Danny Willis named dean of URI’s College of Nursing

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The University of Rhode Island has named Danny Willis as the next dean of the College of Nursing.

Currently, Willis is the dean of the Saint Louis University Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing and will begin his new role Jan. 2.

“I am honored to be selected as the next dean of the University of Rhode Island College of Nursing,” Willis said. “The college is one of the best in the nation. It has a significant history in the development of the discipline and profession of nursing, including our theoretical, scientific and practice domains. I look forward to working with the faculty, staff, students, alumni, community, state and URI leadership. I envision great momentum building on legacy and moving forward to educate excellent, caring nurse leaders who will champion and advance human well-being and planetary health.”

Willis has served as dean and tenured professor at Saint Louis University since 2020. Before then, he held several academic leadership roles, including associate dean of academic affairs and a tenured professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing; department chair and tenured professor at the Boston College William F. Connell School of Nursing; and instructor of clinical nursing and coordinator of psychiatric nursing at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.

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Willis succeeds Betty Rambur who has served as the college’s interim dean since January.

“I want to thank Betty for graciously stepping into the role as interim dean and diligently leading the college over the past several months,” said Barbara E. Wolfe, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

Wolfe, who also served as nursing dean for six years before being named provost in January, noted Rambur will continue to have “an enormous impact on URI and on health care and health policy locally and nationally” as the college’s Routhier chair for practice.

Willis began his clinical career in 1990 as a staff nurse in the adult and geriatric psychiatry department at Touro Infirmary, and in the child psychiatry unit at CPC Coliseum Medical Center, which are both in New Orleans. He has also served as charge nurse and clinical coordinator at Touro before moving to New England, where he joined the psychiatric mental health nursing faculty at Boston College and was an affiliate nurse scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

Willis has also served as chair of the American Psychiatric Nursing Association Research Council and the American Academy of Nursing Expert Panel on Nursing Theory Guided Practice.

His research has appeared in a variety of journals and has been funded by several agencies, including the National Institutes of Health. Among the topics Willis’ research is focused on include nursing promotion of health, well-being and healing the aftermath of marginalizing and traumatic experiences. He has also garnered broad attention for his work with colleagues on a central unifying focus for the discipline of nursing – “facilitating humanization, meaning, choice, quality of life, and healing in living and dying” – which was published in the journal Advances in Nursing Science, according to a news release.

Willis has also regularly involved students in his work by mentoring undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. students in research topics from nursing to social work to counseling psychology.

Willis is a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and has been recognized with several educator awards, including a leadership excellence award from the New England Chapter of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association. He earned his Doctor of Nursing Science and Master of Nursing degrees from the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Katie Castellani is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Castellani@PBN.com

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