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Nursing the skills needed to be leaders

Alumna creates new Leadership Academy to prepare confident, empowered nurses

Ambassador students
Debbie Adams
Deborah “Debbie” Adams, BSN ’84, credits Cizik School of Nursing with opening opportunities for her to have a full life. With her gift to establish the Deborah Garrett Adams Leadership Academy, she is paving the way for other nursing students.

Before she had even finished her education, Deborah “Debbie” Adams, BSN ’84, was called on to use her nursing skills. From encountering an unconscious man lying next to his bike on the side of the road, to coming across people with diabetes or epilepsy who were in trouble, to being the first medically trained person at the scene of a major car accident with multiple victims, Debbie stepped forward.

“Every time I turned around, there was someone in need of help,” she says. “That’s just who I’ve always been though. If anybody was hurt, I’ve always run to them. I can never just pass on by.”

A childhood picture highlights her lifelong dedication to the profession. The black and white photo taken at her seventh birthday party shows her wearing the cape and cap of a visiting nurse, beaming proudly for the camera.

When Debbie began researching the best nursing schools to attend, Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston came up on every list, so she set her sights on attending it.

After graduating, she served as an ER nurse for 14 years before going into business, but she still jumps in to take care of family and friends. “Once a nurse, always a nurse,” she says.

Debbie also serves the community by supporting nursing education so that talented students can become nursing leaders. A long-time partner of Cizik School of Nursing, Debbie helped establish the Ambassador Program in 2016, enabling nursing trainees to work with mentors and engage in leadership development activities. Students learn management, teamwork, and communication skills to become the health leaders needed to face our country’s growing nursing shortage.

Now, as the Many Faces. One Mission. campaign propels education forward, she is making the single largest gift to the school from an alumna to establish the Deborah Garrett Adams Leadership Academy. In only the second nursing leadership academy in the country, students will learn everything from business networking to managing challenging interactions in the workplace.

Debbie personally learned the skills the Academy teaches from her ER nurse manager, mentor, and friend, Venus Manos, RN. Now, future generations will also develop these vital attributes, empowering them to provide the best possible care.

“As a nurse, you have to be a voice for your patients. You have to do what is best for them,” Debbie says. “That is a sacred role.”

Growing the program is a top priority for Diane M. Santa Maria, DrPh, RN, Dean of Cizik School of Nursing and holder of the Jane and Robert Cizik Distinguished Chair and the Huffington Foundation Endowed Chair in Nursing Education Leadership.

“Nurses are being called to take on even greater responsibilities on health care teams, and we must prepare our students for that,” says Santa Maria. “With the Leadership Academy, we will graduate exceptional nurses with the skills to become the health leaders that our patients, universities, and health systems need.”

“We don’t want to educate them on just the technical parts of the job,” Debbie says. “We want them to have these extra skills under their belt.”

“Nursing is a call to service, and Debbie has answered that call, time and time again—first at patient bedsides and now in support of tomorrow’s nurses. We are very grateful for her commitment to the school and the students,” Santa Maria says.

Debbie, who now raises cattle on her ranch in the Texas Hill Country, speaks of the amazing opportunities nursing has opened for her. Her work has taken her around the world—to Central America, South America, and Europe—and has enabled her to live a full life.

“I am so in awe of everything I have gotten to do, and it’s all because of the education and training I had,” Debbie says. “I have had a lot of blessings, and it’s important to give back and recognize what I have been given.”
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