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Wells retires as director of Medical Center Nursing Research

Jan. 11, 2018, 9:29 AM


When Nancy Wells started her nursing career she didn’t stay in one place for long, going from Canada to the West and East coasts of the United States. She didn’t, that is, until she came to Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) 25 years ago to take a position as director of Nursing Research.

Nancy Wells, DNSc, RN

Wells, DNSc, RN, retired from that position in December after a quarter-century of mentoring countless staff nurses, managers, leaders and colleagues in evidence-based practice while becoming a nationally known nurse researcher specializing in the study of pain management.

“I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it and every opportunity. It has been fabulous,” she said. “The thing that I love the most about working with people here is that they are so dedicated. And they’re really interested in promoting better patient care. That’s what it’s all about.”

Wells will continue to serve in her role as a research professor at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

“Please join me in wishing Nancy well in her next phase of life adventures,” said Marilyn Dubree, MSN, RN, Executive Chief Nursing Officer. “We have been blessed by her leadership with the Vanderbilt nursing community, and her legacy will serve as a living foundation for our work going forward.”

Wells, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, grew up around healthcare; her father was a doctor and her mother a nurse. But she initially didn’t want to follow in her family’s footsteps. She changed her mind and enrolled in nursing school at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, thinking that the busy nursing profession would be a good fit for her restless nature.

“When I was in my undergraduate program, I had to take a research course and I had to do a research project and that grabbed me,” she said. “That’s when I knew that’s where I was going to go.”

She looked for a master’s program that would have a thesis requirement, because she wanted to steep herself in research, landing at the University of Washington in Seattle. She earned her doctorate at Boston University, and held a succession of nursing positions, most recently in Rochester, New York, before coming to Vanderbilt in 1992.

As director of Nursing Research at Vanderbilt, her responsibilities included mentoring PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, facilitating evidence-based practice among nursing staff in the Medical Center and collaborating with investigators to conduct funded research.

She established a yearlong Evidence-Based Practice Fellowship program for staff nurses.

“They learn about evidence-based practice, how to search the literature, how to develop a project implementation plan and implement the project,” Wells said. “That’s been fabulous. I’ve met so many really, really great nurses who are so dedicated to their profession and to making patient care better. That’s probably the highlight of my career.”

Wells said she has learned to take the long view — crucial in a research career — because her mind doesn’t demand quick closure.

“I’ve been working in the field of pain since 1979, and I’ve not gotten bored with it yet,” she said. “It’s changing all the time. Our knowledge, our understanding of it, is changing all the time.”

A national search for the director of Nursing Research will be initiated this month.

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