Why I Give: Nancy Dianis ’85N (MS)

Why I Give: Nancy Dianis ’85N (MS)

Donor took a non-traditional nursing career path, focuses on improving lives wherever she can

Profile picture of Nancy Dianis as she wears a blue blazer with a pink sweater and a pearl necklace

Nancy Dianis ’85N (MS), vice president and practice director for clinical trials at Westat, and interim co-chair of the School of Nursing’s National Council

As a child, Nancy Dianis ’85N (MS) was a natural caregiver. She’d often bring home stray animals and lovingly take care of them. When she was a teenager, she signed up as a candy striper at a local hospital in a northwest suburb of Chicago, where she grew up. She also loved science, so the decision to become a nurse was an easy one.

After earning her master’s degree from the University of Rochester’s School of Nursing (SON) nearly 40 years ago, Dianis worked in a variety of nursing positions. A few years into her nursing career, people started to notice her leadership and management skills. At 26 years old, Dianis became a nurse manager at a hospital in Aurora, Colorado. “Patients and their families would ask, ‘who’s in charge’ and they’d be sent to me, often with a look of surprise,” says Dianis. “They weren’t expecting someone so young to be in that position.”

In 1988, Dianis’ husband took a job in the Washington, D.C. area. Over the next few years, she served as the nursing supervisor at Church Hospital in Baltimore, a nursing service chief at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the director of medical nursing at Johns Hopkins Bayview.

While at the NIH, Dianis delved into clinical research—she loved it and wanted to incorporate more of it into her career. In 2001, she joined Westat, a renowned company is focused on improving lives through research. For the last five years, Dianis has served as its vice president and practice director for clinical trials.

Recently, Dianis made a gift to support SON scholarships. Here, she elaborates on her career, her time at SON, and the reasons why she gives to the school.

You’ve taken a non-traditional path for a nurse. What have you enjoyed most about your career?

I really enjoy studying pathophysiology of disease and the sociology and psychology of health and wellness through clinical research. And, although I’m not working directly with patients, our research participants are often just one or two degrees away.

I also very much enjoy working with the experienced professionals around me. They are on the cutting edge of science and therapeutics that have the potential to improve patient health outcomes. My team’s job is to support the research process and to advocate for patients, which helps ensure their safety and confidentiality.

Our work is quite comprehensive, too. We have expertise supporting clinical research related to tuberculosis, HIV, cardiovascular disease, and COVID-19 both domestically and internationally. We facilitate research on effective treatments for these diseases and conditions, and we work with government agencies, commercial and pharmaceutical companies, and foundations.

How did SON prepare you for your career?

I experienced—and very much appreciate—the triad of education, research, and practice at SON. I had the opportunity to work in outpatient clinics and private practices as a student. I learned from such supportive and encouraging physician and nursing faculty, too. Dean Ford was there, and she exemplified nursing excellence. She showed me, and every one of us, that nothing was off the table, that everything was possible. It was an exciting time to be there.

You’ve maintained your nursing license. Why?

Although my current position is a non-traditional one, it is still a form of nursing. Our team is made up of dedicated researchers with a variety of backgrounds, including physicians, epidemiologists, statisticians, and others. They respect the role of nurses, our expertise, and our professional credentials. Maintaining licensure shows my commitment to the nursing practice.

Why did you make a gift to support scholarships?

SON  launched me into my career, for which I am quite appreciative. This is why I give and it’s why I also serve as the interim cochair of SON’s National Council. I have also been involved in University’s Network Leadership Council in the D.C. area, too.

I knew I wanted to give back to the school that gave me so much. I reached out to Dean Kathy Rideout and asked her what areas needed the most support. I chose to support scholarships to ease the financial burden for students. I know what that burden is like. When I was a graduate student, I received some tuition benefits, but I still needed to work full time to make ends meet. Then,  when my clinical requirements came up, I had to reduce my hours. Financially, this was a very challenging time. I’m confident that SON can attract more qualified and deserving students—regardless of their financial background—with more scholarships. I’m glad I can help.

How can others make a difference?

I challenge alumni to think about their career and what it has afforded them. Is there even a small way to honor that value by giving back to the school that gave them their career? I encourage people to get involved in whatever way they can. Make a gift, of any size. Volunteer, attend an event, talk to prospective students, offer an internship or summer experience. You can make a difference in the life of a future nurse and, collectively, we can do even more.

Support our nurses

To learn how you can support the School of Nursing, contact Andrea Allen, director of Advancement and Alumni Relations for SON.

— Kristine Kappel Thompson, January 2022