Dean Breslin finds the right fit

Dr. Breslin has worked on the Hopi and Navaho Indian reservations and at the rim of the Grand Canyon. Now she’s deep in the heart of Texas leading the Health Science Center’s School of Nursing, where she says she feels right at home.

On April 1, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio welcomed a new dean to the School of Nursing — Eileen T. Breslin, Ph.D., R.N.

Dean Breslin came to the UT Health Science Center from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass), where she was professor and dean of the School of Nursing since 1998 and interim dean of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences from 2003 through 2006.

In addition to innovative leadership, the new dean brings a fond love for the Southwest.

Dean Breslin earned her registered nurse diploma from Hartford Hospital of Nursing in Hartford, Conn., where she grew up with five siblings. She then headed west to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff — the heart of the Navaho and Hopi American Indian reservations — to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing. The border state also was home to many Hispanic families.

“The program at Northern Arizona University had a strong emphasis on public health. I learned about community assessments, community activism, environmental health and policy issues. I think this is what really sparked my lifelong interest in public health,” Dean Breslin said.

“One of the most remarkable experiences I had was a clinical rotation at a health center at the Grand Canyon,” she explained. “I learned about issues in rural health care because we were the only health providers around for miles. I also learned how difficult it is for individuals to get health care when they don’t speak the language and the importance of really connecting with patients on a personal level.”

The dean’s love for the Southwest continued for more than 20 years. She focused on women’s and public health programs, working as a hospital labor and delivery nurse, setting up a network of family planning clinics and earning her nurse practitioner certificate in women’s health care from the University of New Mexico (1978).

In 1983, she earned her master’s degree in maternal-newborn nursing from the University of Arizona in Tucson, then went back to Northern Arizona University, where she served as an assistant professor, associate professor, and professor and chair in the Department of Nursing.

She earned her Ph.D. in 1992 while serving for five years on the Arizona Board of Nursing as chair of the Chemical Dependency Committee and as its nursing representative to the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners. During that time, Dean Breslin learned that chemical dependency problems for nurses were handled differently than for physicians. “After studying the issue, we were successful in changing the regulations to establish a rehabilitative process instead of a punitive process for nurses,” she said. The disparity became the topic for her doctoral dissertation.

In 1998, Dean Breslin returned to the Northeast to become dean of the UMass School of Nursing. Under her tenure, UMass instituted a doctoral degree in nursing practice, a clinical nurse leader program and a dual master of science/public health degree — all firsts in the state. The university also became a national leader in distance learning.

What attracted her to the UT Health Science Center? “There’s a lot of excitement here, tremendous opportunities, really fabulous faculty, terrific staff, great resources, a willingness to work hard, and I am happy to be back at an academic health institution,” she said.

“We have a really clear focus for serving South Texas, which is a fairly rural area. This is a great mission-value fit for me. From my previous work in Arizona and at UMass, I think I have the skill set to further our mission of increasing diversity, furthering partnerships, providing access to education, developing research and focusing on such issues as health disparities, aging and women’s health,” she said. “I think it’s important to affirm that there is so much good here. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t think this was already a great place.”

For now, she said, “I want to continue to build the research trajectory that has been established. I want to continue to develop the faculty, to focus on educational partnerships, to strengthen and build upon the simulation work that has already begun here and to take a good look at distance education. I am absolutely delighted and thrilled to be here. I just feel that this is an opportunity of a lifetime.”

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