Celebrating Trailblazers: Breaking Boundaries and Building Bridges

March 5, 2024
Medical professionals writing something

From being the first to graduate with a PhD in Nursing from an HBCU to serving as an empowering mentor, faculty member Dr. Phyllis Morgan shares what inspired her pioneering journey in nursing education.

In the fabric of Black history, Dr. Phyllis Morgan, a nurse educator in Walden University’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program (Family Nurse Practitioner specialty), stands out as a thread that continues to weave resilience, innovation, and commitment into nursing education.  

As the first to earn a PhD in Nursing from any historically Black college and university (HBCU), according to her doctoral alma mater Hampton University, her story is not just one of personal achievement but of paving the way for future generations in the profession. 

A Path Less Traveled

Dr. Morgan embarked on her educational journey with a clear vision. The first choice she made, to attend Florida State University, a majority white institution, for her undergraduate degree, set her on a groundbreaking path. This decision was an intentional one for Dr. Morgan, as she was fueled early on by a desire to promote diversity and change. 

a headshot of Phyllis Morgan
There were about four Black students in my undergraduate nursing class at this time. You not only saw a noticeable absence in the student base, but there weren’t many faculty who looked like us either. 

According to a recent study by Yale University, Black students are more likely to abandon their medical studies than their white peers—continued struggles to diversify classrooms and faculty being a leading cause. These findings have rung true for many years as Dr. Morgan recalls the stark transition from FSU to Hampton University.

She emphasizes how the HBCU environment was transformative in vindicating her decision to pursue higher education and ultimately a doctoral degree. “It truly awakened my mind,” she says. “That was my most profound encounter with faculty members who not only looked like me, but also proved to be successful in the community efforts I hoped to lead one day.”

A Pioneering Graduate

When Hampton introduced the PhD in Nursing program after Dr. Morgan graduated with her master’s degree, it presented a unique opportunity for her to expand upon her education. Encouraged by profound words from her professor, Dr. Bertha Lane Davis—“it is better to have than to need and not have”—Dr. Morgan embarked on the doctoral journey, driven by an aspiration to empower future nurses.

“I wanted the option to teach nursing students one day and obtaining a PhD in Nursing would position me toward those opportunities,” says Dr. Morgan.

Her decision to stay at Hampton for her doctoral studies was further supported by the robust Hampton-Penn Initiative partnership with the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, enabling her to take pivotal courses that enriched her doctoral education, much like the one she now teaches at Walden.  

“It was May 2002 that I was officially recognized and hooded as the first PhD in Nursing graduate not only at Hampton University but across all HBCUs globally,” she proudly recounts. “I’m recorded in the history of the university; it still floors me.”  

Dr. Morgan is grateful to the village of faculty members and her dissertation committee who championed her paving the way for future scholars in nursing at HBCUs.

“Dr. Davis, the late Dr. Shirley V. Gore, Dr. Pamela Hammond, Dr. Esther Condon, and Dr. Arlene Montgomery … . To me, they underscore the profound impact of mentorship and institutional support,” Dr. Morgan says. “They ignited the personal resolve I had to achieve a groundbreaking educational milestone.”

Partnerships, Policy, and Advocacy

Though settings have changed, Dr. Morgan remains at the forefront of advocating for representation and inclusivity within nursing and nursing education. A significant part of Dr. Morgan's work involves an objective to create partnerships between Walden University and HBCUs.

“I’m looking at ways to partner and have our students work together with other students from Hampton and other HBCUs,” says Dr. Morgan. “I want to provide students with a more diverse and inclusive learning environment, but I also want to leverage resources to maximize the impact.”  

Additionally, Dr. Morgan is deeply invested in the intersection of nursing, policy, and advocacy, particularly as it relates to improving the experiences and outcomes for Black nurses.

“We need more people of color to be in politics, to engage in their communities, and make legislative decisions that impact our profession,” says Dr. Morgan. “I’ve advocated for this through webinars and panel discussions, and I seek to continue fostering the dialogue on the critical role of policy in advancing diversity within nursing.”

It’s All in the Mentorship

Another cornerstone of Dr. Morgan's efforts is her emphasis on mentorship. By sharing her journey and offering guidance, she has inspired countless students and professionals to pursue their aspirations, regardless of the barriers they may face.

Her influence extends beyond academia, impacting various nursing organizations where she has become instrumental in fostering future leaders in nursing.

Each one, teach one. Each one, reach one. We have to lift others as we climb, that’s my philosophy.

Central to Dr. Morgan’s mentorship ethos is the importance of curiosity and connection. Understanding that progress in one’s career often hinges on the questions asked and the networks formed.

“You cannot afford to be passive in seeking mentorship or understanding pathways to success,” says Dr. Morgan. “It’s all about asking the right questions and making meaningful connections.”  

Dr. Morgan’s journey underscores that mentorship is a two-way street, requiring openness from both mentors and mentees to share experiences, challenges, and insights. By demystifying the path to achievement in nursing, she propels her students to be active participants in their learning and successful changemakers in the field.  

“It’s honestly the people around me who champion what I’ve accomplished the most. They remind me and they introduce me: This is the first PhD Nursing grad from an HBCU in the world!” says Dr. Morgan. “I’ve carved out a place for myself in history and now I just want to lay the groundwork for future leaders.”

For more information, email the Adtalem Global Communications Team: adtalemmedia@adtalem.com.