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Alumna Debbie Adams on her ranch with longhorn cattle

Leadership Academy

Alumna aims to empower nurses

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, Adams stepped forward.

“Every time I turned around, there was someone in need of help,” she said. “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 Adams began researching the best nursing schools, 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 said.

Adams 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, Adams helped establish the Ambassador Program in 2016, enabling nursing students 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.

Adams 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,” Adams said. “That is a sacred role.”

Growing the program is a top priority for Diane M. Santa Maria, DrPH, MSN, RN, FAAN, 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 leading health care teams, and we must prepare our students for that,” said Santa Maria. “With the Leadership Academy, we will graduate exceptional nurses with the skills to become the health leaders that our patients, communities, and health systems need.”

Leadership Academy initiatives will be developed and rolled out over the next few years, beginning with a simulation in the fall 2022 semester in which BSN Ambassadors will join MSN leadership track students to learn about conflict management and crucial conversations. Future plans include alumni and community engagement and exploration of topics such as staff engagement, civility and professionalism, safety culture, health economics, and policy.

“We don’t want to educate nurses on just the technical parts of the job,” Adams said. “We want them to have these extra skills under their belt to lead the changes needed in health care.”

“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 said.

Adams 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,” Adams said. “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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