What particularly moved Carol Fowler Durham ’76 during her father’s multiple hospitalizations as he battled a rare connective tissue disease was the way the nurses cared for him. “They were making a difference in the lives of not only my father, but also my mother and, in turn, all of us,” said Durham, who was 13 when her father died. “So for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a nurse.”
She earned her degree in nursing at Western Carolina and became a practicing nurse, which led her to another calling. Durham, who now holds a master’s degree and doctorate, is an internationally known, award-winning teacher and leader in the field of nursing education. “My undergraduate education at WCU prepared me to be a change agent, to be passionate about patient care and to influence the profession,” she said.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing, Durham is a clinical professor. She has served as director since 1988 of the Education-Innovation-Simulation Learning Environment, an award-winning project that is shifting the focus in nursing education from body mechanics to safe patient-handling and movement. In addition, she has been a leader in incorporating human patient simulation into nursing education. The journey has not been easy.
“Oftentimes educators are faced with limited resources, which require you to be selective about what types of educational tools you can acquire and use,” said Durham. “At other times you have to set the bar for what you think your students need and be persistent until you are able to acquire what is needed to enhance the education.” In 2001, she influenced the acquisition of two human patient simulators, an adult and a pediatric model, a process that took three years.
Durham incorporated the simulators into the curriculum and has designed a range of simulations to help students practice and gain confidence in their nursing skills in a nonthreatening environment. Her work has led her to be invited to serve as a consultant across the nation and to speak at national and international conferences.
“Throughout her career, Carol Fowler Durham’s accomplishments in the field of nursing education and curriculum development have done much to further the development of the field of nursing as well as to help with patient care and safety,” said Betty Allen ’68, president of the WCU Alumni Association in presenting Durham with WCU’s 2010 Academic Achievement Award. “She has taken her knowledge and education forward to share it with others, while adding to it with ideas of her own. She has been an innovator.”
Vincent Hall ’83, head of WCU’s School of Nursing, said Durham is very deserving of the alumni award. “Dr. Durham has a national reputation in nursing education and the use of simulation learning to improve nursing education outcomes for students,” he said.
For Durham, what it’s all about, of course, is simply caring for patients. “As educators when we prepare one student well, we have made a lasting difference,” said Durham. “She or he provides quality nursing care to her or his patient that in turn has a positive impact upon the patient and their families, now and forever.”