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Celebrating 75 Years of Innovation in Nursing Education and Research

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Mac nurses dream big and act boldly

Nov 8, 2021
By Sherry Cecil

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At the McMaster School of Nursing, we are commemorating our 75th anniversary in 2021. Meet one of our celebrated alumni, Dr. Marilyn Ray.  

 Marilyn Ray

“Dr. Ray has a natural ability for understanding the meaning of transcultural caring and how this can be applied to decision making in today’s nursing environment. She is a true leader.” – Sandra Carroll commenting on Marilyn Ray receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from McMaster. Flight nurse, Air Force captain, educator and author, Ray has proven nothing is beyond reach for a Mac nurse.

If you’re wondering where you can go with a McMaster Nursing degree, Marilyn Ray can tell you.

“Anywhere your heart leads you,” says the Hamilton native who propelled a Diploma in Nursing from St. Joseph’s Hospital into a distinguished, if unconventional, 63-year career that shows no signs of abating.

Like many newly minted nurses of the late 1950s, Ray struggled to figure out what to do next. Pressed to continue her education, she chose a more adventurous route, setting off for sunny California and a job at UCLA Medical Centre.

The decision to hold off proved fortuitous. When she finally got the bug, nurses were much in demand and American schools were offering scholarships to anyone who would enrol. To qualify, you had to be a U.S. citizen, so she became one. She moved to Denver, completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Colorado while working hospital shifts to pay the rent. Her next goal was a Master of Science, but there was one hitch. Eager to join the U.S. Air Force and continue her nursing work in the air, she was told by University administrators she couldn’t work while receiving a federal grant to study. Ray countered: ‘Is serving the country considered work?’” They decided it was not.

Ray chose both, launching a parallel 32-year career in the military that began as a flight nurse tending to wounded Vietnam War soldiers and continued with assignments in education, administration and research. She recently partnered in the development of a new nursing education program for veterans transitioning to civilian life.

Called back to Hamilton in 1973 for family reasons, Ray was quickly tapped to join Mac’s School of Nursing as an assistant professor in its new Nurse Practitioner Program.

“I learned so much,” she recalls. “Everyone talks today about how they’re committed to interprofessional collaboration in nursing education. We had it back then. We had a social worker, midwife, physicians and anthropologists on our team. Mac was already doing it.”

While there, she squeezed in a Master of Arts degree in Anthropology and began exploring the emerging body of research in transcultural nursing, a theory of culturally competent care that was a harbinger of its time. She went on to complete a PhD in the subject and to further develop the concept through her teachings and a highly acclaimed book, Transcultural Caring Dynamics in Nursing and Health Care, which also examines the meaning of caring within complex health organizations. The entire U.S. military now draws on her body of work to impact the care of 10 million Americans.

Ray’s fondness for McMaster extends to nurturing the next generation of nurses. In 2009, she established the Dr. Marilyn A. Ray Endowment for Excellence in Nursing Practitioner Education and Practice, an annual award recognizing student excellence in the NP program.

Reflects Ray: “To think I graduated from a Diploma program, and now I’m influencing these enormous systems. It just shows what a fabulous career nursing is. You can be engaged in so many rewarding ways.”

This article is part of our 2020-21 Report, which you can read here: SON REPORT 2020-21.

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