Marian University ranks among the best nursing schools in Wisconsin. One key to that success is the leadership of Dr. Kimberly Udlis, a tireless advocate for nursing. She exemplifies a commitment to providing the best education possible to the profession’s next generation.

Udlis (PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP) serves as Associate Dean and Chief Nurse Administrator for the Marian University Nursing Department. While the position fits her perfectly, Udlis wasn’t in the market for a position in academia, where she had worked for 17 years. But good fortune and great friends brought her to the job.

“Honestly, I was looking to transition back into full-time practice and reduce my time in academia,” Udlis said in a recent interview. “A few friends of mine encouraged me to apply to Marian. They knew my background was strong in academic leadership, program development and revision, and wanted to see the nursing program at Marian thrive.”

One campus visit convinced Udlis that Marian offered the perfect fit. After meeting with nursing faculty and staff, she immediately wanted to become part of a Marian University nursing team. The dedication to the profession and sense of caring for students was readily apparent to Udlis.

“Also,” she added, “Fond du Lac is our home, and being part of this community and serving this community is important to me. So, it’s such a win-win for me!”

Experience in the Field

Before coming to Marian University nursing, Udlis served as Graduate Program Director at Bellin College and Assistant Director of Advanced Practice Nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. But she hasn’t spent her career entirely in academia.

Like other leaders and faculty members at Marian University, Udlis continues to work in the field. She is an electrophysiology nurse practitioner in the cardiology department at Agnesian HealthCare, a member of SSM Health in Fond du Lac.

Udlis “brings that rare combination of being gifted as a clinician and an educator,” says Dr. Katie Hughes, the Undergraduate Nursing Program Director at Marian University. “It’s a joy working for someone with that skill set. She’s also determined to elevate Marian’s program into one of the best nursing schools in Wisconsin. She’s incredibly focused on providing nurses the best education and training possible.”

That focus shows in the school’s achievements under the guidance of Udlis. They include an updated nursing school curriculum, improved NCLEX-RN scores among nursing school graduates (the school’s 96% pass rate ranks among the best in the state), and increased investment in technology improvements. Also, the Family Nurse Practitioner national exam pass rate averages 94%.

Motivation Started At Home

Udlis, a native of Canada, attributes her interest in nursing to her mother. “I can’t remember a time in my life when my mother didn’t tell everyone that her daughter was going to be a nurse,” Udlis said. “She had always wanted to be a nurse but was not able to pursue this dream.

“I suppose you can say it was embedded in my DNA from a very young age.  I’ve always loved science and math and found that the synergistic relationship between science and caring for human beings to be the perfect match.”

But like many successful people, Udlis quickly points to the help of others in achieving her career goals. The mentors guiding her throughout her career are an “incredible great fortune,” she says.

“I’ve leaned on these people over the years for guidance and advice and have learned from their vast experience in academia, leadership, and more,” said Udlis.

Professional Networking, Collaboration, and Leadership

Udlis also stays involved in professional associations. She is a Fellow of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Leadership in Academic Nursing Programs, and has served on many AACN task forces. She’s also active with the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF). Her work with the organization includes contributions to foundational documents advocating for DNP NP education, curricular models, and NP full practice authority. Her extensive national work in the areas of nursing education and policy lead to her becoming a Fellow of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. The achievement reflects her dedication to nurses and nursing. Of the approximately 290,000 nurse practitioners in the US, only 900 are currently Fellows of AANP. It is the “pride and joy” of her career, Udlis says.

Udlis said her immersion in regional and national associations helps her develop as a nurse practitioner and nurse educator. Participating in these associations allows her to work and eventually lead groups of diverse people. It is a learning experience, letting her see things from differing perspectives and bring people together.

“My work with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties and our Wisconsin Nursing Association has definitely made me who I am today,” Udlis said. “I truly believe that the world is run by the people who show up – so I kept showing up, and it’s made all the difference!”

The Team at Marian University

Udlis speaks in glowing terms about the Marian University Nursing Department team, which she credits for the department’s success. She said three traits of the Marian team have made the difference: trust, vision, and grit. Her comments on these three traits included the following.

  • Trust. “Without trust, you don’t have a team. Trust comes with transparency, consistency, and caring, and is reinforced with positive outcomes.”
  • Vision. “You need to have a cohesive vision that everyone believes in and will contribute to. I have a saying that I share with my team, “We don’t all have to be on the same page, but we do all need to be in the same book.’ Working on this takes time and consensus-building, but the results are very rewarding.”
  • Grit. “A successful team just has grit.  And I can honestly say that I’ve never worked with a team before with more grit than our Nursing team.”

She added: “Trust, vision and grit – the secret to our success – but don’t tell anyone!”