Photos courtesy of Dean Scott

We all have childhood dreams of what we want to be when we grow up, but how many of us become the princesses or dragon slayers that we dream of? Not many. While most of us have woven paths for our lives that diverge from those childhood imaginations, Dr. Linda Scott has never wavered. She has turned her childhood dream of being a nurse into a glowing career that includes being the first Black dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now, she stands at another apex of her career as she steps into her elected role at the next president of the American Academy of Nursing.

The American Academy of Nursing is the premier professional society in the field of nursing. Being selected as a fellow means that the inductee is among the most accomplished leaders in nursing. There are approximately 3,000 fellows in the Academy out of more than 4 million nurses nationwide. Scott became an Academy Fellow in 2008 and her colleagues elected her president in 2021. Scott assumes the presidency this year as the Academy celebrates its 50th anniversary. As president of the Academy, Scott also serves as president of its Board of Directors. 

Scott’s journey in nursing almost didn’t happen. Like many other Black children in the past and present, she encountered a counselor in high school who did not think that she was college material. The counselor placed her in typing courses rather than science courses. “But my mother took care of that,” Scott recalls. “The one and only time she came to school was to advocate for me to be in college prep courses.” Now, Scott holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Michigan State University, a master’s degree from Grand Valley State University, and a doctorate from the University of Michigan, and she has worked as a pediatric critical care nurse, nursing administrator, and higher education administrator.

A native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Scott came to Madison in 2016 after serving as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Nursing. She transitioned to Madison as the School of Nursing’s eighth dean and first Black dean. Scott is active in the community as a member of the Madison Metropolitan Chapter of the Links, Inc. 

Community engagement is also a cornerstone of Scott’s work life. She describes herself as “an outward-facing dean” who has dedicated herself to bridging the gap between the Madison community and the School of Nursing. She urges her colleagues in the school to have tangible impact in the communities they serve. 

Scott takes seriously her responsibility to add diversity to the School of Nursing’s student body, faculty, and staff and to serve as a role model to other Black people, and particularly Black women, of the heights of success that they, too, can attain as nurses. When colleagues questioned her decision to move from Chicago to “white Wisconsin,” Scott replied, “Why not?” Fewer than 10% of nurses are people of color and fewer than 5% are Black. Scott saw the opportunity at the UW as a way to build a more diverse nursing workforce. She cites as her motivation studies that indicate the increase in health outcomes when one receives health care from someone who looks like them. Under her leadership, the School of Nursing is now comprised of 28% students of color at the undergraduate level and 25% overall (including both undergraduate and graduate students). Key to progress in this area is a holistic admissions process that appropriately widens the lens to include the student’s identity, experiences, and other attributes than contribute to excelling in the nursing profession rather than just limiting qualifications to grades and test scores. Scott also hosts conversations with faculty of color in the School of Nursing and holds open “Dean’s Chats” for all faculty and staff to have an audience with her regarding their experiences.

Scott is also focused on ensuring that the nurses prepared in the School of Nursing, regardless of race, are culturally competent. While the school has offered courses related to equity and justice issues, Faculty are working to weave those ideas throughout the program of study so that students see these ideas as a core part of their work rather than an ancillary one. She solidified her commitment this year by hiring the School of Nursing’s first Associate Dean of Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, a position that she is committed to despite public pressure to eliminate equity efforts on campuses.

In her role as president of the American Academy of Nursing, Scott takes her commitment to health equity and a diverse nursing workforce to a new level. She is most excited about the policy influence that she will have while leading this prestigious organization and looks forward to building partnerships to maximize equity via health policy, research. One of her first agenda items is to follow the lead of the American Nurses Association to write a reckoning statement to address the actions within the organization that have contributed to and perpetuated inequity despite having people of color in key leadership positions. “There are things that we need to be honest about,” Scott says. “If we’re the honorific society with this level of prestige, we need to reconcile some things in our past so that we don’t repeat them in the future.”

Scott is committed to addressing the shortage of skilled, culturally competent nurses in the profession. As the population of nurses and nurse educators ages, these shortages are becoming dire. Nationally, approximately 60,000 qualified nursing candidates are denied admission to nursing programs due to shortages in faculty and capacity for clinical placement. She encourages young people who are interested in nursing to find mentors and role models in their families and communities. She shares the story of her high school counselor as a reminder to young people that these stumbling blocks do not have to inhibit their success. To young nurses, Scott recommends pursuing advanced degrees in nursing as soon as possible and to pursue careers in nursing education. Data show that quality of care increases with more advanced degrees, which is also a health equity issue. Scott has instituted a scholarship in the School of Nursing to alleviate some of the financial burden that nursing students of color face in obtaining advanced degrees in exchange for a commitment to work in Wisconsin for 3 years after graduation.

Dr. Barbara Nichols, a Madison resident who is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and the first Black president of the American Nursing Association, received the Academy’s 2023 Lifetime Legacy Award. Nichols offers her unwavering support for Scott’s presidency. “Her presidency reminds us that nurses, regardless of race, must be recognized for their scholarly endeavors. It reminds us that Black women are not only free from slavery but free to be equally recognized within the profession. Dr. Scott enables the dream of a nursing future and she symbolizes a better and more equal nursing profession.”