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Coleen Conway-Welch: A Lasting Impact

Friday, October 19, 2018

Dr. Colleen Conway-Welch, RN, MS, PhD has died. The world lost an important woman of science and an unparalleled nursing educator, woman's health leader, and generous friend. Her impact will last. 

Colleen began her career as a labor and delivery staff nurse at Georgetown in the 1960s before receiving her Master's of Nursing Science and becoming the director of the nurse midwifery program at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.

Her primary health care passions were embracing diversity, acknowledging the past, looking toward the future, and addressing access issues to ob-gyn care for women in underserved areas. She was a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and the American College of Nurse Midwives.  

She opened numerous Tennessee health clinics and housing for mothers recovering from substance abuse disorders and their children. 

A few years after receiving her PhD from New York University, Dr. Conway became the nationally recognized pioneer dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. Her stated goal when hired was to increase the value of a nursing degree—which she certainly did. 

Shortly after beginning her work as dean, Dr. Conway married prominent Nashville businessman Ted Welch. They were fixtures in political, charity, and civic events for decades. Ted Welch died in 2014.

In 1997, she was named to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science. 

Under Dr. Conway-Welch's 29-year leadership, the Vanderbilt Nursing Program curriculum was overhauled, starting with the introduction of an accelerated master's program. 

Vanderbilt opened its Doctor of Nursing Practice program in 2008, which is now the largest professional school at Vanderbilt, as well as Vanderbilt School of Nursing now considered one of the most prestigious undergraduate and graduate nursing programs in the country. 

Dr. Conway-Welch was awarded the Project HOPE Global Health Leadership Award in 2011, as well as receiving honorary degrees from Cumberland University, Georgetown University, and the University of Colorado. 


She successfully led the Vanderbilt School of Nursing Program into the extraordinary twenty-first century. 

In 2016, she was inducted into the Tennessee Health Care Hall of Fame and was named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing. 

In 2017, Dr. Conway-Welch was elected to the Modern Healthcare Hall of Fame, and in March 2018, she was honored with the Health Education Visionary Award from the Society of Women's Health Research. 

Her national impact included a variety of initiatives, such as the International Nursing Coalition of Mass Casualty Education and the National Coalition for Emergency Preparedness. 

After Dr. Conway-Welch's retirement in 2013 and the 2014 death of her husband, she became active on a number of nonprofit boards in the Nashville area, including the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. 

She spent much of the last year of her life traveling and enjoying life with her beloved friend, Spencer Thornton, MD, the president of Biosyntrx (see late-summer 2018 Mediterranean cruise photo below).

Dr. Colleen Conway-Welch was a woman with an enormous reach who inspired nursing students, her staff, and all those in her world to work toward their full potential. She will be sorely missed by her family, close and distant friends, former students, women's health advocates, and the national and international nursing science and education community. 

Ellen Troyer, with David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff