Story by: Sydney Gaines

For Dr. Ann McGowan, working in healthcare was a lifelong dream.

“From a young age, I was always drawn to healthcare,” she recalls. “When I was a young teenager, I worked as a candy striper, where I volunteered in my local hospital. A future in nursing just made the most sense to me.”

Having no other nurses in her family lineage, Dr. McGowan’s interest in healthcare traces back to when she was just two years old.

“I needed eye surgery, and one of the earliest memories I have is going to the hospital with my mom. I remember the nurses, and how they stood over me and talked to me. The care they gave me always stuck in my mind.”

Today, Dr. Ann McGowan is a full-time nursing instructor at Germanna, where she has been instrumental in educating the next generation of nurses for nearly 16 years.

I’ve done everything in nursing—from working on medical surgical floors, being a traveling nurse, working for a prosecutor’s office as a forensic nurse—but ultimately, the classroom is where I want to be.
Dr. Ann McGowan
Germanna Nursing Instructor

Her connection to Germanna runs deep, as her own pathway to becoming a nurse started at a community college.

“I knew I wouldn’t have been able to afford a university, so community college was the best option for my career development,” Dr. McGowan says.

Dr. McGowan shown after graduating with her associate degree in nursing
Dr. McGowan shown after graduating with her associate degree in nursing

After earning her associate degree and becoming a registered nurse, she worked as a staff nurse before moving to Virginia in 2004. She transitioned into a role as a traveling nurse, which helped her learn the different hospital systems and units in the area. During this time, Dr. McGowan found out about a new program at George Mason University that would allow her to bypass her baccalaureate degree and earn her master’s degree.

“Since I had my associate degree and a great deal of nursing experience under my belt, I was able to participate in the program and get my master’s degree in nursing administration,” she says. “At the time, I thought I’d want more leadership positions within academia.”

But after earning a graduate certificate in nursing education, she thought teaching was the right fit.

Leadership in a hospital and working on the floor is hard, and it’s a tiring job. I knew I didn’t want a hospital-based career, but I loved being a nurse. So, I felt that engaging with future nurses was my best pathway.
Dr. Ann McGowan
Germanna Nursing Instructor

Dr. McGowan graduated with her master’s degree in 2007 and began her teaching career. Shortly after that, she decided to apply to the doctoral program at George Mason University. She graduated with her PhD in nursing education in 2012.

When the time came to decide where she would want to teach, she knew without question where she wanted to be—the community college.

“I’ve always seen the value of community college and the pathway that it provides people with limited needs,” Dr. McGowan says. “I wanted to give back to the community college space—the space that started my career.”

Educating new nurses always came naturally to Dr. McGowan, as she was often asked to precept rising student nurses when she was a nurse on the hospital floor. “I loved seeing that spark in their eyes when they learned something new or started to understand something. That reaffirmed that I really enjoyed teaching.”

But her main inspiration for becoming an educator came from one of her own nursing instructors.

“I had a really wonderful nursing instructor when I was first starting my career. She was an incredible role model as an educator and as a nurse, and she inspired me to be like her one day.”

And now, Dr. McGowan is following in her greatest inspiration’s footsteps.

To better prepare her nursing students for a future in healthcare, Dr. McGowan incorporates simulation cases and interprofessional collaboration amongst other health sciences fields into her course curriculum. She finds that introducing her students to the new technologies and advances within the field helps them better understand the work they are coming into and prevents burnout.

She also introduces her students to new and different experiences in her classes, bringing them out into the community to serve.

“Just a few weeks ago, a colleague and I took a group of students to the Special Olympics where they were able to work with athletes of varying abilities and help out with the event,” she says. “I try to stress that as a nurse, you can impact your community in so many different ways. It’s not just the traditional hospital-based nursing. Nursing is ever evolving, and that’s what keeps me passionate about it.”

Dr. McGowan (far right) shown with her colleague and her nursing students at the Special Olympics in Richmond, VA
Dr. McGowan (far right) shown with her colleague and her nursing students at the Special Olympics in Richmond, VA

Serving as a role model for her students, Dr. McGowan takes advantage of every opportunity to get into the community. She recently took on the role of developing community clinical events, where she advocates for Germanna’s programs, works with different healthcare partners throughout the service region, and teaches at free clinics.

Dr. McGowan’s passion for service not only extends to her nursing students, but to her eleven-year-old son, Tommy.

Much like I teach my students, I make sure to teach my son about the impact he can have on his community. I show him how to be a servant leader and encourage him to give back. Seeing how he’s growing and completing service-learning activities through his school makes me so proud.
Dr. Ann McGowan
Germanna Nursing Instructor

As she continues her path to being the best nursing instructor she can be, Dr. McGowan is hopeful and excited for the future of Germanna’s nursing program.

“Germanna’s new Stafford expansion is such a great opportunity for our nursing program to expand its reach. There is such a large nursing student population in the North Stafford area who could really benefit from this new venture. I hope it’ll be a very worthwhile expansion, and I hope it can be replicated in some other areas in our service region like King George and Caroline County.”

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