Marilyn Ray, BSN Class of 1968 and MSN Class of 1969, found nursing when her father fell ill and was hospitalized in her birth country of Canada. “I was amazed by the nurses who cared for him,” she remembers. “They saved his life.” From that experience, Ray began to visualize herself as a nurse and felt motivated to enroll in a diploma program at St. Joseph Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario in 1958.
In 1965, she entered the bachelor of nursing program at the University of Colorado College of Nursing and enjoyed meeting peers who, like her, were going back to school for their BSN. While earning her degrees, she gained experience working at the University Hospital and Swedish Hospital and decided to join the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps in 1967. Her military career began as a first lieutenant and finished after 32 years as a full colonel. The Air Force was a parallel career alongside civilian nursing. Most of her experience occurred in the reserves and some extended active duty. She served as a flight nurse during the Vietnam conflict. Ray graduated with her master’s degree in nursing in 1969 from CU College of Nursing.
During her MSN program, Ray built relationships with faculty members that influenced the rest of her career as a nurse. The late Maxine Berlinger, who taught in the maternal child program at CU Nursing, encouraged Ray to consider becoming a teacher. At the time, Ray was a clinician and worked in critical care nursing. Although she initially disagreed with Berlinger, her thought process about what she could do in nursing evolved.
The late Dr. Madeleine Leininger helped form Ray’s nursing path even more so. After meeting Leininger, the mother of transcultural nursing, during her master’s program, Ray was inspired to add anthropology to her repertoire. She went on to receive a master’s degree in anthropology from McMaster University in Canada and a PhD in transcultural nursing from the University of Utah. Transcultural nursing is known as both a specialty and a general practice area. It is the study of differences and similarities of cultural groups to accurately assess patients’ cultural backgrounds and caring practices. Ray was one of the first transcultural nursing PhDs in the world. In 2021, Ray received an honorary doctor of law degree (Hon. LL.D.) from McMaster University.
A long and distinguished career
Following the earlier wisdom from Maxine Berlinger, Ray became, first, an instructor at the University of California, San Francisco, followed by an Assistant Professor at the University of San Francisco. She returned to her home city, Hamilton, Ontario, and taught in the primary care nurse practitioner program as an educational coordinator at McMaster University. After pursuing an MA degree in Anthropology, at the request of Dr. Leininger, Dean of the University of Utah at that time, Ray returned to the United States to study for her PhD in transcultural nursing. “My mentors greatly impacted me. They inspired me to advance my education and pursue a career in teaching.”
Caring science was a core concept in Ray’s career, and at CU Nursing, and still is due to the leadership imprint of former CU Nursing Dean Jean Watson, PhD, FAAN. In 1984, Ray returned to CU to work with Dr. Watson as an assistant professor. To this day, Ray integrated caring science into her transcultural and organizational research. She supports the Watson Caring Science Institute, which was founded by Watson, and she participates in the Institute’s programming, most recently in Latin America. In 2017, Ray received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the CU Nursing Alumni Association, and in 2019 the Legacy of Caring Award from the International Association of Human Caring.
Ray has held many faculty and consultative positions at premier institutions across the country and has published four books on bureaucratic caring, complexity science and caring, and transcultural caring science. Throughout her robust career, she developed and advanced the theories of bureaucratic caring and transcultural caring dynamics in nursing and healthcare. Her bureaucratic caring theory is the structural framework of the U. S. Air Force professional caring practice model. She is certified as an advanced transcultural nurse, a Fellow of the Transcultural Nursing Society Scholars, a holistic nursing scholar with the Global Academy of Nursing, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.
At home in Florida
Today, Ray is a professor emeritus at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing in Boca Raton, Florida, and an adjunct professor who works part-time as an aging and caring science program specialist. The FAU Memory and Wellness Center collaborates with a lifecare community in the area. Ray is addressing the needs of aging people.
“My mission is to enhance the caring and well-being of residents,” she says. She facilitates the program as a partnership liaison with the directors. Their collective efforts will improve the health care of the residents. Her goal is to lessen the stigma associated with aging, illness, and memory issues. She brings her years of experience and knowledge to the facility to promote healthy aging.
When prompted to think about new nurses just starting their nursing journey, Ray hopes they stay positive.
“Nurses must remain joyful to sustain themselves within the profession,” she says. “There are many challenges in nursing and health sciences, but when nurses believe in themselves and have a commitment to spiritual-ethical caring science and art, and holistic nursing, our young nurses will be successful.”