Feature Stories 2022: Dr. Michelle McMahon, PhD ’13 now leads the School of Nursing at Curry College

PhD alumna and nursing dean at Curry College
Dr. Michelle McMahon, PhD '13, a member of the CNHS inaugural PhD cohort, with her son, Ryan, who enrolled in UMassD's nursing PhD program this fall.
Feature Stories 2022: Dr. Michelle McMahon, PhD ’13 now leads the School of Nursing at Curry College
Dr. Michelle McMahon, PhD ’13 now leads the School of Nursing at Curry College

Following in her footsteps, son Ryan began his PhD studies in nursing at UMass Dartmouth this fall

Assistant Dean of Online Learning in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences (CNHS), Dr. Uloma Onubogu, recently caught up with Dr. Michelle McMahon, a member of the inaugural cohort of UMass Dartmouth’s PhD program in nursing. Dr. McMahon, now dean of the School of Nursing at Curry College, is also the proud parent of Ryan McMahon, who joined this year’s incoming PhD cohort at CNHS—14 years after his mother began her doctoral studies.

A member of the inaugural PhD class

After completing her undergraduate nursing and master’s degrees at Salem State University, Dr. Michelle McMahon began her UMass Dartmouth experience as a member of the inaugural PhD cohort in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences (CNHS) in the fall of 2008. She recalled the honor of starting the program with a small class which enjoyed the dedication of the proud faculty who developed the PhD program. “It showed in their real passion for doctoral work and in preparing nurse scientists,” McMahon said.

When asked why she chose the CNHS PhD program, McMahon replied, “It was the perfect program for me as someone who wanted to focus on the teaching pedagogies to become an academic nurse educator. I made a great decision in my career and academic trajectory to choose the CNHS program over others, and I couldn’t have picked a better one. It was clear to me from the start that the program would support dissertation, research, and scholarship in building the science of nursing education.” 

The format of the CNHS PhD program delivery was another strong appeal for McMahon. She enjoyed the hybrid Tuesday design that allowed the class to come together on campus once a week. That dedicated program design made a lifelong impact. “To this day, I have dedicated Tuesday as my scholarly day,” she stated.

McMahon describes her experience in the PhD program as "valued," which she attributes to the “experience of individualized attention, amazing faculty that is fully invested in students’ success, and excellent faculty mentors.” She described faculty as stewards of the discipline, who knew that there was a long-term need for nurse faculty, and who nurtured the interests of the students in the program. “The diverse group of faculty and nurse leaders in the PhD program made such an impact on my career and academic nurse journey, and inspired me to emulate them.”

Successful career as a nurse educator led to being named nursing dean

McMahon has enjoyed a successful career in academic nursing since graduating from UMassD’s PhD program in 2013. She is the current dean of nursing at Curry College, where she has achieved success in her leadership. She has remained strongly connected with her roots in the CNHS and her PhD faculty, including Dean Kimberly Christopher, who mentored her PhD work and with whom she has maintained a unique bond and relationship. She gives back to the college in many ways, including currently serving as a member of the CNHS advisory board for nursing.

Inspired son to pursue a similar career at UMassD

McMahon is the proud mother of two. Following in his mother’s footsteps, her son, Ryan, has enrolled as a PhD student with the Fall 2022 cohort, 14 years after his mother joined the first PhD class at CNHS. 

On whether she influenced her son’s inclination toward nursing, she responded, “I model my passion and love for nursing which has impacted a positive outlook for Ryan and his decision to pursue nursing.”

McMahon recalled that Ryan’s journey began far from nursing with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry/molecular biology. One day, when he said, “I feel like I should have been a nurse,” she saw that as an opportunity to provide guidance that led Ryan to begin his career in nursing through an accelerated bachelor’s degree option. His long-term goal to become a professor of nursing has stirred him toward a PhD pathway and right into the very same CNHS program where his mother left her mark as a pioneer PhD student.

“It is amazing that he is following in the same path I did 14 years ago,” McMahon added. Ryan is following the BSN to PhD pathway, which will allow him to obtain his master’s degree while on his PhD journey. This is a gain for the CNHS and the profession, as nursing faces the challenge of attracting more men into an academic nursing career.

Advice for current nursing students: “eye on the prize”

As a nursing dean and seasoned academic nurse educator, McMahon hopes to inspire, empower, and motivate CNHS students for academic survival and success. First, she pointed out that recognizing the current academic learning environment and practice as complex and challenging is vital at any level. She encouraged students to recognize challenges, even the disruptions of the current pandemic, as unique opportunities to enrich the learning experience with a different perspective and experience. Nursing is rewarding despite the challenges, so students must learn to find and create that life balance and resilience needed for success. “Success impinges upon having a positive mental attitude, belief in self, good self-care, a good support system, keeping the vision and eye on the prize,” she emphasized.

McMahon perceives her ultimate nursing career role as a steward of the profession, aspiring to meet young people that look and speak with the qualities that are excellent for nursing. “It is like a call for action and service to help encourage people from my passion and work to know how rewarding my nursing career has been and continues to be, to bring people into the profession, and identify the next best generation of nurses,” she said. 

Dr. McMahon explained that the same core threads and values that made nurses successful over the years are true for the current and future generations. Caring for others, an ability for critical thinking and good judgment, collaborating, teamwork, advocating, and being a leader will always be important values for successful nurses. “On those tough days when you are faced with a challenge in your studies or other situations, remember what attracted you to nursing in the first place and why you were interested in the profession,” she said. “The challenges of today prepare you for that lifelong career in nursing.”