Journal of Gerontological Nursing

Spotlight 

May Futrell, PhD, FAAN, FGSA: Gerontological Nursing and Gerontology Leader and Mentor

Karen Devereaux Melillo, PhD, APRN, BC, FAANP

Abstract

Dr. Melillo is Professor and Chair, Department of Nursing, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts.

Address correspondence to Karen Devereaux Melillo, PhD, APRN, BC, FAANP, Professor and Chair, Department of Nursing, University of Massachusetts Lowell, 3 Solomont Way, Suite 2, Lowell, MA 01854-5126; e-mail: Karen_Melillo@uml.edu.

Growing up in the town of Waterbury, Vermont, May Futrell graduated high school in 1953 and attended the Mary Fletcher Hospital nursing program in Burlington, Vermont. Her decision to choose nursing as a career occurred while she was a sophomore in high school and had undergone a tonsillectomy. When she awoke from the anesthesia, the nurse caring for her made such an impact that May decided right then and there that she, too, wanted to be a nurse (Blewitt, 1987).

While in the nursing program at Mary Fletcher Hospital, May was exposed to nursing care of patients with communicable diseases in New York, pediatric affiliations in Pennsylvania, and care of individuals with mental illness in Connecticut. During this time, and following completion of the program, May knew that she would need a baccalaureate degree to become a nursing faculty member. After working 2 years in the operating room at Kerbs Memorial Hospital in St. Albans, Vermont, May received a scholarship to attend Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City and complete her bachelor’s degree. This was followed immediately thereafter in 1961 with a master’s degree from Columbia University with a major in nursing, specifically, in curriculum and teaching of medical-surgical nursing in baccalaureate schools of nursing. Also during that period, May worked at Flower and Fifth Avenue Hospital (name later changed to New York Medical College) as an operating room nurse on open heart surgery cases. This cemented in her mind her desire to be involved in cutting-edge health care, technology, and learning (Blewitt, 1987).

With her master’s degree in hand, May sought a teaching position in academia. After interviewing at Boston University (BU), University of Arizona at Tucson, and University of Michigan, May chose a position as an instructor at BU. May noted that the degree from Columbia and her background in curriculum and teaching methodology has been instrumental in the work she has done throughout her career in the area of developing new programs and assisting other schools initiate new programs. By 1968, May had achieved associate professor rank with tenure at BU, even though she had not completed a doctorate. While at BU, May completed courses in health education at the College of Education, courses at the College of Liberal Arts, and 6 credits offered to teachers in basic nursing collegiate programs, in an attempt to decide what specialty and degree (PhD, EdD, DNSc) was needed for nurse educators (Blewitt, 1999).

In 1963, May moved from Boston to Haverhill, Massachusetts—a sister city of Lowell, Massachusetts—and quickly became actively involved in community service, including being named to the human relations committee for the city of Haverhill and appointed as a board of trustees member for the Hale Hospital, Union Mission Nursing Home, Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, and the Haverhill Visiting Nurses Association. May’s expertise with curriculum and medical-surgical nursing became well known in the area. The then president of Lowell State College, Daniel O’Leary, offered May a faculty position in the Lowell State College nursing program. In September 1970, May started her career at Lowell (Blewitt, 1999).

One year after arriving at Lowell State College, May, who had started her doctorate in education at BU but believed the content duplicated what she had obtained at Columbia, sought a program that would expand her education in gerontology or aging, knowing the specialty was…

Dr. Melillo is Professor and Chair, Department of Nursing, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts.

Address correspondence to Karen Devereaux Melillo, PhD, APRN, BC, FAANP, Professor and Chair, Department of Nursing, University of Massachusetts Lowell, 3 Solomont Way, Suite 2, Lowell, MA 01854-5126; e-mail: Karen_Melillo@uml.edu.

Growing up in the town of Waterbury, Vermont, May Futrell graduated high school in 1953 and attended the Mary Fletcher Hospital nursing program in Burlington, Vermont. Her decision to choose nursing as a career occurred while she was a sophomore in high school and had undergone a tonsillectomy. When she awoke from the anesthesia, the nurse caring for her made such an impact that May decided right then and there that she, too, wanted to be a nurse (Blewitt, 1987).

While in the nursing program at Mary Fletcher Hospital, May was exposed to nursing care of patients with communicable diseases in New York, pediatric affiliations in Pennsylvania, and care of individuals with mental illness in Connecticut. During this time, and following completion of the program, May knew that she would need a baccalaureate degree to become a nursing faculty member. After working 2 years in the operating room at Kerbs Memorial Hospital in St. Albans, Vermont, May received a scholarship to attend Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City and complete her bachelor’s degree. This was followed immediately thereafter in 1961 with a master’s degree from Columbia University with a major in nursing, specifically, in curriculum and teaching of medical-surgical nursing in baccalaureate schools of nursing. Also during that period, May worked at Flower and Fifth Avenue Hospital (name later changed to New York Medical College) as an operating room nurse on open heart surgery cases. This cemented in her mind her desire to be involved in cutting-edge health care, technology, and learning (Blewitt, 1987).

The Beginning of Academic Life

With her master’s degree in hand, May sought a teaching position in academia. After interviewing at Boston University (BU), University of Arizona at Tucson, and University of Michigan, May chose a position as an instructor at BU. May noted that the degree from Columbia and her background in curriculum and teaching methodology has been instrumental in the work she has done throughout her career in the area of developing new programs and assisting other schools initiate new programs. By 1968, May had achieved associate professor rank with tenure at BU, even though she had not completed a doctorate. While at BU, May completed courses in health education at the College of Education, courses at the College of Liberal Arts, and 6 credits offered to teachers in basic nursing collegiate programs, in an attempt to decide what specialty and degree (PhD, EdD, DNSc) was needed for nurse educators (Blewitt, 1999).

In 1963, May moved from Boston to Haverhill, Massachusetts—a sister city of Lowell, Massachusetts—and quickly became actively involved in community service, including being named to the human relations committee for the city of Haverhill and appointed as a board of trustees member for the Hale Hospital, Union Mission Nursing Home, Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, and the Haverhill Visiting Nurses Association. May’s expertise with curriculum and medical-surgical nursing became well known in the area. The then president of Lowell State College, Daniel O’Leary, offered May a faculty position in the Lowell State College nursing program. In September 1970, May started her career at Lowell (Blewitt, 1999).

Influences Leading to Gerontological Nursing and Gerontology

One year after arriving at Lowell State College, May, who had started her doctorate in education at BU but believed the content duplicated what she had obtained at Columbia, sought a program that would expand her education in gerontology or aging, knowing the specialty was going to become important. She had learned that Brandeis University’s School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare had received a large federal grant to educate professionals in the field of gerontology. This was a pivotal choice for May, and ultimately for the University of Massachusetts Lowell, as May was one of only three nurses in the program at the time who would later share her gerontological expertise with the nursing students of the future (Blewitt, 1999).

She received a full Administration on Aging fellowship to complete the program. In 1975, she also received a certificate in gerontological nursing from the University of Southern California. The government support for both her nursing and gerontology/social policy education has been so appreciated by May that she feels a responsibility to carry on the pledge to educate others who will make changes in society—a role she has emphasized throughout her career.

Pioneering the Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Specialty Role

In 1976, May, now Dr. Futrell, earned her PhD from Brandeis University. Her dissertation research examined the attitudes of professionals (physicians, nurses, and social workers) toward the health care of older adults. It was a direct result of this doctoral research that Dr. Futrell was determined to come up with a plan to educate gerontological nurse practitioners (GNPs). Her perseverance paid off. In 1975, the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Division of Nursing, funded the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML) for the first GNP role preparation program at the master’s degree level in the United States (Futrell & Melillo, 2005). In 1998, U.S. News and World Report named UML’s gerontological nursing program among the top 15 in the country.

Leadership, Consultation, and Mentorship

Dr. Futrell has held numerous international, national, and university leadership positions and received countless awards, including: Visiting Scholar and Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Edinburgh, Scotland (1987), Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing (since 1980), and Chair (1995–1998) and panel member (1991–2007) of the Expert Panel on Aging. Dr. Futrell is a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America (since 1997) and is the recipient of the 2007 Mildred M. Seltzer Distinguished Service Recognition Award from the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education. She has been an Editorial Advisory Board member (now Emeriti Board) of the Journal of Gerontological Nursing since 1980. She has been appointed to the Alumni Association Board of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University (2007–2010), received the State Award for Excellence from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (1995), was designated UML’s University Scholar (1988), received the UML Francis Cabot Lowell Faculty Award for Distinguished Service (2004), served as President of the Eta Omega Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International (1990–1992), and became Professor Emerita upon retirement. At UML, Dr. Futrell served as Chair for the Department of Nursing for 23 years prior to her retirement in 2005, as well as Graduate Coordinator and Director of Professional Nurse Traineeships.

Dr. Futrell has been a consultant in curriculum and program development for countless nursing programs. Among the prestigious colleges and universities Dr. Futrell has influenced through her consultation are: University of Massachusetts Worcester; Florida Atlantic University; State University of New York; University of North Carolina, Greensboro; University of Massachusetts Boston; Vanderbilt University; University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; College of New Rochelle; Hunter College; and Mount Saint Mary’s College.

Research, Scholarship, and Teaching

Dr. Futrell’s research has combined quantitative and qualitative methods and has received external and internal funding from a variety of sources. Her postdoctoral research was a phenomenological study of the lived experience of the oldest-old in Scotland. She has been principal investigator (PI) on numerous research studies, including an evidence-based protocol on wandering and the development of a tool to assess attitudes and perceptions of Hispanic individuals toward Hispanic older women who are chemically dependent. She also served as a consultant for a National Institutes of Heath/National Institute on Aging Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer Program for a low-cost patient locator system for geriatric wandering. Dr. Futrell has been co-PI on various studies, including ones researching the epidemiology of alcohol and fat in breast cancer in human beings, field testing a self-assessment instrument to measure physical fitness and exercise activity levels of older adults, and measuring caregiving responsibilities for elderly individuals rendered by university employees. She was the PI for a curriculum plan for the doctoral program in nursing, which was established in 1996 at the College of Health Professions at UML, and was also PI on a proposal to establish the Nursing Archives at UML. Dr. Futrell was also co-investigator on a study of the effects of retirement on psychological and physical health. Each of these studies has enhanced the knowledge base underlying gerontological nursing.

With more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and two textbooks, including the publication of the first GNP textbook, Primary Health Care of the Older Adult (Futrell, Brovender, McKinnon-Mullet, & Brower, 1980), Dr. Futrell has contributed her enormous talents to the field of gerontological nursing and gerontology. Her interest in global health and international nursing has been reflected in her co-leading of a Russian-American nursing tour to Moscow, Novgorod, and St. Petersburg in 1997 and again in 1999. In 1983, she co-led a Soviet-American geriatric nursing study tour of the U.S.S.R., and in 1984, a Spanish-American medical-surgical nursing study tour to Spain.

Her teaching excellence has benefited hundreds of GNP graduates at UML. Dr. Futrell’s ability to mentor the gerontological leaders of the future was emphasized in Ebersole and Touhy’s (2006) Geriatric Nursing: Growth of a Specialty: Of the 14 geriatric nurse leaders of today identified by the authors, five were former GNP students of Dr. Futrell’s—Kathleen Fletcher, Susan Crocker Houde, Diane Feeney Mahoney, Marianne Laporte Matzo, and Karen Devereaux Melillo.

The Future for Gerontological Nursing and Gerontological Nurse Practitioners

Dr. Futrell has long professed that gerontology, geriatrics, and international health are the future and that nurse practitioners are important to this future (Blewitt, 1987). She advocates that gerontology be incorporated into the educational preparation of nurses at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels. She fully supports what Mezey and Fulmer (2002) identified as the need for all practicing nurses to be “gerontologicalized” and that graduate programs be encouraged to include geriatric content and best practices in all specialties: “A second credential, in addition to their existing specialization, may be needed to prepare individuals to care for older clients” (Futrell & Melillo, 2005, p. 20). An American Association of Colleges of Nursing task force initiative is currently underway to determine whether the GNP role is a population-focused versus specialization role. Dr. Futrell would argue that advanced practice nurse preparation should be focusing on the person rather than the place, and that professionals in all specialties that involve care of older clients need to be educationally prepared to meet the health care needs of this population today and in the future.

Dr. Futrell has paved the way for advanced practice nurse preparation in gerontological nursing. She has influenced hundreds of graduates in the master’s degree nursing program at UML and has been instrumental in bringing gerontology to undergraduate education at UML with the inception of a general education core course, Introduction to Gerontology, since the mid-1970s. She has been an inspirational leader and pioneer in the fields of gerontology and gerontological nursing. She actively uses her social policy and gerontology background in her numerous professional and community service contributions.

References

  • Blewitt, M1987. Interview with May Futrell: Oral history. Lowell: Mogan Historical Center, University of Massachusetts Lowell.
  • Blewitt, M1999. To enrich and to serve: One hundred year history of University of Massachusetts Lowell. Lowell: University of Massachusetts Lowell.
  • Ebersole, P & Touhy, TA2006. Geriatric nursing: Growth of a specialty. New York: Springer.
  • Futrell, M, Brovender, S, McKinnon-Mullet, E & Brower, HT1980. Primary health care of the older adult. North Scituate, MA: Duxbury Press.
  • Futrell, M & Melillo, KD2005. Gerontological nurse practitioners: Implications for the future. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 314, 19–24.
  • Mezey, M & Fulmer, T2002. The future history of gerontological nursing. Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 57, M438–M441.

Editor’s Note.This month, the Journal of Gerontological Nursingis delighted to feature the life and career of another amazing gerontological nurse leader, Dr. May Futrell. Dr. Futrell is an internationally renowned scholar and educator and a pioneer in the development of the gerontological nurse practitioner program. She has made valuable and sustained contributions to gerontological nursing and is a role model for us all. We are pleased to turn the JGN spotlight on this cutting-edge gerontological nurse, whom I am honored to call a friend and colleague.

~ Kathleen C. Buckwalter, PhD, RN, FAAN

Editor

Photo Credit: Pauline Beaulieu

Karen Devereaux Melillo, PhD, APRN, BC, FAANP (left) and May Futrell, PhD, FAAN, FGSA

Authors

Dr. Melillo is Professor and Chair, Department of Nursing, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts.

Address correspondence to Karen Devereaux Melillo, PhD, APRN, BC, FAANP, Professor and Chair, Department of Nursing, University of Massachusetts Lowell, 3 Solomont Way, Suite 2, Lowell, MA 01854-5126; e-mail: .Karen_Melillo@uml.edu

10.3928/00989134-20080501-08

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