nurses week spotlight on uc irvine school of nursing founder ellen lewis at a desk with papers

A Nurses Week spotlight on Ellen Lewis, whose work led to the establishment of what eventually became the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing.

This Nurses Week, we are featuring the nurse leaders who helped build our school. Meet Ellen Lewis.

Ellen Lewis became a nurse to serve others.

In planting the seeds of what eventually became the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing, she certainly did.

Her service to UCI has created hundreds of highly skilled nurses and nurse leaders, many of whom remain in this region to impact the lives of their patients and narrow health equity gaps.

The road to get there demanded someone with grit, something Lewis has in spades.

In 1990, as the assistant vice chancellor in the new UCI Office for the Advancement of Nursing & Allied Health, she had a task: to create the infrastructure for a nursing program and gain the UC Regents’ approval to launch it.

“My vision was to create access to a BSN program in Orange County,” Lewis recalls.

It was a massive feat.

“It took many years to gather data, navigate state, UC and campus politics, ensure financial well-being, and get into alignment with UCI’s strategic vision.”

Fifteen years, to be exact.

In 2005, the regents approved the UCI Program in Nursing Science. Lewis was hired as one of six inaugural clinical faculty. It was the first new nursing program in the UC system in nearly 50 years. The first cohort graduated in 2009.

That same year, Lewis had her sights on graduate nursing programs and proposed a master’s entry program. She worked alongside now-retired Clinical Professor Susan Tiso and Founding Director Ellen Olshansky to create a proposal, which was approved in 2017.

“At that time, no public graduate nursing programs existed in Orange County,” she notes, except for a family nurse practitioner certificate program partnership with Cal State Fullerton.

“UCI’s FNP certificate was prime for graduate status.” It became the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program in 2018.

Lewis reflects on her long and storied career, from which she retired in 2008.

“Professionally, my proudest accomplishment is mentoring future nursing leaders and faculty,” she says.

“I’m also so proud and honored to have provided the leadership and collaboration with so many at UCI and in the community to establish nursing science programs here.”