Lessons in Leadership from a Wildcat Nurse: Marla Weston, 2018 College of Nursing Alumnus of the Year

Oct. 29, 2018

For a picture-perfect portrait of Wildcat Nurse success, look to Marla Weston, who earned her Doctoral nursing degree from the University of Arizona College of Nursing in 2006. Throughout her productive career, Dr. Weston has been a transformational health care leader, a nursing advocate and a consummate Wildcat for Life. Those are just a few of the reasons why she was honored with the UA Alumni Association’s 2018 Alumna of the Year award for the College of Nursing during Homecoming.

Dr. Weston has spent nearly 20 years in executive positions with major health systems and professional organizations. She was the executive director of the Arizona Nurses Association (AzNA), where she increased membership and more than doubled revenue.

Marla Weston
Dr. Marla Weston receives her 2019 Alumna of the Year Award

Later, Dr. Weston joined the Veterans Health Administration in Washington D.C. Among her activities and achievements there, she disseminated best nursing practices nationwide and launched a program to improve nurse retention. “I was rapidly promoted to a department called Workforce Management and Consulting in a position that a nurse had never held before,” she said.

Most recently, Dr. Weston spent nearly nine years as the CEO of the American Nurses Association (ANA), one of the largest professional nursing organizations, with nearly 200,000 members. Besides spearheading membership and revenue growth, she led the ANA to refine the standards of nursing practice, expand recognition for nursing practice excellence, improve the support for professional nursing practice, and enhance the quality of care for patients.

“I feel very proud to have been a Wildcat and I feel very proud that the work I have done in partnership with my many colleagues is being ackolwledged and recognized this way." ~ Dr. Marla Weston, 2018 College of Nursing Alumna of the Year 

Most recently, Dr. Weston started her own consulting business, Weston Consulting, where she facilitates strategic planning to help associations strengthen the functioning of their boards of directors. “At this stage of my career, I’m thinking a lot about two things,” she said. “One is positioning nurses in leadership positions to influence public policy. The other is developing leadership in the next generation of nurses who already have demonstrated great leadership at the local or state level. I feel a real obligation to mentor and guide that cadre of leaders.”

Her interest in fostering leadership with a sense of community dates back to her time at the UA, when Dr. Weston and fellow doctoral students established an informal support group known as the Ducks. “We met every Saturday morning at a restaurant called the Duck and Decanter in Phoenix,” she said. “We would have coffee and help each other wherever we were stuck in our studies. It became a group that was supportive not only in our doctoral studies but all the complexities of working and being a mother and going to school at the same time.” Today, those students have become leaders in the field and have established an endowment to support future doctoral students by funding doctoral dissertations.

Marla Weston
Dr. Marla Weston at the podium during Homecoming 2018 Alumnus Awards Breakfast

Reflecting back on her time at UA Nursing, Dr. Weston notes that in addition to helping her form lifetime bonds with her fellow students, her studies gave her the opportunity to do in-depth research around topics she cared profoundly about. “I was very fortunate at the CON in that there were a lot of faculty who had deep expertise in health systems research and deep expertise in control over nursing practice and deep expertise in multi-level research, which is very complicated and very difficult. I could have studied anywhere and had one of those three, but the fact that I had all three was remarkable. There was also a lot of value placed on the fact that we need doctorally prepared nurses not only in academia but also in practice and policy.”

The UA College of Nursing is proud to recognize Dr. Weston for her important achievements in the field of nursing and celebrate her tenure as a high-achieving Wildcat Nurse. “Dr. Weston has had an exemplary career as a nurse leader and representative of the University of Arizona,” said UA College of Nursing Professor Jane Carrington, PhD, RN. “She is not just a nurse leader, she is also a leader of nurses.  As CEO of the ANA, Dr. Weston has shaped the organization and working with the ANA President, has moved the ANA forward.”