By Jeff Bahr
Kearny resident Dr. Mary E. Norton, associate dean and professor of Global Academic Initiatives at nearby Felician College, has clearly pushed the envelope of achievement in the nursing profession.
Recently honored for her accomplishments with a Nell J. Watts Lifetime Achievement in Nursing Award by Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (STTI), perhaps no one is more surprised by the grand bestowment than the doctor herself.
“I’m honored but so surprised,” explained Dr. Norton. “I know what some of the past recipients have done and I was shocked to be in the same category as them.”
If Norton’s words arrive with a tone of humility, it’s not surprising. Growing up in Kearny, Norton never imagined where life might take her, both literally and figuratively, as she ascended her career path. But there were indicators.
Norton speaks of a strong desire to “give back” that was instilled in her by her parents. Choosing nursing as her life’s profession, Norton put her training as an R.N. (with a B.A. in nursing from Jersey City State College) to good use by spending time doing field work in Bogotá, Colombia. There, she tended to children afflicted with polio and Guillian-Barre syndrome – a paralyzing disorder that effects the nervous system.
After returning to the U.S., Norton received a grant for graduate study at Columbia University, where she earned an M.A. and M.Ed., as well as an Ed. D. degree.
For her doctoral dissertation, Norton lived in Karachi, Pakistan, for six months each year, over a period of three years. Her thesis, “Educational and Social Innovations in an Islamic Republic: The Development of a School of Nursing,” led to a job as an educational consultant at a school of nursing at the Aga Khan University of Health Sciences in Karachi.
During her tenure, Norton was taken aback by the lack of nurses being recruited in the region; a situation that she believed traced directly to cultural attitudes toward women and the nursing profession. In a 2010 New Jersey Newsroom report, Norton explained why such social mores could prove detrimental to child mortality rates.
“Women’s education is a main determinant of child mortality,” explained Norton. “Women who are better educated with at least an eighth-grade primary schooling, space their childbirths over longer periods, ensure their children are immunized, are better informed about children’s nutritional needs and adopt improved sanitation practices.”
Dr. Norton’s humanitarian efforts earned her five separate Fulbright Awards (scholarships to conduct research abroad). One of these took her to Ahman, Jordan, where she helped to establish the first Master of Science in Nursing Program in the region. Another helped her produce the video, “Arab Voices Responding to Human Security and Dignity in the Middle East,” which was screened at the United Nations.
Dr. Norton also spent time in Tehran, Iran, where she collaborated with the local United Nations office to help provide an immunization program for outlying villages.
In 2010, Dr. Norton was named Chair of the 63rd United Nations Annual Department of Public Information/ Non-Governmental Organizations Conference; a meeting that focuses on global health issues.
“Working with students on issues that affect us, not only here but globally, is so important and so rewarding,” she said.
The STTI Nell J. Watts Lifetime Achievement Award, named for the visionary nurse leader at the University of Indiana who founded the organization, is a biennial award that is given to a STTI member who has demonstrated exemplary achievements in nursing throughout his or her lifetime. The award will be presented to Dr. Norton during the Founders Awards celebration and convention in November 2013 in Indianapolis, Ind.