and Southern California before moving to Denver to be professor and director of the Nurse-Midwifery Graduate Program at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

In a wide-ranging piece on the website of VUMC's Reporter publication, Conway-Welch says one of the cornerstones of the school's growth was her push to get rid of the bachelor of nursing program and toward only master's and doctoral degrees.

"Along the way, we were able to keep most of the faculty who were here and phase out the B.S.N. degree — not the B.S.N content, but the degree," she said. "When we were going through this, I remember waking up in a cold sweat at 3 o’clock in the morning because we were not going to admit freshmen. That did the deal. Either we were going to sink or swim. And we swam."