Emory Report

October 4, 1999

 Volume 52, No. 7


Marla Salmon envisions a 'UNI-versity' at Emory

Early this year, when Marla Salmon was considering coming to Emory to lead the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, she stayed on campus a week beyond the interviews to get a "sense of the place."

It was a particularly difficult though telling time. There was lingering public debate about whether to allow commitment ceremonies in Cannon Chapel. And that week, long-time University general counsel Joe Crooks died unexpectedly.

"I was struck with the openness and the feeling of community here," Salmon recalled. "I saw a university that wears its mission of social responsibility right up front and seems to have a strong commitment to assuring that issues are addressed openly. I also saw the genuine concern and grief of people at all levels--a sense of shared loss and connectedness."

The values of discovery, teaching and service, all within a broader framework of social responsibility, mean a great deal to Salmon, both personally and professionally. Emory's reflective environment and values proved the carrot that lured the professor and associate dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing to Emory.

Salmon regards her new appointment as CEO of the nursing school and associate vice president of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center as an exceptional opportunity.

"It isn't often that a school launches a new doctoral program, builds a new building and enters a new millennium all at the same point," Salmon said. "I am struck by the strong support that the broader University and health sciences center have shown. The vision of a university--a UNI-versity--in which partnerships across disciplines and schools flourish, is one to which I am strongly committed."

That vision draws students here as well. "In some ways, we may want people whom others aren't comfortable with," Salmon said. "I'd like to see the kind of student who wants to shape the future and assure that nursing will be an important resource to the health of people: someone who wants to lead, someone who is always a little troubled by what isn't being done, someone who can see the possibilities and has the courage to make it happen."

That could be a description of Salmon herself, a leader whose considerable skills are already being felt on campus. While the walls are going up for a new nursing building on Clifton Road and Houston Mill, Salmon has already begun to break down less tangible barriers. Early on she met with faculty and staff about who should go where in the new facility. The result was a revised mix of student, faculty, research and administrative spaces throughout the building.

To Salmon, buildings are physical representations of what people value. She wants the new structure to go beyond bricks and mortar to reflect the scholarship, leadership and social responsibility already emerging as themes of her young administration. For example, to emphasize that students are central to everything the school does, the student lounge was moved to a prime location--a naturally lit space near the building's entrance--where students will be the first people visitors see.

The new mix also will facilitate collaborative research. "It moves us away from the penthouse administration approach," Salmon said. "I'm a scholar, an academician and an administrator, so it's important to be close to faculty, students and administrators."

Salmon's background and internationally recognized expertise will enhance Health Science's growing movement toward interdisciplinary collaboration. Her depth and breadth in research will build up the research capacity of the nursing school; she hopes to get Emory researchers involved in projects such as a national research study looking at outcomes of nursing care and the impact of restructuring hospitals.

Her involvement in public health and issues ranging from adolescence to aging, health care reform to values and ethics in public life will help build bridges from the nursing school to Emory's other schools. She hopes that nursing will play an important role in Wesley Woods' initiatives to foster optimal aging, including moving the elderly out of institutions to less expensive, more community-focused options.

She envisions a time when the nursing school will have partnerships similar to the School of Public Health's master's program with the Peace Corps. Salmon also intends to capitalize on Emory's proximity to the CDC, the American Cancer Society and The Carter Center.

She comes well prepared for the challenge. Born in South Dakota and raised in rural northern California, Salmon holds bachelor's degrees in political science and nursing from the University of Portland and a doctorate with a concentration in health policy and administration from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

A Fulbright Scholar at the University of Cologne, she studied national health insurance and public health in Germany and Kuwait, and returned to the states in 1973 to direct the patient advocacy program at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She also later became director of nursing and associate director of emergency medicine.

Salmon has held academic and leadership positions at the University of North Carolina and University of Minnesota. During the mid-1980s, she was a W. K. Kellogg fellow and a fellow at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

From 1991 to 1997, while on leave as a professor at UNC's School of Public Health, Salmon headed the Division of Nursing for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including five years as chief nurse for the Health Resources and Services Administration. She is a member of the Institute of Medicine and a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, and she recently completed a six-year stint as chair of the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice.

Her experience fits well with the University's plan to internationalize Emory. She was a member of the U.S. delegation at the World Health Organization's 48th World Health Assembly and currently chairs WHO's global advisory group on nursing and midwifery. A former consultant to nursing programs and organizations in central and eastern Europe, Central and South America, and many U.S. states, Salmon envisions a school at Emory that will lead nursing nationally and internationally as it moves into the next millennium.

"The school is ready to move, and I can help open those doors," she said. Indeed, if anyone can, Salmon can; in the midst of scholarship, policymaking and leading, she somehow found time to raise a family and earn a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do. She said honing her skills at that martial art enhanced her ability to focus and to depersonalize conflict and regard it as a growth experience, an opportunity to change and learn in the process.

She brings that focus to Emory. "I think Emory is in a wonderful position, perhaps better than anywhere else in the country," the new nursing leader said. "Managed care was late in coming to the South, so we've learned from other institutions' painful lessons. And we have incredible commitment on the part of the community, alumni, trustees and the Woodruff Foundation.

"I want to emphasize that there's something very special and good about Emory that attracted me here-a civility, reflectiveness, superb thinkers and leaders, exceptional faculty, staff, and students," she continued. "These are all very important qualities that I want to preserve as we move forward. There's no reason why the School of Nursing and the Health Sciences Center shouldn't become the best in the country and the world."

-Marlene Goldman

This article first appeared in Momentum and is reprinted with permission.

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