September 25, 2019 - Next month, Dr. Mary Wakefield, a visiting distinguished professor at the School of Nursing & Health Studies, will be recognized as a Living Legend of the American Academy of Nursing.

Wakefield, who previously served as the administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration and acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says she is very grateful for this honor.

Dr. Mary Wakefield with students and faculty in a course on health equity

Dr. Mary Wakefield with students and faculty in an interdisciplinary course on health equity

“My respect and admiration for the nurse leaders in the American Academy of Nursing runs very deep,” says Wakefield. “While they hail from different health settings, specialties, and geographic areas, they share an unwavering commitment to fully using the profession’s expertise to improve the health of people across the nation and around the world. Recognition by this organization is the highest honor I can imagine.”

Dr. Carole Roan Gresenz, the school’s interim dean, offered her congratulations.

“Dr. Wakefield is definitely a ‘living legend’ here in the School of Nursing & Health Studies, and I am very pleased to see her receive this distinguished recognition from the academy,” Gresenz says. “Mary models exceptional qualities for our students, including a deep understanding of the substance of health policy, health care, and nursing as well as genuine collegiality, humility, and kindness.”

Celebrating Achievement and Legacy

When the academy announced the newest group of Living Legends in July – including Wakefield, Dr. Geraldine “Polly” Bednash, Dr. C. Alicia Georges, Dr. Pamela Mitchell, and Dr. Linda Schwartz – the organization’s president, Dr. Karen Cox, underscored the significance of this prestigious honor. (Visit academy announcement.)

Dr. Mary Wakefield with faculty and health care management & policy majors in a course on care across the continuum

Wakefield with faculty and health care management & policy majors in a course on care across the continuum

“The leaders selected in this year’s class of Living Legends are highly-acclaimed, longtime fellows whose accomplishments to health and wellness are profound and sustained,” she said. “The academy is delighted to recognize these incredible nurses as Living Legends. Their legacies will be felt and celebrated at the academy, as well as, by the public, for many years to come.”

Time at Georgetown

An elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, Wakefield joined the Georgetown community two years ago. Since then, she has delivered the 2018 Values Based Lecture and participated on a major 2019 panel, featuring Congresswoman Lauren Underwood of Illinois, to celebrate the nursing profession. (Visit videos of the Values Based Lecture or nursing panel.)

Dr. Wakefield talks with nurse-midwifery and women's health nurse practitioner students in a classroom setting.

Wakefield talks with nurse-midwifery and women’s health nurse practitioner students in St. Mary’s Hall.

Earlier in her career, she served as director of the Center for Rural Health and a tenured professor at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of North Dakota. At Georgetown, she has shared her love of teaching, meeting one-on-one with students and speaking in various class sessions.    

“Working alongside of students and faculty at Georgetown has been both interesting and energizing,” says Wakefield, who is also currently co-chairing the National Academy of Medicine and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s consensus study committee on “The Future of Nursing: 2020-2030.” 

“I've been particularly impressed by the rich learning opportunities afforded students as well as the faculty’s commitment to ensuring the inclusion of values long embraced by the Jesuit community, values that are highly relevant to the delivery of person-centered, quality health care,” Wakefield adds.

‘Much-Needed Passion’

Wakefield has engaged with students across the school’s health programs, and colleagues at the school congratulated her on this achievement.

Dr. Mary Wakefield with area leaders of schools of nursing, the AACN, and the NLN

The school hosted a discussion for Wakefield and leaders of area schools of nursing, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and the National League for Nursing.

Dr. Edilma Yearwood, a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and chair of the Department of Professional Nursing Practice, thanked Wakefield for all she has accomplished “for nursing and health care.”

“Mary is a visionary,” Yearwood says. “Her work with students, faculty, and members of the profession is inspiring, forward-thinking, contagious, and full of much-needed passion.” 

Dr. Mary Haras, chair of the Department of Advanced Nursing Practice, echoed the praise. 

“Mary has been an integral part of so many national initiatives recognizing the key role of nursing in positive patient outcomes and advocating for vulnerable and rural populations,” Haras says. “It is an honor to be her colleague, and I look forward to continuing to work with her in shaping the future of nursing education.” 

And Dr. Christopher King, chair of the Department of Health Systems Administration, expressed excitement about Wakefield’s “deserved recognition.”  

A nurses week panel in Gaston Hall with, left to right, Eileen Ferrell, Maria Gomez, Patricia Cloonan, Congresswoman Underwood, Patricia Grady, and Mary Wakefield

Wakefield participates in an April 2019 panel discussion to celebrate nursing with, left to right, Ms. Eileen Brennan Ferrell (NHS’75, G’83), Professor Maria Gomez (NHS’77), Dr. Patricia Cloonan, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, and Dr. Patricia Grady (NHS’66).

“Her experience and expertise have allowed our students to take a deeper dive into opportunities to shape policy so every person achieves optimal health,” he says.

‘The Next Generation’

Wakefield says she looks forward to her continuing engagement at Georgetown, including with the students who will help shape the health field of tomorrow. 

“Looking forward, there are an array of complex challenges that will impact health and health care,” she says. “The next generation of nurses and health care professionals will need to be exquisitely well prepared to leverage opportunities to help solve those challenges, while never losing sight of what is the true north – the people for whom we care.”