Kathleen Shannon Dorcy has a long and storied career in the nursing field. The UW Tacoma senior lecturer is about to add another accomplishment to her list. Dorcy has been selected as an American Academy of Nursing [AAN] Fellow and will be formally inducted during the Academy’s annual policy conference in October. “I’m very grateful” said Shannon Dorcy. “In a way this is an honor for Tacoma and the nursing program that gave me an opportunity.”
One could say that Shannon Dorcy has been at UW Tacoma since before the beginning. She worked on a project at UW Seattle called Project 2000 while in graduate school. The program brought nursing classes to Tacoma Community College. Dorcy completed her master’s in 1991. Not long after, she received a phone call from Sharon Fought, director of the just-established nursing program at UW Tacoma. “She asked if I wanted to join her,” said Shannon Dorcy. “I’ve been here ever since.”
In her 26 years on campus, Shannon Dorcy has taught a little bit of everything from ethics to community health. Regardless of what she teaches, her philosophy is the same. “My goal in the classroom is to inspire people to think and to push parts of their brain that haven’t been pushed, to take on new concepts, to challenge things, to step into opportunities,” she said.
Shannon Dorcy brings a lifetime of experience to her classes. Besides teaching at UW Tacoma, Shannon Dorcy also works as a staff scientist for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She is also the Director, Clinical Nursing Research, Education and Practice at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Long before the accolades and titles, Shannon Dorcy was a sick seven-year-old girl alone in a hospital. “I had a pretty severe illness,” she said. Dorcy stayed in a Catholic hospital but her parents had to go home at night to take care of the other children. “One nurse sat with me,” she said. “I was young and had a hard time remembering her name and she asked what I was thinking about and I said cookies and she said ‘well, call me Sister Cookie.’”
Shannon Dorcy credits “Sister Cookie” with inspiring her to become a nurse. “To be present to suffering in a way that might make it easier, even if that meant sitting with a little girl in the middle of the night who couldn’t eat and who couldn’t get out of bed, spoke to me,” said Shannon Dorcy.
Interestingly, Shannon Dorcy’s life almost went another path. She spent four years studying to be a nun in the Dominican Sisters. She left to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing but planned to return upon completion. “I ended up falling in love with my husband, he was a Jesuit priest,” said Shannon Dorcy. “He left the priesthood and we got married and we are blessed to have two children Alex and Jennie.
Shannon Dorcy may not be a nun but she is still close to the Dominican Sisters. “After my family celebrated the announcement of the FAAN selection at Sunday dinner, the nuns were some of the first people to congratulate me,” she said.
Shannon Dorcy started her nursing career in orthopedics. At one point in her career she worked with members of the Seattle Seahawks as they recovered from surgery. She moved into pediatrics before switching to oncology. “I became quite fond of oncology patients,” said Shannon Dorcy. “It was serendipity; it was not intent.”
Outside of teaching, the last three decades of Shannon Dorcy’s career have been devoted to working with cancer in one form or another. She didn’t start out wanting to work in oncology but her view changed over time. “I think I was intimidated by the intense clinical needs of these patients,” said Shannon Dorcy. “There was also an emotional component but once I understood the difference science and care could make I felt very honored and incredibly fortunate to be working with these patients.”
There are roughly three million registered nurses in the United States. The AAN has approximately 2,400 fellows. It is a testament to Dorcy and her career that she has been invited to join this elite group. The application process is time-consuming and requires two nominations. “It’s a wonderful attribution from people who nominated me,” said Shannon Dorcy. “I’m humbled that they took the time and invested so much energy.”
Shannon Dorcy is excited to get started. The AAN is responsible for developing policy around nursing. “I get to work on building national agendas for how nursing executes the science and clinical practice that makes a difference in patient and health outcomes,” she said.
Social justice is an important issue for Shannon Dorcy, one she plans to get involved with in the AAN. “There are different committees within the organization and the people on these committees are incredibly well-connected,” she said. “I want to work with them on how we can take a stand on what should be the standards for cancer care and on sharing resources internationally with resourced and under-resourced countries.”
Nursing has opened doors for Kathleen Shannon Dorcy. The accolades are great but that’s not why she stays in the field. Shannon Dorcy’s philosophy about nursing remains true to her seven-year-old self. She wants to be there for others, and this latest honor will help her better achieve this goal. “My role as a fellow ties together with my roles as a University of Washington Tacoma faculty member and cancer researcher,” she said. “I get to be in positions of inquiry, in positions of collaboration and connection.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org