Mary Bliss, a perinatal clinical nurse specialist, works with nursing and medical staff to promote evidence-based standards of care, develop new programs and educate nurses.
I always knew I wanted to give back
In the 1970s, when Mary Bliss wanted to become a nurse, many Wisconsin universities would not admit married students with children into their nursing programs. There was a common belief that married students would not be able to balance home life and the rigorous program. UW-Eau Claire didn’t agree and gave Mary a chance to become a nurse.
“We had a class of 88 students and there were 10 of us non-traditional students,” Mary said. “And there were two of us who were married with children. I have always said, I would not have had a career if UW-Eau Claire hadn’t taken a chance on me.”
“I have continuously been impressed by the lasting impact UW-Eau Claire faculty had on Mary’s life,” Fred Bliss said. “As a retired academic, I appreciate the level of interaction faculty has with students. It creates an atmosphere where students are expected to take advantage of research and internship opportunities – that’s important.”
After graduation, Mary worked as a surgical nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital before moving back to Madison. Mary had gained valuable experience in obstetrics and gynecology at Sacred Heart, but the one thing UW-Eau Claire nursing professors always told her was getting your baccalaureate wasn’t enough.
“The fact that I was ten years older than everybody else in the UW-Madison nursing program helped motivated me to pursue my master's of science in maternal-child nursing,” Mary said. “I did that to become a clinical nurse specialist, but then budget cuts came along and all those positions were eliminated.”
Budget cuts and Fred’s new teaching position at UC-Davis moved Mary forward into hospital administration. Over the next 24 years, she worked on state and national health care collaborations in patient safety and nursing program development.
“There is nothing more exciting than partnering with a woman and her family to bring a new life into the world,” Mary said. “But it is also fabulous to work with nurses to show how nursing has its own knowledge level and a collaborative focus on patient safety and quality.”
During her career, Mary has received numerous awards, including the 2006 California Nursing Excellence in Community Service Award. Although she appreciates the recognition, it is the lifelong passion for nursing instilled at UW-Eau Claire that motivates her to continue speaking and advocating for nurses and nurse education.
“What Mary has done in her career shows the value of education that prepares you for opportunities,” Fred said. “When you have a good education you can go into a lot of things. Some of which are different than your profession, but some of which are part of your profession.”
In 2014, Mary and Fred established a UW-Eau Claire nursing faculty grant that facilitates the development of scholarship for pre-tenured faculty building their portfolios for tenure and promotion.
“I always knew I wanted to give back to the university, I just didn’t know in what manner,” Mary said. “Marcia has been wonderful to work with and very patient. She facilitated our access to the university and discussions with Dean Young that helped us make our decision.”
“There’s a lot of pressure on young faculty beyond teaching in research, clinical and much more,” Fred said. “So, we thought the one way to help was provide some funds to supplement scholarly activities that help faculty early in their career paths.”