Although nursing runs in her family and she had experience working as a candy striper, the new College of Nursing (CON) dean at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh resisted the pull of the profession … at first.
But after considering other options including a career as a soldier in the military, Leslie Neal-Boylan knew she wanted to be a nurse. “I come from a line of nurses—my mother and my grandmother were nurses,” Neal-Boylan said. “It’s in my blood.”
The new leader of UW Oshkosh’s youngest college—set to celebrate its 50th year in 2016—began work March 1.
“Dean Neal-Boylan brings an innovative spirit and great experience to build on the College of Nursing’s tremendous foundation of success,” Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said. “I am delighted to have her at UWO and know she will lead the college to new levels of prominence.”
Neal-Boylan replaces Rosemary Smith, who retired after 10 years of service as dean and more than 27 years as an educator.
“I am thankful for Dean Smith’s efforts to ensure a smooth transition,” Neal-Boylan said. “Very few deans would give as much of themselves as she has upon their retirement.”
Neal-Boylan earned a doctorate in nursing from George Mason University in 1998, a master’s degree in nursing from San Jose State University in 1992 and a BSN from Rutgers University in 1981.
She comes to UW Oshkosh from Quinnipiac University School of Nursing in Hamden, Conn., where she served as the associate dean. Prior, she was the chair of the graduate program at Southern Connecticut University and on the faculty at Yale University.
She also has taught at Marymount University and the University of Southern Maine. Throughout her almost 35 years in nursing, Neal-Boylan has maintained a clinical practice; she has been a family nurse practitioner since 2003.
Caring and scholarly
“I love nursing, teaching nursing and working with faculty and staff to provide an excellent education to students. I am very proud to be part of the UW Oshkosh community and to join the College of Nursing,” she said.
Neal-Boylan was quite impressed with CON’s “terrific” NCLEX RN licensure exam pass rate, which continues to surpass the national average of 89 percent with scores of 93 percent or higher annually.
The college’s innovation in leading the nation with the first Accelerated Online Bachelor’s to BSN Program also caught her attention.
But she was most drawn to the College of Nursing by its mission of developing caring and scholarly nurse leaders, which reflects the duo theme in her own life of pursuing nursing both as a professional and a scholar.
Listening is one of the many skills that has served Neal-Boylan well in both aspects of her career.
“Good listening skills are so important to being a nurse, because assessment is the most important step in patient care. You need to find out what is really going on. To do that, you must make a connection with the patient,” she explained. “Ultimately, that’s the art and science of nursing.”
Throughout her career in higher education, Neal-Boylan always has maintained her clinical practice to stay up-to-date with her skills and technology. While at UW Oshkosh, she plans to continue that commitment by volunteering at the Student Health Center and the Living Healthy Community Clinic, which CON operates with the support of community agencies.
The clinic, located at 510 Doctors Court in Oshkosh, provides cost-effective medical care to uninsured people who do not have the money to pay for traditional healthcare options. Services are provided on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay.
“It’s critical that nurse educators make time to stay current,” she said. “Even with all of today’s technology, nursing is still very hands on. It is still the most trusted profession.”
Neal-Boylan believes that scholarship and research come in many different forms. All are valuable to advancing the profession and to remaining cutting-edge in clinical practice and nursing education.
Throughout her career, she primarily has researched the nursing workforce and issues and practices in home heathcare. More recently, she also has been interested in studying registered nurses who have disabilities, publishing such articles as “The career trajectories of healthcare professionals practicing with permanent disabilities,” and “Nurses with sensory disabilities: Their perceptions and characteristics.”
In 2014, Neal-Boylan published her eighth book, The Nurse’s Reality Shift: Using History to Transform the Future, with Sigma Theta Tau Publishing, the honor society of nursing.
In this work, she outlines how—despite dramatic scientific and technological advances—modern-day nurses face many of the same challenges as nurses encountered at the advent of the profession in the 19th century: excessive patient loads, staffing shortages, long shifts and overtime, colleague bullying, inconsistent educational and licensing standards and incomplete or inconsistent facility-based training. Neal-Boylan then provides a road map for how the nursing profession can move past its recurring challenges with practical solutions.
She brings this broad insight to UW Oshkosh as she turns her attention to leading the College of Nursing.
Moving the college forward
In her first months on campus, Neal-Boylan has been conducting a “listening tour” to get a better sense of where things are at with the CON, before making plans for the college’s future.
Describing her own leadership style as transformative in a collegial fashion, she believes in being adaptable and transparent. She plans to listen to multiple points of view before making any decisions about the college’s future as she monitors the challenging financial situation for higher education in the state.
“We will emerge. People will move forward through the financial challenges, and they will make us stronger,” she said. “This environment can be a stimulus for change and innovation.”
Neal-Boylan said she does advocate developing more nurse leaders ready for the boardroom, exploring more interdisciplinary educational opportunities, supporting veterans in nursing education and increasing diversity and inclusivity in nursing.
“I like to think big,” she said. “Let’s consider what the future will look like … what is possible to do together. There are lots of changes and opportunities ahead.”