Guardian of the Discipline
Contributors: Sarah B. Pasternack, MA, RN
Dorothy A. Jones EdD, APRN, FAAN, FNI
Magnet Study Author and Nursing Advocate, Educator, Leader
Muriel Poulin was above all – a fierce advocate for nursing. Her disciplinary contributions have transcended her impact on education, practice, administration and policy. Muriel’s work embraced nursing excellence, promoting nursing’s potential in all she did. Above all, Dr. Muriel Poulin modeled what it meant to be a leader in nursing. When she stood up to speak she was articulate, clear and resounding in delivering her sustaining message that nursing made a difference in health care and nursing leaders needed to create the environment for nursing to flourish.
Muriel died on September 6th in 2019 in Sanford Maine. She began her nursing career as a Cadet Nurse, graduating from Massachusetts General Hospital School of Nursing in 1946. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Catholic University, a master’s degree in nursing at University of Colorado and a doctorate at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.
Muriel held several nursing positions including the nursing director at the opening of a hospital in Damascus, Syria, during the early 1950s. She served on the faculty of the University of Kentucky, American University in Lebanon and University of Barcelona. She served as Professor and Chairperson of the Nursing Administration Graduate Program at Boston University School of Nursing from 1972 to the time of her retirement in 1988.
As a dedicated leader in promoting the visibility of nursing internationally, Muriel was also unwavering in her promotion of nursing through organizational action. She was a voice for nursing in the American Nurses Association (ANA) throughout her career, holding membership in the organization throughout her career and in her retirement. She was elected Second Vice President of the American Nurses’ Association in 1976 as a Massachusetts member.
Muriel was a leading force in the early development of the American Academy of Nursing (AAN). She viewed the Academy as the “knowledge arm” of the American Nurses Association, influential, informing and reforming nursing at all levels. She advocated for the early goals of AAN especially the goal that addressed nursing knowledge, development, use and translation to inform education, practice and policy.
During the early 1980s, Muriel was one of four distinguished nurse leaders selected by the American Academy of Nursing to identify and describe clinical practice environment variables that attracted and retained well-qualified nurses. In 1983 the groundbreaking study, Magnet Hospitals: Attraction and Retention of Professional Nurses was published. The significant outcome from this study was the establishment of the Magnet Recognition Program by the American Nurses’ Credentialing Center (ANCC) in 1990. As of August 2020, there are 523 Magnet-designated Hospitals in the US and 10 other countries, with 10 in Massachusetts. Dr. Patricia Reid Ponte, President of the Board of the ANCC and Clinical Associate Professor of Nursing and Health Administration at Boston College and a former student of Muriel’s, stated “today’s interest in The Magnet Recognition Program internationally can be linked to the efforts of nursing leaders like Dr. Muriel Poulin. This program has had profound positive impact on health care delivery. Muriel Poulin’s legacy is carried on across the globe through the nurses and advanced practice nurses working in these organizations.”
Dr. Poulin was honored by ANA Massachusetts as a Massachusetts “Living Legend in Massachusetts Nursing” in 2011 and also as a “Living Legend in Nursing” by American Academy of Nursing in 2012. In 2016 she was honored by induction into the Nursing Hall of Fame by the American Nurses Association.
Muriel educated and personally mentored many of the current and former nursing executives and leaders in the Boston area and beyond. Dr. Ponte, stated: “Muriel Poulin was a force of nature – a truly extraordinary nurse, leader, researcher and educator. As a member of my dissertation committee at Boston University School of Nursing in the late 1980s, she pushed me to become a better nurse executive through her mentorship. I will be forever grateful to her. I was able to have lunch with her in the last couple of years when she attended the ANCC Magnet Conference (a real thrill for Muriel) and again at the American Academy of Nursing meeting.”
As a junior faculty (Dr. Dorothy Jones), teaching in the undergraduate nursing program at Boston University, I often wondered if I would ever be able to stand up and advocate for nursing the way Dr. Poulin did in the classroom and at a faculty meeting. One day I got my chance. I was called to a meeting with Muriel. “I want you to teach my Masters students about health and nursing practice. They need to know this information.” I was pleased and overwhelmed by the opportunity to work with Muriel. We developed a new course that incorporated holistic nursing concepts into the Masters in Nursing Administration curriculum. A few years later, she was my AAN Fellowship cosponsor, an honor I will forever remember.
Dr. Susan LaRocco, Dean and Professor of the School of Nursing, Mount St. Mary College, Newburgh, NY and a graduate of the BU graduate program in Nursing Administration, stated: “Dr. Poulin has been influential throughout my administrative career. Whenever I had to handle a difficult situation, I could be fearless because she taught me that the patient is the center of all that we do. When I had to deal with a patient abuse case, I thought that I was going to be fired for pursuing it. But I knew that I was doing the right thing because a frail elderly patient had been harmed and I could not just look the other way. After reconnecting with Muriel at a BU History of Nursing Archives event, I had the privilege of meeting her occasionally for lunch. It was always a lively conversation with this wonderful mentor.”
Dr. Poulin was an international nursing leader. She worked to prepare nursing organizational leaders, globally, Through her publications, teaching and presentations she influenced a generation of nurses involved in leading hospital and organizational administration today. Even in her “retirement,” Dr. Poulin exerted her leadership in the profession with service on the Board of Directors of her local Visiting Nurses Association in Maine and with the establishment and management of a very successful second-hand bookstore to benefit a local hospice. She was a fierce advocate for Nursing and her voice will be missed by many.