JOHNSON CITY (October 29, 2013) – She has become one of the most significant leaders in the history of East Tennessee State University, but Dr. Wilsie Bishop began her career at ETSU in the most unassuming of ways.
Bishop started at ETSU with a cold call that resulted in a faculty position that was supposed to be only temporary.
More than 30 years later, Bishop is now vice president for Health Affairs and university chief operating officer. She recalled the beginning of her ETSU career just a few days prior to being inducted into the Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame; she was inducted into the hall during an Oct. 28 ceremony in Nashville that was attended by over 450 individuals, including her family, friends, current and former students and leaders from the university.
“We had just moved to the Tri-Cities; I had never been on campus and didn’t actually know that much about ETSU,” Bishop said in recalling that initial visit. She found her way to the chair’s office of what was then the Department of Nursing. “I just asked Mickey Badgett, who was chair, ‘Do you need any faculty?’”
Badgett posed a question in return: “Can you teach maternity nursing?”
That was 1978. And Bishop’s career at ETSU, though temporary at first, picked up speed and permanence in a hurry. She became interim chair of the department just two years after arriving on campus, associate vice president for Health Affairs in 1989 and dean of the College of Public and Allied Health in 1994. In 2005, Dr. Paul E. Stanton Jr. appointed her vice president of administration and university chief operating officer, making her the first woman vice president at ETSU.
In 2007, Bishop was appointed vice president for Health Affairs while maintaining her role as COO. Under her watch, ETSU increased the visibility of its Academic Health Sciences Center (AHSC), and today Bishop is one of only two nurses in the nation who leads an AHSC.
“I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful support and mentorship from people like Paul Stanton and Ron Beller, as well as countless others,” said Bishop, referring to ETSU’s sixth president in Beller. “It’s an honor to become a member of the Women’s Hall of Fame, and as much as I appreciate the personal recognition, I regard this more as an acknowledgement of our university’s accomplishments, especially in the health sciences.”
A native of Appomattox, Va., Bishop earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Virginia Commonwealth University, and she received a master’s degree in education and a doctoral degree in public administration from the University of Southern California.
Bishop began her nursing career at the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) in general patient care, and her penchant for excellence and leadership was quickly noticed. A cardiac surgeon at MCV pulled her aside and asked if she would like to work in the cardiac surgery unit. That physician was Dr. Richard Lower, a noted transplant surgeon who provided instruction to Dr. Christiaan Barnard in Richmond, Va., before Barnard performed the world’s first successful heart transplant in 1967.
“That request by Dr. Lower to work in the cardiac unit was significant for me,” Bishop said. “It boosted my confidence, so when we moved to Kentucky, I taught operating room nursing at Western Kentucky University. It was my first teaching job.”
One of her first students at Western Kentucky, Marilyn Dubree, now serves as the executive chief nursing officer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and was present at the Hall of Fame luncheon to honor Bishop.
With that first teaching job, higher education became Bishop’s career arc. Her husband, Paul, worked at the time in health care administration. When he accepted a job as an assistant administrator of Holston Valley Medical Center, they moved to Kingsport and Bishop trained her sights on teaching at ETSU, setting in motion a confluence of events that has led to a remarkable career.
“That first teaching job came about because Nancy Alley happened to be on maternity leave,” Bishop said, referencing a longtime ETSU College of Nursing faculty member. “Mickey needed the help, and I happened to show up at the right time.”
Along with the support she has received from colleagues at ETSU, Bishop said support from her family was essential, especially as she earned the doctoral degree that made her rise in administration possible. She used to travel to Washington, D.C., for days at a time when she was pursuing her doctorate, and her son, Joe, and Paul – who is now a professional photographer – traveled with her.
“Paul and Joe would both go with me to D.C., so Joe got to know the Smithsonian like the back of his hand,” Bishop said. “The support they gave me propelled my career forward, but we never forgot the importance of family. We even went so far as to establish a family doctrine that said, ‘Family first, career second.’”
In addition to the leadership roles Bishop has held at ETSU, she has been an active site accreditation visitor for the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and has been honored by SACS for her many years of “distinguished leadership, commitment and dedication.”
“As much as we’ve accomplished at ETSU, we have enormous potential and dynamic leadership in Dr. Brian Noland, so we can grow our university even more,” said Bishop, referencing ETSU’s ninth president. “Our Academic Health Sciences Center is on the leading edge of interprofessional education, practice and research, and interprofessional practice is the future of health care. It is an exciting time to be part of the momentum at ETSU.”
The Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame, established in 2010, is sponsored by the Tennessee Economic Council on Women. In literature that describes the 2013 inductees, the council said it is celebrating “six incredible women who have changed our state.”
This year’s inductees included Margaret Behm, an attorney who founded the first all-woman law firm in Nashville; Inez Crutchfield, the first black woman to become a member of the Democratic Women’s Club of Davidson County and who went on to serve 40 years on the Democratic Party’s Executive Committee at the national level; Dr. Shirley Raines, who served as president of the University of Memphis; Becca Stevens, who founded Magdalene House, a Nashville sanctuary for women who formerly lived on the streets; and Jocelyn Dan Wurzburg, a noted social and civil rights activist who has also been active in efforts to reduce domestic violence and teen pregnancy.
Previous Hall of Fame inductees include Martha Craig Daughtrey, the first woman judge to sit on both the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals and the Tennessee Supreme Court; Jane Eskind, the first woman to win a statewide election in Tennessee; and Pat Head Summitt, coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team for nearly four decades. To learn more about the Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame, visit www.tennesseewomen.org.