Karen Morin: Making connections to improve world health

By Susan Gennaro | 11/30/2009

Karin Morin

I first met Karen Morin when we were both in the doctoral program at the University of Alabama in Birmingham in the early 1980s. I, of course, have many memories of Karen as a smart, energetic, talented and committed fellow student. But my most lasting memory really speaks to her innate belief in connecting with and helping others, and being part of the solution.

I had my first child while I was a doctoral student. Karen heard me bemoan my lack of sleep, increased stress, etc., so, as the excellent nurse that she is, she set up a program of health promotion for me. She figured out when we could go to the gym together, and she would sit and entertain my newborn, Daniel, while I swam. My memory of that selfless gift of time has stayed with me—and will always stay with me—because it made all the difference in my transition to motherhood. It is amazing to me that Daniel is now an adult, but perhaps even more amazing, that I am now editor of the
Journal of Nursing Scholarship, and Karen is the new president of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI). What a pleasure to be able to share with you some of what I have come to know about Karen over our years as colleagues and friends!

Karen MorinThe nightly howling of wolves on a crisp winter night, with the moon shining and the snow sparkling, is a background sound that Karen Morin, DSN, RN, remembers clearly from early childhood while growing up in Clova, Quebec, Canada. The beauty of those unique voices in a rural, relatively isolated environment in northern Quebec, where only about 500 people lived, continues to resonate with her. Indeed, today, she attributes her unique ability to listen and appreciate differences, in part, to what she learned listening to the wolf symphonies of her childhood.

Growing up as the youngest of four children taught Karen many important life lessons, among them the importance of being connected and working to support those connections. She attributes the value she places on connections to growing up in an isolated community, where connections to other people, the environment and, yes, even to those visitors, the wolves, were essential components of a quality life. Indeed, her call to action for the next biennium as STTI president is “Connecting through knowledge of global health.”

Risk-taker
For Karen, another essential component of a quality life is being able to take risks. As the baby in her family, she learned to be a risk-taker and to try to imitate what the older kids were doing. She was blessed with a caring family that was always there to pick her up, even if she didn’t succeed. She says that being the youngest and having the security of knowing that she could try and fail, and still be loved, gave her the courage early on to spread her wings.

Those outspread wings first took Karen to a boarding school for young girls in Toronto, Ontario. Boarding-school life helped her learn the importance of working well with others and understanding systems but, perhaps most importantly, boarding school was where she first really learned that systems thrive only when people who work within them are committed to giving back and improving the system.

Karen has a long history of working in systems and giving back. She was a shop steward for her nursing union at a hospital in Toronto, and her early interest in Sigma Theta Tau International membership was a result of her desire to be part of an organization where she could give back to nursing.

Karen’s wings and her penchant for being a risk-taker next took her from French-speaking Quebec in Canada to English-speaking United States, where she secured employment in Little Rock, Arkansas, as a pediatric nurse. In Arkansas, Karen’s value system was further refined, for it was in Little Rock where she learned the importance of influential teachers. Two of them warrant recognition.

While Karen was a student at the University of Central Arkansas, Anna Lee Saunders, now deceased, mentored her in the role of teaching. Joyce Bains, a visiting faculty member, further influenced the direction of Karen’s career when she convinced her to pursue a doctoral degree. She now says that the commitment of that one caring person helped change the course of her life—that if Bains hadn’t taken the time to guide her, she might never have moved to Alabama and earned her doctorate.

University of Alabama
Influential teachers continued to play a role while Karen was in the doctoral program at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB): Marguerite Kinney, Marie O’Koren and Norma Mobley, along with others, guided her development. Along the way, other mentors have been important to Karen, including Lucie Kelly, past president of STTI; Kathy Mikan, past secretary of STTI; and Nancy Dickenson-Hazard, former CEO of STTI, who helped foster Karen’s desire to positively influence the future of the honor society. These individuals helped her realize the essential role that Sigma Theta Tau International plays in improving global health by supporting global knowledge.

I first had the pleasure of meeting Karen in Alabama, where we both learned to be thinkers, scholars, researchers and teachers. It was also in Alabama where she was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau International as a member of Nu Chapter.

In 2009, Karen was the recipient of the Distinguished Alumna Award from UAB for her many successes as a national and international scholar. But long before 2009, she was an outstanding member of the UAB community. As young doctoral students, Karen and I joyfully celebrated our successes, but Karen also helped us to appreciate our failures.

Benefiting from failure
Karen really values her failures. She believes that, because she has failed in some things she has tried to do, she is much more able to invite people along on the journey. She knows from personal experience that sometimes you get where you are going, but other times, even though you do your best, you have to change your mind about the destination. Although there were times in her career when she was myopic and did not look at the larger global picture, she says, myopia is sometimes necessary to help you see the small details, so you can go back and gain the wider view. Also, some failures helped her learn a lot more and ultimately succeed, whereas the benefits of immediate success may have been more short-term.      

