Considered one of the highest honors in the nursing field, the Living Legend award spotlights senior academy members who serve as extraordinary role models and whose lifetime of achievements embody the history of the nursing profession. Cowan will be recognized for her dedication during an award ceremony at the AAN's annual meeting in November.
"Dr. Marie Cowan's contributions to nursing research span most of her 46-year career, culminating with her role as the dean who restored the UCLA School of Nursing to its status as a top-ranked nursing school," praised Nancy Woods, her former colleague and dean of the University of Washington School of Nursing. "Her efforts to develop a new generation of professors dedicated to being scholars as well as clinicians and educators have made UCLA a leader in nursing research."
In the 1960s, Cowan became a trailblazer as one of the first nurses to work in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU), when nurses' roles in the newly created ICU setting were still being defined. She worked in hospital ICUs in Berkeley and Seattle for many years, and also embarked on a three-year stint as a public health nurse for the U.S. Public Health Services.
Cowan began her academic career in 1972 as an assistant professor at Seattle University's nursing school, then joined the nursing and medical schools of the University of Washington in 1979. Holding a rare triple appointment in the departments of nursing, pathology and cardiology, she rose from assistant professor to the rank of full professor in all three fields.
Arriving at UCLA in 1997, Cowan swiftly developed a reputation as a strong leader due to her innovative ideas and knack for building faculty consensus to translate them into reality. She recruited more than 20 prominent new faculty to the school, greatly expanding its research capacity and restoring its reputation as one of the top 10 nursing schools in the nation.
Under her leadership, faculty developed an online degree program in nursing administration -- the first online degree program ever approved by the University of California. She also established a bioscience curriculum for UCLA's doctoral program in nursing.
In an effort to combat California's severe nursing shortage, Cowan re-opened the first University of California undergraduate nursing program in 2006. The UCLA School of Nursing's bachelor's of science program was immediately flooded with applicants for the 50 slots for pre-RN students. She collaborated with faculty to design an entry-level master's program to train 50 professionals with undergraduate degrees in other disciplines to become clinical nurses. Combined, the new programs will double the school's enrollment in three years.
"Marie Cowan has an exceptional ability to accomplish the seemingly impossible as a result of her astute business sense, her visionary predictions of best programs, and her ability to engage and motivate faculty in program design and implementation," observed colleague Adey Nyamathi, associate dean for academic affairs at the UCLA School of Nursing.
Cowan set the national agenda for her profession by serving on the first National Institutes of Health (NIH) peer review group for nursing research. As a national advisory council member of the National Center for Nursing Research (now the National Institute of Nursing), she worked closely with NIH staff to identify research priorities and launch several classic programs of nursing research that still persist today.
As chair of the Council of Cardiovascular Nursing of the American Heart Association (AHA), Cowan was instrumental in changing bylaws that allowed nurses to apply for AHA research funding and to serve on AHA committees for peer review and grant awards.
Cowan's research focuses on cardiovascular science, and has been NIH-funded since 1977. She has published more than 110 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and won dozens of professional awards of distinction.
Examples of her studies include using electrocardiograms to measure the size of a heart attack; determining heart rate variability; assessing the effectiveness of psychosocial therapy for sudden heart attack survivors to cut death risk by a future cardiac arrest; evaluating whether cognitive behavioral therapy reduced cardiac death risk in patients suffering depression after a heart attack; and measuring the economic and quality of life benefits resulting from multidisciplinary team management of acutely ill patients.
Cowan will be stepping down as dean next June for a one-year sabbatical, then return to the UCLA faculty to teach, mentor faculty and continue her research.
She holds a bachelor's in nursing, a master's in physiology and biophysics, and a doctoral degree in pathology, physiology and biophysics; all earned from the University of Washington.