From foster child to doctor of philosophy. Dawn Taylor is about to earn the highest academic degree despite the lowest possible start in life. Even as she graduates this month from the University of Colorado College of Nursing with a PhD in Caring Science, she’s remembering where she began and how far she still wants to go.
“The likes of me and my family were not encouraged to go to the university. For me to be the first in my family to graduate college, let alone with a doctorate degree, speaks volumes”, says Taylor, PhD class of 2022, RN, BSN, MSN. “Also, I have been a nurse for 30 years. It blows my mind as to where I’m at now.”
Rocky Start to Life
Taylor was born in Cambridge, England. Her dad could barely read. Her mom was a gamekeeper’s daughter. By the time Taylor was 11, they were both dead. Without parents, she landed in foster care. First, with some relatives who made it clear she wasn’t wanted. Then, she went to a second foster home where she learned life skills like laundry, cooking, and budgeting. It was hard and lonely.
“I didn’t have a TV. I would literally come home from school and stare at four blank walls. There was no noise which was overwhelming. I felt like even being around bad crowds was better than sitting and being alone. The silence was deafening,” says Taylor.
Giving Voice to Others Who Feel Invisible
The solitude of her childhood led Taylor as an adult to give a voice to others who feel invisible: victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse, alcoholics, drug addicts, and gender diverse women and men. She calls herself an ally.
Taylor worked in the United Kingdom as a nurse for several years, then moved to the United States in 1998 and had to retake the licensing exam to establish competence to practice as a registered nurse in the U.S. She worked as a nephrology nurse specializing in diseases of the kidney, and was certified in nephrology in 2001-2017. Then in 2008, Taylor earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and in 2010, completed a Master of Science in Nursing degree.
She has been living in Las Vegas, Nevada teaching undergraduate students health assessment, fundamentals of nursing and community/public health nursing – all the while going to school at CU Nursing in Denver for her PhD.
Tough Teacher who Espouses Work Smarter Philosophy
Taylor says she’s a tough teacher and expects her students to work hard.
“The only person who helped me back then is me. I’ve had to push to get where I am, and that translates to my students. As long as they’re giving me everything they have, then I respect that. But I get frustrated if someone does barely enough to get by and I know they have more in them,” says Taylor. “I tell them ‘You don’t have to work harder to get there, you have to work smarter and not be afraid. The professors will help. If you make yourself vulnerable and trust them to help you, they will help you.’”
The focus of Taylor’s PhD is Caring Science, a type of nursing theory for students to integrate caring and healing into their lives and to provide deeper meaning, purpose and dignity to patients. Her dissertation is based on exposing healing after violence among LGBTQ partners. Taylor has also volunteered for several years as a yoga and meditation instructor for victims of domestic violence and gender diverse people.
Never Give Up
After Taylor earns her doctorate, she plans to continue teaching at the graduate level and obtain a tenure position at Nevada State College. She also wants to continue her research working in public health with invisibility and healing journeys with vulnerable populations. Above all, she wants foster kids and other people who feel alone to never give up.
"Things are not going to go as you expect, ever. The best-laid plans are going to go awry. So, seek help early, and don't shut down. If you find yourself struggling, never give up. You can change your life.”