Eileen Sullivan-Marx, PhD, RN, FAAN
Dr. Eileen Sullivan-Marx is the 2020 Penn Nursing Outstanding Alumni Award winner. She shared her experiences and professional journey during a conversation with Nursing’s Dean Antonia Villarruel in May 2020. Watch the full webinar HERE.
A familiar face at Fagin Hall for many years, Dr. Sullivan-Marx has an impressive resume and career. Since 2012 she has been Dean of the New York University (NYU) Rory Meyers College of Nursing and the Erline Perkins McGriff Professor of Nursing. She is known for her research and innovative approaches to primary care and for her redesign of payment structures for nurses through the Medicaid and Medicare programs. She is currently the president of the American Academy of Nursing and has been speaking out for the need for public health nursing and educating the public on cable news, CNN, MSN, and Yahoo Finance News. She also serves as an expert voice to the media regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
What inspired this dynamic leader to pursue a career in the field of nursing? For Dr. Sullivan-Marx, it all began at a 24-hour diner in Coatesville, PA. Growing up in her parent’s restaurant, she regularly interacted with locals from town. “It was down the street from the hospital, across from one of the fire engines, and up the street from the steel mill offices,” she says. “Particularly positioned in the right location to be the 24/7 place.” This childhood experience led her to glean valuable insight. “I learned about family-run business. I learned community. I learned equity. I learned how awful people could be. I learned how wonderful people could be. And I saw it all while bringing hash browns and hamburgers.”
Although she considered a career as a detective or journalist, deep down she knew she wanted to be a nurse. Dr. Sullivan-Marx shared that her hometown in Coatesville was central to several local hospitals, not just the one closest to her family diner—and that provided her with a medical backdrop to observe. Many family friends and acquaintances worked in nursing or other health care profession, which was influential as well. At age 12 a broken arm brought her to the emergency room, and she found herself riveted.
“I was so fascinated sitting in that emergency room, seeing what was happening, and seeing all the people. A young nurse was running that emergency department, and she was just calm and in charge. That’s what led me to nursing.”
Dr. Sullivan-Marx’s ambition eventually brought her to the University of Pennsylvania. “I think it was the excitement that I felt when I walked onto the campus to do a pre-nursing test. This was a place that could challenge me,” she says. She is an alumna of both the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing (’72) and the Penn School of Nursing (BSN ’76 and PhD ’95). After matriculating, Dr. Sullivan-Marx stayed at Penn Nursing in several capacities that included a tenured and clinician educator faculty member; Associate Dean for Practice & Community Affairs; and Faculty Director of the Living Independently for Elders (LIFE) program, a signature Penn Nursing initiative to improve care for vulnerable and high-risk older adults in West Philadelphia. Throughout her career, she continued to identify strategies to improve care for older adults nationwide. She also started a highly successful nurse practitioner practice in New Hampshire with her husband, Kenneth Marx, MD.
Dr. Sullivan-Marx’s many scholarly publications and presentations are significant to the medical field, and it is evident that her inner journalist thrives here. Her early interest in policy, politics, and activism stems from her roots of being the niece of a small-town Maryland newspaper owner and being taught to speak up and advocate for others. This foundation paved the way for her to become an important voice in topics that range from nursing advocacy to policy work on high-risk older adults, and now the current crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.
In her role as Dean of NYU Rory Meyers College, Dr. Sullivan-Marx has integrated the nursing college in with the NYU community and New York City. Back in 2012 and only six weeks into her Deanship, Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, and Dr. Sullivan-Marx utilized her community relations expertise and worked with faculty to quickly respond to the NYC’s older adult population and people in need. Though challenging, this emergency shined a light on her leadership abilities, highlighted the capacity at NYU Rory Meyers College, and served as a precursor to today’s global pandemic—of the College’s 600 graduate students, 85 percent of them serve on the frontlines of response.
With a strong background in emergency response, in particular with older adults, Dr. Sullivan-Marx has served on city commissions in preparedness and is an advisor to emergency management at local and national levels–leadership that has been imperative during past catastrophes and during this extraordinary time of crisis. Penn Nursing is proud to honor her as an outstanding alumni.