For example, Karen finds it amazing that she is going to be president of a nursing honor society when she had to repeat a year of her undergraduate studies. It’s important to note, however, that the reason for that failure was her commitment to change the women’s residence structure at the university. Although the effort took a toll on her studies, Karen views success in the campaign, which affected many people, as much more important than the year of academic success she forfeited in the process. That success would have been immediately important only to her and her family. She learned that, even when the road is bumpy, having a clear vision still gets you where you want to go.

Karen stresses that it is really important to be persistent, particularly when you believe you have something to contribute—because, in the long run, with clear vision, hard work and luck, one does get to use one’s talents for the good of the whole. She ran several times for STTI leadership positions before she was successful. Despite those momentary setbacks, she can now look at the broad picture and think about how she can help bring others along with her in making a difference—by contributing to a larger good and a global vision.        

Growing up as the youngest of four children taught Karen many important life lessons, among them the importance of being connected and working to support those connections.

Many of Karen’s students have told her that they appreciate how well she understands the struggle inherent in changing oneself and dedicating oneself to the larger good through education. Her abilities as an educator have resulted in a number of awards, including a 2003 Excellence in Teaching award from the National League for Nursing; a 1999 Excellence in Education award from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses; and a 1993 Excellence in Teaching award from the Pennsylvania Nurses Association.

Just this past September, in recognition of her contributions to nursing education, Karen was inducted into the National League for Nursing’s Academy of Nurse Educators. Clearly, on both local and national levels, what her students have always said has been validated: Karen is an excellent teacher committed to helping her students appreciate the unique contributions they individually and collectively can make to improve the health of the world’s citizens.          

Global citizen
Karen is a global citizen. She claims both Canada and the United States as her home and is also a member of seven different chapters of Sigma Theta Tau International and STTI’s Virtual Honor Society. Currently, she is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she is a member of the honor society’s Eta Nu Chapter.         

Karen definitely has a wider view and brings that global vision to her presidency of Sigma Theta Tau International. She is excited about the ways we can become more global in our business. She believes that her leadership style helps her work with people to mobilize the vision, invite them on the journey and inspire others to feel safe in trying new ways of thinking and doing things.         

Karen is passionate about creating a welcoming environment. The members of the Honor Society of Nursing, she says, are its greatest resource. She feels strongly that her abilities to help people be reflective, rather than judgmental; to examine new opportunities, rather than fear risk-taking; to have a broader perspective and appreciate multiple norms, rather than rely on conventional wisdom, are essential leadership characteristics for the 21st century. Being responsive to the talent of the organization’s members and creating welcoming environments and different ways of doing business to meet our shared goals, based on Vision 2020, will help STTI grow in ways that are truly important to the health of the world.           

Not surprisingly, Karen has been involved in efforts to improve global health on many levels. Personally, she has been a dedicated runner and exercise enthusiast for many years. Anyone who knows her is aware of her lifelong commitment and discipline in promoting healthy habits. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that she was willing to provide care for my son many years ago, which allowed me to exercise. Few people are willing to make such a dedicated commitment to the health of people around them and to their community.

Karen’s commitment to improving health for postpartum women is reflected in her research on the perinatal health status of women, particularly in relation to nutrition and exercise. On a community level, she has twice won statewide recognition—as a nominee for Delaware Nurse of the Year and as recipient of the Alabama State Nurse of the Year award.        

Karen’s enthusiasm for promoting health isn’t limited to her fellow human beings. She and her husband, a veterinarian, share a passion for the health of all the earth’s creatures. Stories of her picking up strays and making them important members of the family are legendary and, indeed, no one who knows her well would ever be surprised to hear a touching story of how another of God’s creatures made his or her way into the hearts of Karen and her family.       

Karen has come a long way from her early days as a youngster, listening to the wolves in northern Quebec, Canada; from her boarding school days, when she learned the importance of community; from her days as a student nurse and activist in Canada; and from her time as a labor and delivery nurse in southeastern United States. But, from another perspective, Karen hasn’t strayed very far at all from her roots. She is as committed to the common good, as flexible, as persevering, as risk-taking and as much a believer as she has ever been. She begins her presidency of Sigma Theta Tau International with the firm conviction that together, we can make a difference, and that, together, we will make the world a healthier place.

You know what? I believe her, because I have had the privilege I hope many of you will share with me over the next two years—the privilege of joining the journey with Karen Morin as she leads us to “Connecting through knowledge for global health.” 

Susan Gennaro, RN, DSN, FAAN, is dean and professor, William F. Connell School of Nursing, Boston College, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Gennaro is also editor of the Journal of Nursing Scholarship, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.


 
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