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Summer 2007 Vol. V, No. 4

AUB Reflections

A Conversation with Selwa Makarem (BSN ’58)

By Jennifer Muller

Never one to shirk a challenge, Selwa Makarem left a distinguished academic career in the United States and returned to the AUB School of Nursing as director in 1993. She spent the next 10 years reestablishing the School of Nursing as a center of excellence, helping to improve the health sector in Lebanon, and advancing nursing education throughout the region.

When did you arrive at AUB?
I was one of five students who got a BSN in 1958. I came from a very conservative family who did not want me to become a nurse. I also had a problem with some of the faculty because I had a post-polio physical challenge. But Elizabeth Moser, the director at that time, felt I should be allowed to join. I am proud to say that I was elected by my colleagues and the faculty to be the Florence Nightingale for 1958, which is a very prestigious award.

After working as a staff nurse for a year, I went to Boston University for my master’s in nursing supervision and for a degree in advanced specialization in administration. When I came back to AUB, I became supervisor of the Medical Department from 1962 to 1968, which was the most complex unit in the hospital.

I started as director of the School of Nursing in 1993. I came to Beirut fully cognizant of the difficulties and the problems. My first major task was the re-registration of the school with the New York State Education Department. To ensure that this would be forthcoming, a shared commitment from administration, faculty, students, and AUBMC Nursing Services was imperative. A number of changes took place that spring to advance the school’s agenda of recovery and revitalization and reregistration was approved in June 1993.

What was your first impression when you returned as director?
The stress of the war really affected the School of Nursing; limited funds resulted in low enrollment, funds for faculty development were scarce, and, on a few occasions, rules and regulations were not taken seriously. I worked with the faculty to implement the Five-Year Plan, revamp the school's structure and organization, and introduce new technologies.

Where did you teach most of your classes?
My only regret about AUB is that it was a hardship for the faculty to find classrooms. When we were students, Dale Home was our home; we were boarders there and had classes there. It is my dream to have a building for the School of Nursing.

What was the biggest change you noticed while at AUB?
Unfortunately, it was a sad change, from the stress of the civil war: people were tired-looking, a lot of disappointments and hardships.

What do you think your students most remember about your classes?
I was a serious teacher; I was demanding because I felt that the students and I were dealing with patients and their families who needed well-prepared, compassionate students/graduates to care for them and to promote hope and well-being.

Are you still in touch with many of your former students?
I meet them at the Nurses’ Chapter activities and at the hospital. I also meet a great number of alumni when I go to the States. They are interested to know about AUB and what is going on in the school. They are really grateful to AUB; they love AUB.

Did you stay at AUB throughout the war (1975-1990)?
I visited my parents, but for several years I did not come. In 1978, I received my doctorate in nursing curriculum and instruction from Columbia University and then embarked on an academic career, eventually reaching professorship with tenure at the California State University, Fresno.

Do you have particular memories from those years?
It was a sad, sad time. I couldn’t understand how people were dealing with the ugliness and hardships from the civil war.

When did you leave AUB?
I left in 2003, but I am always there. I was told by one faculty who is retired, “Don’t

come too much to AUB after you retire; do what you want.” So I am doing what I want, and I’m still active with other nursing leaders and the Beirut Lions Club.

What impact has AUB had on your life?
AUB gave me a good academic and professional foundation. I’m proud that I’ve received comments such as, “She is respected by her peers and students,” and “She has a high level of personal and professional integrity.” I believe in the mission of AUB very strongly.

Do you have something you would like to say to your former students?
I would tell my students that I am proud to see them happy and I encourage them to continue to be happy and to serve their patients fully and professionally as well as to continue their professional education and remain in nursing.

What stands out as your most important accomplishment at AUB?
My biggest accomplishment at AUB is the gradual restoration of the School of Nursing’s regional and international reputation by enhancing faculty and academic development and introducing a strong and sustained Continuing Education Program. Another important achievement is academic process. We started introducing new courses, such as Nursing Informatics, and revised core and elective courses using a nursing framework. The curriculum was built on a nursing science foundation that enabled us to develop the curriculum for the Master of Science in Nursing Program.

Enhancing the image of the nursing profession was also a vital part of my professional activities. In 1993, I was appointed by the WHO as a researcher for the National Research Executive Committee, established by the Ministry of Public Health. The report I collaborated on led to the establishment of the Lebanese Order of Nurses, an amendment of the Nurse Practice Act, and the establishment of a regulatory mechanism to support nursing practice and control the mushrooming of technical schools.

In conclusion, I can say that I conducted myself at all times with integrity and seriousness of purpose and that I served my alma mater with vigor, dedication, and great pride. On October 7, 2002, I was recognized by John Waterbury, president of AUB, as one of the great women in the University during his address, “Women at AUB: Today and Yesterday,” a sweet and gratifying closure prior to my retirement.